- Paperback: 416 pages
- Publisher: Princeton University Press; 1 edition (15 April 2014)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0691160821
- ISBN-13: 978-0691160825
- Product Dimensions: 15.9 x 2.5 x 23.5 cm
- Boxed-product Weight: 476 g
- Customer Reviews: 19 customer ratings
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Impossible Subjects: Illegal Aliens and the Making of Modern America Paperback – 15 April 2014
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"While vernacular discussion of the so-called 'illegal alien' in the United States has generally fixed on the alien side of the equation, Mae Ngai's luminous new book focuses rather on the illegal--the bureaucratic and ideological machinery within legislatures and the courts--that has created a very particular kind of pariah group. Impossible subjects is a beautifully executed and important contribution: judicious yet impassioned, crisply written, eye-opening, and at moments fully devastating. All of which is to say, brilliant. Would that such a story need not be told."--Matthew Frye Jacobson, Yale University, author of Barbarian Virtues: the United states Encounters Foreign Peoples at Home and Abroad, 1876-1917
"In Impossible Subjects' Mae Ngai has written a stunning history of U.S. immigration policy and practice in that often forgotten period, 1924-1965. Employing rich archival evidence and case studies, Ngai marvelously shows how immigration law was used as a tool to fashion American racial policy particularly toward Asians and Mexicans though the differential employment of concepts such as "illegal aliens," "national origins," and "racial ineligibility to citizenship." For those weaned on the liberal rhetoric of an immigrant America this will be a most eye-opening read."--Ramon A. Gutierrez, author, When Jesus Came, the Corn Mothers Went Away: Marriage, Sexuality and Power in New Mexico, 1500-1848.
"Impossible Subjects' makes an outstanding contribution to U.S. histories of race and citizenship. Ngai's excellent discussions of the figure of the illegal alien, and laws regarding immigration and citizenship, demonstrate the history of U.S. citizenship as an institution that produces racial differences. This history explains why struggles over race, immigration, and citizenship continue today."--Lisa Lowe, UC San Diego, author of Immigrant Acts: On Asian American Cultural Politics
"At the cutting edge of the new interdisciplinary and global immigration history, Ngai unpacks the place of 'illegal aliens' in the construction of modern American society and nationality. Theoretically nuanced, empirically rich, and culturally sensitive, the book offers a powerful vista of how the core meaning of 'American' was shaped by those--Filipinos, Mexicans, Chinese, and Japanese--held in liminal status by the law."--David Abraham, Professor of Law, University of Miami
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In discussing restriction, Ngai writes, “Restriction not only marked a new regime in the nation’s immigration policy; [she] argue[s] that it was also deeply implicated in the development of twentieth-century American ideas and practices about citizenship, race, and the nation-state.” (pg. 3) According to Ngai, the quota system “constructed a white American race, in which persons of European descent shared a common whiteness distinct from those deemed to be not white. In the construction of that whiteness, the legal boundaries of both white and nonwhite acquired sharper definition.” (pg. 25) Discussing early twentieth century Americans’ fears over Filipino immigration, which they equated with a threat to job opportunities, Ngai writes, “The perception of widespread job competition was, in fact, fueled by longstanding racial animus towards Asiatics. The central element of this hostility was the ideology of white entitlement to the resources of the West.” (pg. 109) Discussing migrant Mexican labor, Ngai “argues that immigration law and practices were central in shaping the modern political economy of the Southwest, one based on commercial agriculture, migratory farm labor, and the exclusion of Mexican migrants and Mexican Americans from the mainstream of American society.” (pg. 128) Further, Ngai argues “that this transnational Mexican labor force...constituted a kind of ‘imported colonialism’ that was a legacy of the nineteenth-century American conquest of Mexico’s northern territories.” (pg. 129). Ngai’s discussion of Japanese internment demonstrates the clash between the federal and state governments’ belief in immigrants’ duty to assimilate and Japanese-Americans’ desire to blend their culture with that of the United States. (pg. 180) Their uncertain legal status further compounded this. While the United States relaxed its immigration restrictions on China during World War II, “Cold War politics and the sensationalized investigations against fraud reproduced racialized perceptions that all Chinese immigrants were illegal and dangerous. Confession legalized Chinese paper immigrants, but it did not necessarily bring them social legitimacy.” (pg. 223) In her final section, Ngai argues “that the thinking that impelled immigration reform in the decades following World War II developed along a trajectory that combined liberal pluralism and nationalism.” (pg. 230) She also examines the unforeseen consequences of those policies, such as the intellectual “brain drain” of the Third World.
Ngai draws upon the “intellectual and editorial interventions” of Gary Gerstle, author of "American Crucible: Race and Nation in the Twentieth Century". (pg. xvii) This links her to other historians, such as John Dower, who argued in "War Without Mercy: Race & Power in the Pacific War", that World War II was a race war, and to Lawrence Goldstone’s "Inherently Unequal: The Betrayal of Equal Rights by the Supreme Court, 1865-1903", which, like Ngai’s examples, examined the court cases that stripped non-white Americans of their rights or citizenship.
If you're an actual intellectual, read it.