How do host-society individuals - those who are US-born of US-born parents - participate in a relational process of assimilation which involves immigrants? For the last century, assimilation research has regarded the host society as shaping the assimilation of immigrants and their descendents. Recent theoretical innovations recognize that the variegated nature of U.S. society along ethnoracial and class lines may mean that immigrants and their children experience a segmented form of assimilation. Research based on classical assimilation theory and its newer variants do not account for how host-society individuals are themselves assimilating in a context shaped by immigration.

The proposed project focuses on host-society individuals and examines how ethnoracial and class context shapes their experiences. It aims to make sense of a relational and potentially mutually influencing assimilation process. The study employs in-depth interviews with host-society individuals and observations in three areas in the southern part San Francisco Bay Area, CA ("Silicon Valley"): East Palo Alto, Cupertino, and Berryessa (a subsection of San José). Each area has a different ethnoracial and class profile, capturing the segmented nature of the contexts in which assimilation unfolds.

The study flips the assimilation equation by examining how the outcomes normally associated with immigrant assimilation apply to host-society individuals. It examines their ethnoracial identity perceptions of ethnoracial boundaries, everyday practices, the ethnoracial composition of their social networks and their conceptions of American national identity vis-à-vis immigration.

The sample of roughly 180 in-depth interview respondents (60 in each locale) will be divided into three age cohorts in order to assess how assimilation among host-society individuals unfolds across cohorts. The project also includes interviews with key informants in each locale and observational data.

The project has the potential to transform the social-scientific understanding of assimilation by providing a fuller account of how both immigrants "guest" and native-born "hosts" participate in assimilation.

Broader Impacts The project's broader impacts are related to immigration policy (including addressing how immigration may or may not be changing U.S. society). The project will contribute to greater public understanding of the influence of immigration on the United States.

Project Report

Project Outcomes: The project shows how individuals who are members of the host society (people who are US-born of US-born parents) experience and make sense of integration driven change. The project flips the assimilation equation, examining how established members of a community adjust to immigration-driven change. The study draws on interviews with host-society individuals and observations in three areas in the southern part San Francisco Bay Area, CA ("Silicon Valley"): East Palo Alto, Cupertino, and Berryessa (a subsection of San José). Each area has a different ethnoracial and class profile, capturing the segmented nature of the contexts in which assimilation unfolds. A total of 204 interviews were gathered - 179 with individual host-society members, and an additional 25 interviews were gathered from key informants. Key findings from the interviews include the following: English language-use is the central behavioral component of local belonging and American national identity, according to respondents in all three contexts. Host-society respondents see English-language use as having a practical benefit in that is allows for effective communication. It also has symbolic value in that it marks the boundaries of their conceptions of national belonging. Even the most ardent supporters of diversity expressed a desire for everyone to speak English, and relayed frequent and frustrating experiences of interacting with immigrants whose English-language ability is limited or non-existence. Furthermore, language shapes perceptions of belonging independent of ethnoracial origin. Respondents described forming network ties across ethnoracial lines when the immigrant-origin individuals speak English fluently. Ethnoracial, linguistic, national origin, and class divisions introduced by immigration dampen feelings of belonging. The interview data show that immigration-driven diversity dampens perceptions of belonging. But in a context of "super-diversity" the distinctions that matter to respondents are not ethnoracial alone. Immigration introduces multiple kinds of diversity – including linguistic, national origin, and class – that vary within and between ethnoracial groups. As a result, respondents articulate impediments to a sense of cohesion in relation to characteristics that have more to do with being an immigrant than of a particular ethnoracial group: language use, neighborhood tenure, generation-since-immigration, and class-inflected strategies of getting ahead. The interviews suggest that diversity shapes a sense of belonging in context-specific and class-inflected ways. In their neighborhoods, respondents in all three locales reported that non-English-language use impedes social interactions. Cupertino and, to a lesser degree, Berryessa respondents identified an amplified version of an upper-middle-class style parenting on the part of immigrants as coming at the expense of investment in a larger communal whole. In the workplace, East Palo Alto respondents articulate an exaggerated form of the division and cohesion that they find in their neighborhood, with linguistic difference and ethnic-networks within the workplace yielding a strong sense of exclusion, while close working relationships with English-speaking individuals of other ethnoracial origins produce a sense of cohesion. Cupertino and Berryessa respondents, who largely work in professional settings where English-language use is common and ethnic clustering within firms rare, describe the workplace as void of ethnoracial division that they find where the live. The class status of immigrants can shape the meaning and status of ethnoracial categories. This finding emerges from Cupertino, where the large population of high-skilled immigrants from East and South Asia has established and enforces an amplified version of high-achievement norms in the city. In the process, the traditional link between ethnoracial identity and academic achievement has been turned on its head. Asianness is intimately tied to high-achievement, hard work, and academic success. Whiteness, by comparison, has come to stand for lower-achievement, laziness, and academic mediocrity. This understanding of the ethnoracial categories in relation to academic achievement is widespread in Cupertino. It informs how host-society individuals see themselves, how teachers view host-society individuals, the child-rearing strategies that parents employ, and expectations for achievement among all parties. Respondents’ feelings of belonging and civic identity are strongly attached to the institutional landscape. Respondents in all three locales attached tremendous significance to the kinds of grocery stores (they lament the lack of the "mainstream" sort, as compared to the abundance of the ethnic-specific kind), to signage (signs that did not have an English-language translation were seen as exclusionary), and the kinds of restaurants (they enjoyed having easy access to different kinds of food, but still craved "mainstream" establishments). The context to which individuals respond in forming their perceptions of belonging is, then, composed not just of people, but also of symbols and institutions that represent the populations that live and work in a particular context.

National Science Foundation (NSF)
Division of Social and Economic Sciences (SES)
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Saylor Breckenridge
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Stanford University
Palo Alto
United States
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