CIRCLE (The Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement)
conducts research on the civic and political engagement of young Americans.
The Center for Information & Research on Civic Learning and Engagement

A Midwestern Mosaic: Immigration and Political Socialization in Rural America

July 3rd, 2012
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J. Celeste Lay of Tulane University has published A Midwestern Mosaic: Immigration and Political Socialization in Rural America (Temple University Press, 2012). This book originated with a CIRCLE dissertation grant in 2003-4. It examines the impact of rapid ethnic diversification in small Iowa towns on two main sets of outcomes for adolescents – tolerance for immigrants/immigration and civic engagement (as measured by political knowledge, generalized trust, participation in school activities, political efficacy, and intention to vote). The findings indicate that in the initial years of diversification, Anglo residents (both young and old) were wary and suspicious of newcomers, who were mostly Latino (and in one town, Southeast Asian). Over about 8-10 years, however, these early reactions were replaced by acceptance and accommodation. In both immigration-receiving communities, by the mid-2000s, Latinos were sitting on the city councils, the towns had developed formal relationships with the Mexican towns from which many residents hailed, and attitudes were either more positive or no different from those of Anglos in nearby, ethnically homogeneous towns. Similarly, the results show almost no indication that residents withdrew civically in the face of diversity. All of the small towns in this study had vibrant community lives and this did not change as a result of the immigrants’ arrival. In fact, immigrants had begun to contribute in their own ways in each community. The book also examines some of the common fears or suspicions about immigrants and their possible effects on small communities and whether these fears were realized over a twenty-year period. It shows that in these communities, there is a “new normal” in which native and immigrant have come together to build communities characterized by tolerance, understanding, and in the words of several people, places where immigration is simply “no big deal.”

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