Why are some cities so much better at integrating immigrants than others?

A protest in New York City. Image: Getty.

As anti-immigrant sentiment erupts in Western democracies from Germany to the United States, some cities are still finding ways to make immigrants feel at home.

I conducted hundreds of interviews with immigrants in New York, Paris and Barcelona intermittently for over a decade to understand how each city integrates – or excludes – its migrants.

My new book, A Place to Call Home explains why some cities and their residents do better at incorporating foreign-born newcomers in the local economy, culture and politics.

A feeling of belonging

On the surface, immigration in these three cities looks quite different.

Over one-third of all New Yorkers were born abroad, the majority of them in Latin America and the Caribbean.

In Paris, where 20 per cent of the population is foreign-born, most immigrants and their children come from Algeria, Morocco, Tunisia and other former French colonies in North Africa.

Much of Barcelona’s immigrant population, around 17.8 per cent of its total population, is Latin American or Moroccan.

Despite their diverse origins, the immigrants I spoke with consistently cited the same elements as being critical to their sense of urban belonging, helping them to feel “at home” while working, socialising and raising a family in the city.

New York and Barcelona, it turns out, foster this sense of belonging more than Paris does.

Nearly 70 per cent of the first-generation Latino immigrants I interviewed in New York City feel that they are part of the community. Just under half of first-generation Moroccans in Barcelona felt that way. But only 19 per cent of North Africans in Paris feel like part of the community.

Lots of jobs

In part, interviewees told me, that’s because New York and Barcelona both have ample jobs open to immigrants in both the formal and informal sectors.

Immigrants are vital to New York City’s economy. According to the New York state comptroller’s office, immigrants account for 43 per cent of the city’s workforce and nearly one-third of its economic output.

Immigrants have a strong presence in the service sector and construction. Additionally, according to a 2016 comptroller’s report, “Many industries, such as technology, finance and information, draw on a worldwide talent pool of immigrants to maintain their competitiveness.”

Barcelona, too, has depended on immigrant labour to grow its economy. Until Europe’s 2007 economic crisis, when high unemployment slowed immigration and compelled many foreign-born workers to return to their countries of origin, immigrants were an important part of the labour force.

Employers in both cities are also generally accepting of undocumented status. Some 560,000 undocumented people live in New York City, according to a March 2018 report by the city, which is 6.3 per cent of the city’s total population. Undocumented immigrants in New York have a high labor-force participation rate – 77 per cent for people ages 16 and above.


Events and services for immigrants

Both Barcelona and New York also hold regular cultural events celebrating immigrants.

Brooklyn’s West Indian Day Parade, organised by Caribbean immigrant populations and funded partly by corporate donations, draws millions of revelers each year.

In Manhattan, the act of closing down some main avenues to host the Saint Patrick’s, Puerto Rican, Dominican or Mexican Day parades is an important sign of solidarity with foreign-born residents and their descendants.

Many local nonprofit organisations and government agencies in New York and Barcelona exist to serve immigrants’ specific needs.

In Barcelona, the Service Center for Immigrants, Emigrants and Refugees is a government service that provides free resources for immigrants on how to obtain legal status and eventually obtain Spanish nationality. It also provides educational, employment and housing services in seven different languages.

In New York, many different immigration organisations advocate for immigrant rights and provide numerous resources and programs throughout the city. They also aim to elect immigrants into political office and community leadership positions to improve immigrants’ public representation.

Let immigrants be

Immigrants also told me that people in New York and Barcelona just let foreign-born residents be themselves, allowing them to maintain their own identity while creating a new home.

From the point of view of immigrants, then, it’s the ratio between being specifically catered to and treated the same as anyone else that determines how welcome they feel.

The key to inclusion, in other words, seems to be to help immigrant integration without forcing it.

No city is perfect at this. In New York, Barcelona and Paris alike, I found that many immigrants were stuck in low-skilled jobs, working in restaurant kitchens, taxis and construction sites – no matter what they did back home.

All the immigrants I spoke with struggle to find affordable, quality housing in these expensive metropolises. Anti-immigrant politicians publicly decry them as “threats” to the nation.

And immigrants of color in these predominantly white countries reported being racially profiled by both police and residents, though that appears to happen much less often in New York City.

What Paris gets wrong

In my interviews, the first- and second-generation immigrants who most often reported that they struggled to feel at home were the ones who lived in Paris and its metropolitan region.

France has long embraced the idea of itself as a homogeneous secular republic. This notion endured even as the country colonised Muslim North African countries like Algeria and Tunisia in the 19th and early 20th centuries and recruited workers from those countries.

The secular ideal makes it difficult for French society to address the ways that immigrants may in fact be different than the native-born French.

France’s national census cannot ask about racial or ethnic identity, for example. So policies designed to help minorities – such as affirmative action – are not only almost impossible there but also frowned upon as discriminatory.

Racial discrimination and racist comments are not uncommon in Paris. But France’s steadfast belief that it is a “colour-blind” society means there is little interest in talking about racism.

Muslim immigrants living in Paris also told me that they felt Parisians expected them to assimilate – to abandon their home culture and become entirely and immediately “French”.

Support for ethnic and race-based organizations of the sort that proliferate in Barcelona and New York, is also seen as anti-French. As a result, immigrants in Paris typically practice their religion and cultural traditions in private. That isolates them from their neighbours and prevents most native-born French from learning about these newcomers.

The ConversationThis external pressure to conform quickly to the national culture makes immigrants feel less at home – and, based on my research, less likely to actually assimilate over time.

Ernesto Castañeda, Assistant Professor of Sociology, American University.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

 
 
 
 

What does the fate of Detroit tell us about the future of Silicon Valley?

Detroit, 2008. Image: Getty.

There was a time when California’s Santa Clara Valley, bucolic home to orchards and vineyards, was known as “the valley of heart’s delight”. The same area was later dubbed “Silicon Valley,” shorthand for the high-tech combination of creativity, capital and California cool. However, a backlash is now well underway – even from the loyal gadget-reviewing press. Silicon Valley increasingly conjures something very different: exploitation, excess, and elitist detachment.

Today there are 23 active Superfund toxic waste cleanup sites in Santa Clara County, California. Its culture is equally unhealthy: Think of the Gamergate misogynist harassment campaigns, the entitled “tech bros” and rampant sexism and racism in Silicon Valley firms. These same companies demean the online public with privacy breaches and unauthorised sharing of users’ data. Thanks to the companies’ influences, it’s extremely expensive to live in the area. And transportation is so clogged that there are special buses bringing tech-sector workers to and from their jobs. Some critics even perceive threats to democracy itself.

In a word, Silicon Valley has become toxic.

Silicon Valley’s rise is well documented, but the backlash against its distinctive culture and unscrupulous corporations hints at an imminent twist in its fate. As historians of technology and industry, we find it helpful to step back from the breathless champions and critics of Silicon Valley and think about the long term. The rise and fall of another American economic powerhouse – Detroit – can help explain how regional reputations change over time.

The rise and fall of Detroit

The city of Detroit became a famous node of industrial capitalism thanks to the pioneers of the automotive age. Men such as Henry Ford, Horace and John Dodge, and William Durant cultivated Detroit’s image as a centre of technical novelty in the early 20th century.

The very name “Detroit” soon became a metonym for the industrial might of the American automotive industry and the source of American military power. General Motors president Charles E. Wilson’s remark that, “For years I thought what was good for our country was good for General Motors, and vice versa,” was an arrogant but accurate account of Detroit’s place at the heart of American prosperity and global leadership.

The public’s view changed after the 1950s. The auto industry’s leading firms slid into bloated bureaucratic rigidity and lost ground to foreign competitors. By the 1980s, Detroit was the image of blown-out, depopulated post-industrialism.

In retrospect – and perhaps as a cautionary tale for Silicon Valley – the moral decline of Detroit’s elite was evident long before its economic decline. Henry Ford became famous in the pre-war era for the cars and trucks that carried his name, but he was also an anti-Semite, proto-fascist and notorious enemy of organised labor. Detroit also was the source of defective and deadly products that Ralph Nader criticized in 1965 as “unsafe at any speed”. Residents of the region now bear the costs of its amoral industrial past, beset with high unemployment and poisonous drinking water.


A new chapter for Silicon Valley

If the story of Detroit can be simplified as industrial prowess and national prestige, followed by moral and economic decay, what does that say about Silicon Valley? The term “Silicon Valley” first appeared in print in the early 1970s and gained widespread use throughout the decade. It combined both place and activity. The Santa Clara Valley, a relatively small area south of the San Francisco Bay, home to San Jose and a few other small cities, was the base for a computing revolution based on silicon chips. Companies and workers flocked to the Bay Area, seeking a pleasant climate, beautiful surroundings and affordable land.

By the 1980s, venture capitalists and companies in the Valley had mastered the silicon arts and were getting filthy, stinking rich. This was when “Silicon Valley” became shorthand for an industrial cluster where universities, entrepreneurs and capital markets fuelled technology-based economic development. Journalists fawned over successful companies like Intel, Cisco and Google, and analysts filled shelves with books and reports about how other regions could become the “next Silicon Valley”.

Many concluded that its culture set it apart. Boosters and publications like Wired magazine celebrated the combination of the Bay Area hippie legacy with the libertarian individualism embodied by the late Grateful Dead lyricist John Perry Barlow. The libertarian myth masked some crucial elements of Silicon Valley’s success – especially public funds dispersed through the U.S. Defense Department and Stanford University.

The ConversationIn retrospect, perhaps that ever-expanding gap between Californian dreams and American realities led to the undoing of Silicon Valley. Its detachment from the lives and concerns of ordinary Americans can be seen today in the unhinged Twitter rants of automaker Elon Musk, the extreme politics of PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel, and the fatuous dreams of immortality of Google’s vitamin-popping director of engineering, Ray Kurzweil. Silicon Valley’s moral decline has never been clearer, and it now struggles to survive the toxic mess it has created.

Andrew L. Russell, Dean, College of Arts & Sciences; Professor of History, SUNY Polytechnic Institute and Lee Vinsel, Assistant Professor of Science and Technology Studies, Virginia Tech.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.