The 300 Millionth American Chooses Not to Pursue Citizenship

By Andy Urban, PhD candidate in History at the University of Minnesota. IHRC Affiliated Faculty

Although such numbers are completely arbitrary as exact measurements, this week the 300 millionth American will be enumerated. For nearly 40 years, Robert Ken Woo Jr. has held the honor of being designated the 200 millionth American. As this article in the Pioneer Press notes ("Quiet reign of 200 millionth American about to end"), his lifetime achievements, such as graduating from Harvard Law School and becoming the first Asian American partner at a prestigious Atlanta law firm, have been documented and shared as public information. Despite Woo’s Asian-American background, his birth in 1967 was celebrated, President Lyndon Johnson was on hand for his entrance into the world, and his accomplishments have generally been feted. If someone is actually declared the 300 millionth American they will not likely be embraced with the same celebratory attitude. Since immigration will likely produce the 300 millionth American, and with widespread concerns that immigrants are weakening the nation’s culture and heritage, as the Pioneer Press notes, “the fraught politics of immigration and population growth may explain why, unlike LBJ, President Bush has no plans to be standing in front of the Population Clock when 300 million rolls into view.?

An article in the Wall Street Journal (“Uphill Climb: Registering Hispanics to Vote?) examines efforts to register Hispanic voters for the 2006 election and the presidential election in 2008. As the article notes, many immigrants from Mexico and Central America are primarily concerned with navigating the hurdles of naturalization, with voting coming as an after-thought. A remarkable 9.4 million Hispanics living in the United States are eligible to become citizens and vote, a number that could dramatically alter the political landscape and the manner in which the two main parties tailor their messages. In 2004, while President Bush failed to capture the majority of the Hispanic vote, the Democrats received a smaller proportion of the total vote then they had in the two previous elections. Younger Hispanic voters, in part politicized by rallies and anti-immigrant rhetoric, are expected to vote more solidly Democrat. As has been the case throughout the United States’ history, unions and community network groups – ostensibly non-partisan due to their non-profit status – will take the main responsibility for organizing Hispanic citizens to vote.

Providing context to the previous article, a recent piece in the Dallas Morning News ("Mexican, American - or both?") attempts to explain why Mexicans living in the United States have not aggressively pursued United States citizenship. One reason is that Mexican law allows Mexicans living abroad to vote in national elections. Perhaps a deeper reason why Mexicans who have lived in the United States for multiple decades, yet do not seek to become citizens, has its roots in the cultural sense of belonging. Although legal citizenship may not require sole allegiance to the English language and a withdrawal from the politics of an immigrant’s homeland, cultural forces typically attempt to frame citizenship in such a manner. Legal citizenship in the United States is often viewed as a practical measure for Mexicans, but one that has little meaning in terms of becoming assimilated. As a Mexican American businessman in Dallas commented, “I don't think it is so easy to change to a citizenship one doesn't really feel. Very few do it with conviction; they do it for migratory reasons.?


Andy Urban is a PhD candidate in History at the University of Minnesota, and a member of the IHRC Advisory Council. His research focuses on Irish and Chinese domestic servants in the late-nineteenth century United States.
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This page contains a single entry by Sylvie Thao published on October 16, 2006 10:55 AM.

The Borders Between Us: On Building and Bridging the Divide was the previous entry in this blog.

On Efficiency and Immigrant Labor is the next entry in this blog.

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