Becoming American: The Social And Political Incorporation Of Latinos

Angie Nathaly Ocampo, University of Pennsylvania

Abstract

As a group comprised of mostly immigrants and their descendants, Latinos’ eventual “assimilation” and the place they occupy in American society remains an open question. Despite the immigrant incorporation literature’s emphasis on intermarriage as symbolizing the erosion of group boundaries, this dissertation examines incorporation more broadly. I argue that Latino incorporation is tied to racialization. First, I evaluate the position Latinos occupy in the racial hierarchy, which I examine by comparing the perceptions that Latinos have of various groups—White, Black and other Latinos, through a survey of the group’s racial attitudes in Durham, North Carolina. Second, I examine whether Latinos are perceived to be full participants in American society, from the perspective of White and Black Americans, which I explore in two ways. I examine whether Latinos are seen as American through a conjoint survey experiment. Next, I explore whether the benefits of a shared group identity are extended to Latinos, by comparing support for redistribution toward Latino and White owned businesses in the aftermath of COVID-19 through a survey experiment. This dissertation highlights the importance of the group’s racialization in shaping their path to incorporation. Unlike European migrants from the 20th century, the overall picture is that Latinos are not neatly assimilating into American society by gravitating closer to whites. At the same time, this dissertation shows how the heterogeneity of the group should be explicitly considered. Latinos will have different incorporation pathways depending on their immigration status, family background, skin color, contact with others, perceived insecurity, among other factors. This dissertation also emphasizes the importance of considering social incorporation to fully understand the experiences of Latinos in the United States, as full structural incorporation is likely to be influenced by Latinos’ experiences of discrimination and exclusion.