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“We're Just Like the Irish”: Narratives of Assimilation, Belonging and Citizenship Amongst Arab-American Activists

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This paper examines narratives of assimilation and belonging as activists attempt to position Arab-Americans as citizens and full members of the American polity. In interviews with activists, the experience of the Irish as immigrants and citizens was often invoked as the paradigmatic example of how immigrants are incorporated as citizens—an example that activists promoted as one that Arabs would follow. By invoking the Irish experience, activists hope to remind Americans that immigration history is not one of effortless assimilation, but is rather characterized by systematic exclusion and marginalization. In so doing, they articulate narratives of assimilation and belonging that draw attention to (1) a shared history of immigration, marginalization, and acceptance, (2) the importance of civil rights movements that may seem to distinguish immigrants from a mythic mainstream whose race and ethnicity go unmarked, and (3) the ways in which the American experience is based on the acceptance of cultural differences predicated on shared political values of community. We argue that these strands of the narrative draw on themes in the national myth of immigration, belonging and citizenship, but that they are braided in ways that challenge many Americans' views of their history.
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Keywords: Arab-Americans; Citizenship; assimilation

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: Loughborough University, Department of Geography, UK 2: University of Colorado, Program on Political and Economic Change, Institute of Behavioral Science, USA

Publication date: 01 November 2005

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