Alejandro Portes and Robert D. Manning “The Immigrant Enclave”

Contrary to prior thought on immigration, there are differences in patterns of assimilation into American culture, differences mainly in the forms of entry into the labor market; either through primary labor market immigration and middlemen entrepreneurship. Two large groups of immigrants did not follow the traditional pattern of assimilation into the US mainstream culture. As earlier evidence suggested, three typical patterns exist; the brain drain drain where occupationally skilled workers (e.g., craftsmen, technicians and professionals) immigrate to alleviate labor shortages; political refugees emigrate to seek asylum and typically receive help assimilating from government agencies; and middlemen minorities. Migrating through each of these patterns typically leads to mobility gains allowing ethnic immigrants to settle in various places, without creating spatially concentrated ethnic communities. A distinctly separate pattern, which did create immigrant enclaves, is associated with two early immigrant groups to America, German-Jewish immigrants and Japanese immigrants of the 19th century.

Jewish and Japanese migration patterns differed in terms of settlement from other immigrant groups but were similar to one another. The first major wave of Jewish immigrants were from Germany, were highly educated and had big success in America within a few decades of migrating. Russian and Eastern European Jewish immigrants were not as educated as their German counterparts but they received a lot of help from the predecessors including shelter and food, and jobs. German-Jewish immigrants were willing to do this as they wanted to join forces so to speak to ensure ethnic survival. Both groups learned American culture only to the extent needed in order to prosper economically, otherwise they held on to their heritage. This minimalistic acculturation was possible because of their ethnic enclave in Manhattan, NY. here they could help each other advance through protected access to jobs, informal lines of credit and strong business networks. The dominant American group felt threatened by their strong ethnic group that they became hostile toward them because of their “clannishness” and ability to prosper in the primary labor market of their ethnic economy. So hostile in fact that they urged schools set limits on the number of Jewish students admitted colleges, for fear they would take spots away from Americans.

Following the first major immigration of German-Jews to the east coast, Japanese immigrants began their own migration to the west coast around 1890. Japanese immigrants sought to accumulate capital, primarily for land purchases. In the beginning, Japanese immigrants were in the wage labor market and Americans were fine with this arrangement. However, when immigrants began to purchase land and become entrepreneurial agricultural farmers, Americans became hostile toward them and went so far as to have legislature enact the Alien Land Law restricting ownership to American born citizens. Similar to the Jewish immigrants in New York, Japanese immigrants utilized ethnic lines of credit as well cooperative business relationships that advanced ethnic capital, rather than serving in the secondary labor market.

The historic ethnic enclaves of Jewish and Japanese immigrants, as well as the contemporary enclaves of Koreans in LA and Cubans in Miami, serve to provide support for each generation to increase economic mobility in the next primarily through education and employment. It seems the argument that in order to be successful in America assimilation is required. These distinct ethnic groups have proven that is not the case. Shedding the culture and language and beliefs of your native land is not necessary for successful survival in a new culture.

One thought on “Alejandro Portes and Robert D. Manning “The Immigrant Enclave”

  • November 8, 2015 at 11:46 am


    As always a very good critique of the Portes and Manning article. When they researched Koreans in L.A. we see similarities with the early waves of immigrants e.g. credit systems, social solidarity but they also utilization U.S. Business loans and had training programs. The first wave of Cuban immigrants were economically empowered prior to arrival in the U.S. The second wave of Cuban immigrants consisted of working class folks. Kennedy’s Administration implemented programs to relocate Cubans from Miami it appears as if to ensure a larger enclave was not developed. The authors state that immigrant enclaves differ from other paths into the American lifestyle.

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