What does it mean to say, “I am an American citizen?” Putting cultural and religious practices to one side, at least part of the answer to the question is that Americans have a commitment to democracy. Indeed, the US naturalization process emphasizes the idea of citizenship as participation. Yet historically, immigrants along with Native Americans and African-Americans have had a much harder time exercising the idea of citizens as democratic participants than white people. What does the change that is re-shaping the United States from being a predominantly white to a more diverse nation mean for the idea of “American-ness?” How does the fraught history of naturalization law, voter suppression, Jim Crow and the like influence the way a minority-majority culture conceives of the idea?
This seminar would examine the question of “American-ness” in terms of the civic and political participation of immigrant communities and minority citizens. How do different ethnic, national and cultural groups participate in civic organizations and political practices? How do different groups and individuals conceive of what it is to be an American? Are the concepts and orientations we have developed to study politics and civic engagement dominated by white voters or, at most, a while-black divide adequate to understand a trilateral and even quadrilateral racial and ethnic politics? What sorts of civic and political organizations enhance political and civic integration and how should we think of the difference between integration and assimilation? This seminar would examine these questions and, with its participants, address issues of identity, values and engagement.