- Series: Politics and Society in Twentieth-Century America
- Hardcover: 400 pages
- Publisher: Princeton University Press (December 7, 2003)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0691074712
- ISBN-13: 978-0691074719
- Product Dimensions: 6.2 x 1.2 x 9.2 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds
- Average Customer Review: 16 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,064,006 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Impossible Subjects: Illegal Aliens and the Making of Modern America (Politics and Society in Twentieth-Century America)
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Winner of the 2005 Lora Romero First Book Publication Prize, American Studies Association
Winner of the 2005 Frederick Jackson Turner Award, Organization of American Historians
Honorable Mention for the 2005 Gustavus Myers Outstanding Book Award, Gustavus Myers Center for the Study of Bigotry and Human Rights
Co-Winner of the 2004 History Book Award, Association for Asian American Studies
Co-Winner of the 2004 First Book Prize, Berkshire Conference of Women Historians
Winner of the 2004 Littleton-Griswold Prize, American Historical Association
One of Choice's Outstanding Academic Titles for 2004
Winner of the 2004 Theodore Saloutos Book Award, Immigration and Ethnic History Society
"[A] deeply stimulating work. . . . Ngai's undeniable premise--as pertinent today as ever--is that the lawfully regulated part of our immigration system is only the tip of the iceberg. Even as we have allowed legal immigrants, mostly from Europe, through the front door, we have always permitted others, generally people of color, to slip in the back gate to do essential jobs."--Tamar Jacoby, Los Angeles Times Book Review
"Ngai pulls no punches, arguing that in most cases . . . illegal [immigrants] were stigmatized by negative racial stereotypes and branded as dangerous. . . . [I]t belongs in every library and should be referenced in every ethnic studies course."--Choice
"Ngai has produced a valuable reinterpretation of twentieth-century American immigration history, one that will push other scholars of race, immigration, and policy in new directions as well."--Charlotte Brooks, Journal of American History
"Ngai's book is a stunning piece of scholarship. . . . [F]or background reading of 'illegal immigration' that takes a broader view, this is an outstanding book."--David M. Reimers, International History Review
"May Impossible Subjects indeed lead to bold changes? Ngai creates that possibility, through altering our vision of immigration history, in showing us the constructed and contingent nature of its legal regulation. Impossible Subjects is essential reading."--Leti Volpp, Michigan Law Review
"Impossible Subjects offers an important contribution to U.S. histories of race, citizenship, and immigration. This stunning history of U.S. immigration policy dispels the liberal rhetoric that underlies popular notions of immigrant America, as it establishes the designation of Asians and Mexicans as perpetual racial others. Everyone in the field of race and immigration should read this thought provoking book."--Rhacel Salazar Parreñas, American Journal of Sociology
"This superb book by historian Mae Ngai addresses the emergence of the legal and social category of 'illegal immigrant' in the United States. . . . Ngai addresses the subject . . . in a variety of historical contexts and each casts a different light on their deeply ambiguous condition."--Linda Bosniak, Journal of International Migration and Integration
"Moving beyond the telos of immigrant settlement, assimilation, and citizenship and the myth of 'immigrant America,' Mae Ngai's Impossible Subjects conceptualizes immigration not as a site for assessing the acceptability of the immigrants, but as a site for understanding the racialized economic, cultural, and political foundations of the United States."--Yen Le Espiritu, Western Historical Quarterly
"Mae Ngai's book . . . offers a fascinating reinterpretation and critique of the United States as a mythicized 'nation of immigrants.' Ngai demonstrates the critical role that colonialism, foreign policy considerations and racial politics played in shaping U.S. immigration and national identity. . . . Ngai's book is an extraordinary contribution to U.S. immigration history and a stimulating read."--Dr. Alison Pennington, Planck Yearbook of United Nations Law
From the Publisher
Winner of the 2005 Lora Romero First Book Publication Prize, American Studies Association Winner of the 2005 Frederick Jackson Turner Award, Organization of American Historians Honorable Mention for the 2005 Gustavus Myers Outstanding Book Award, Gustavus Myers Center for the Study of Bigotry and Human Rights Co-winner of the 2004 History Book Award, Association for Asian American Studies Co-Winner of the 2004 Berkshire Conference First Book Prize, Berkshire Conference of Women Historians. Winner of the 2004 Littleton-Griswold Prize, American Historical Association. One of Choice's Outstanding Academic Titles for 2004. Winner of the 2004 Theodore Saloutos Book Award, Immigration and Ethnic History Society. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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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.
Midwest Independent Research, educational websites. Immigration, mwir-immigration.blogspot. There is a book list here.
Ngai examines the era between 1924 and 1965, an unconventional periodization in immigration history that situates the 1924 Johnson-Reed Act (usually signifying the end of one regime) at the beginning of her study, and the Immigration Act of 1965 (usually signifying the beginning of another) at the end. Beyond simply filling a historiographical gap in immigration history, the focus on this period of immigration restriction enables a reevaluation of U.S. immigration laws, and more broadly of U.S history, on several levels. First, it demonstrates that restrictionist policies did not merely function as a tool for exclusion, but more, it created-through a racial and geographical remapping of the nation-new categories and concepts deeply implicated in race that defined the spaces and limits of national inclusion. Second, these categories and concepts, most notably "illegal aliens" and "national origins," are not natural or fixed conditions and markers, but are the product of positive law that, when scrutinized, reveal the ways in which its uses have shaped and defined the United States in the twentieth century, particularly its ideas and practices about race, citizenship, and the nation-state. Finally, this periodization allows for a reconfiguration of immigration history beyond a nationalist framework. By suggesting that the making of modern America rested on the exclusion of nonwhites from the geographical and ideological borders of the nation during this regime of restriction, the book argues against the normative telos of immigrant settlement, assimilation, and citizenship as the defining narrative of American history, a narrative that is confined to the nation-state and that invariably reproduces American exceptionalism.
By charting the historical origins of the "illegal alien" and the genealogy of immigration laws that have consistently reproduced it, Ngai has ultimately written a stunning history that goes far beyond narrating the history of U.S. immigration restriction. It is a book that deserves to be read widely.