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Towards an Understanding of Transnational Community Forms and Their Impact on Immigrant Incorporation -- Peggy Levitt



Peggy Levitt

Department of Sociology

Wellesley College

Weatherhead Center for

International Affairs

Harvard University

Paper to be presented at Comparative Immigration and Integration Program,

Winter Workshop

University of California at San Diego, February 19, 1999

Funding for this project comes from The Ford Foundation, The Social Science Research Council, The American Sociological Association Fund for the Advancement of the Discipline, The Research Institute for the Study of Man, Harvard University Faculty Research Grants, and the Spencer Foundation.

The author gratefully acknowledges research assistance from Rafael de la Dehesa, Jill Jefferis, Irene Bloemraed, Sunaina Maira, Tina Purohit, Avanti Patel, and Carsey Yee.

Migration from the small Dominican village of Miraflores to Boston began in the late 1960s. By 1994, over sixty-five percent of the 445 MirafloreÃ’o households had relatives in the Boston Metropolitan area. Migrants and nonmigrants maintain such close social and economic ties with one another it is as if village life takes place in two settings, though not simultaneously nor with equal force. They constantly exchange news, resources, social remittances, and goods. More than half speak to their relatives in Boston by phone at least once a month. And almost one-fourth of non-migrants received over 75% of their income from the U.S. (Levitt 1996)

Over ten percent of the 7.5 million Dominican population is estimated to have migrated to the U.S. The Dominican case is far from unique. The proportion of Salvadorans in the U.S. also exceeds single-digits. In 1990, the numbers of immigrants from the English-speaking Caribbean including Jamaica, Barbados, Trinidad, Belize, and Guyana, made up over twenty percent of the sending-country population. And at least a third of Cuba's 11 million population have relatives in the U.S. and Puerto Rico (U. S. Census 1992, Rumbaut 1997).

Despite predictions that home-country ties will weaken as immigrants assimilate, many of these migrants stay connected to the communities they leave behind. In some cities in California, for example, the links to particular towns and villages in Mexico can be traced back to the Bracero Program (1942-1964) and extend over generations. The intensity, frequency, and level of dependence on the social and economic remittances migrants send lowers the costs and risks associated with migration, institutionalizes the social networks which facilitate it, and "alters the social context within which subsequent migration decisions are made, typically in ways that make additional movement more likely" (Massey 1993:451). "

The proliferation of these long-term transnational ties challenges conventional notions about the assimilation of immigrants into host countries and about the impact of migration on sending-country life. How do ordinary people sustain connections to two nations? What happens to the social fabric when large numbers opt for partial membership or when they continue to participate primarily in their country-of-origin even though they have resided for an extended period in the U.S? Is this a recipe for long-term political marginalization in both contexts or can participation in two polities result in a case of "two for the price of one?"

The types of connections that migrants and nonmigrants establish vary considerably between sending and receiving countries and among them. The challenge facing migration researchers is to sort out these different kinds of relationships; distinguish them from other, macro-level globalization processes; and explore their impact on incorporation and participation. In this paper, I use preliminary findings from a comparative, historical study of eight immigrant communities in Boston to begin this process. I suggest different types of economic, political, and social configurations linking migrants and nonmigrants, classify the types of transnational groups which emerge, and suggest their possible impact on civic and political participation. I focus on the experiences of Dominican migrants from Miraflores, Brazilian migrants from the city of Governador Valadares, and Indian migrants from Gujarat State who have settled in the Boston metropolitan area.

My initial findings suggest the emergence of at least three transnational community forms. The first is a Dominican transnational village linking rural migrants to a specific urban neighborhood in the U.S. The second type is constituted by urban-to-urban ties between the Brazilian city of Governador Valadares and migrants living in several small cities in the greater Boston metropolitan area. And the third variant is an Indian transnational clan, created by rural migrants from a particular district or province who are geographically dispersed in the U.S. but bound together by shared ethnic and religious ties. Each group's institutions imbue its members with different opportunities to participate in the sending and receiving-country. In the Dominican case, the nature of the community and its institutions result in a more persistent sending-country focus. In the Brazilian case, weaker, less frequent sending-country involvements combine with a growing shift toward immigrant community concerns, suggesting a trend toward greater integration into the U.S. In the Indian case, though organizational arrangements encourage U.S. and sending-country involvements, and the community displays high levels of economic and political integration, the goals of participation in home-country groups, the requirements of membership, and the insular social milieu in which participation occurs, reinforces homeland ties. Gujaratis may become the most transnational of groups because they assimilate selectively into the U.S. and maintain strong sending-country attachments


The term "transnationalism" is used to describe so many different social processes at so many levels of social interaction that it risks losing much of its analytical power. Before I begin, I want to specify my own approach to these questions.

In this chapter, I am concerned about one manifestation of transnationalism --- transnational communities. These groups are formed by migrants and nonmigrants who are strongly connected to a particular place. They often develop because significant numbers leave from the same area and settle near one another in the host country. Migrants and nonmigrants are united by their strong sense of attachment to their place-of-origin. Because a critical mass of migrants settle close enough to one another, they can recreate some aspects of sending-community life. Transnational community formation does not depend upon geographic proximity, however. Sometimes groups also form between nonmigrants and migrants who are geographically dispersed in the host country but feel linked to one another by their common place-of-origin and their shared religious and social ties.

Transnational communities arise from the strong, interpersonal networks through which migration begins. As these networks strengthen and spread, they develop into larger communities of individuals who are more loosely tied to one another. If individuals do not know each other personally, they can generally identify family members or acquaintances they have in common. Actual movement is not a requirement for community membership. In each case in this study, migration transforms sending-community life such that some nonmigrants also adopt the values and practices of their migrant counterparts and carry out aspects of their lives across space.

By using the term community, I do not wish to imply that all members feel a sense of affinity or solidarity toward one another. The divisiveness and hierarchical nature of all social groups also characterizes transnational communities. The costs and rewards of transnational community membership are not equally distributed. Longstanding patterns of privilege and access do not disappear merely because they are recreated across borders. Furthermore, though transnational communities form within the context of economic, political and cultural globalization, the impact of transnational community membership differs from the impact of life in a global era (Bacon 1998). Global influences reinforce transnational community formation but they are not the same thing.

My focus, then, is not on the entire immigrant Diaspora, a term often used to describe all migrants from a particular country living throughout the world (Cohen 1997). Transnational communities are only one type of diasporic group. It is also not primarily on the elites, professionals, and entrepreneurs who also carry out many of their social and economic activities transnationally, though some of the respondents in my study may qualify as such. This study examines the ways in which ordinary people manage their participation in two settings and the consequences of these activities for civic and political life. Their activities are not likely to transform national-level politics but, for some groups, they may have a significant impact on local and regional affairs.


There are several conflicting models of immigrant incorporation into host societies. The first model equates membership with citizenship (Kallen 1956). According to this view, immigrants' ties to their home countries weaken as they are integrated into the host society. Naturalization automatically follows economic and social incorporation and membership in the home and host-country are mutually exclusive.

Subsequent work calls into question the relevance of citizenship for social and political participation. These researchers argue for a notion of postnational membership, claiming that nation states are being superseded by transnational processes (Baubock 1994). Soysal (1994), for example, argues that international legal regimes and discourses now guarantee human rights within a globally-accepted framework irregardless of citizenship. New forms of participation and representation are emerging that do not require citizenship and newly emerging institutions guarantee a set of basic rights regardless of place of residence.

A third way of understanding the relationship between migration and participation highlights migrants' simultaneous, though differentiated, participation in sending and receiving countries. Researchers sympathetic to this perspective acknowledge that growing numbers of individuals remain connected to their sending and receiving communities. The frequent and widespread movement back and forth between communities-of-origin and destination, and the economic and cultural transformations which result, have prompted scholars to speak of a variety of transnational relationships. The state is by no means superfluous but, along with other civic, religious, and political institutions, plays a central role in creating and reinforcing transnational involvements,

These kinds of transnational connections are not new. Prior research indicates that earlier groups also remained involved in the affairs of their sending countries. Several factors, however, heighten the intensity and durability of transnational ties among contemporary migrants including: (1) ease of travel and communication, (2) the increasingly important role migrants play in sending-country economies, (3) attempts by sending states to legitimize themselves by providing services to migrants and their children, (4) the increased importance of the receiving-country states in the economic and political futures of sending societies, (5) the social and political marginalization of migrants in their host countries, and (6) that migration takes place within an ideological climate that favors pluralism over the melting pot.

In some cases, then, migrants may remain connected in a variety of ways to their countries-of-origin and destination for extended periods. This is clearly not true for all groups and we do not know to what extent these relationships will persist among the second generation. It does mean, however, that for some groups we can no longer study migration by looking only at the experiences of those in the host country. We need to examine the relationships that these individuals sustain to their countries-of-origin, how life in the country-of-origin is transformed as a result, and the continuous, reciprocal interaction between the two.


Migration begins and spreads through social networks. For some groups, these networks eventually weaken as migrants become incorporated into the host society and engage in fewer cross-border activities or as migration slows. For other groups, they continue as loose interpersonal connections between individuals, that may be reinforced by the activities of states or other political and religious groups, forming a transnational public sphere or social field where some members express their interests, conduct business, or raise families across borders. But in other cases these social networks consolidate, grow, and become organized such that a transnational community spanning two or more settings emerges

Multiple factors shape the kinds of transnational communities which arise and their consequences for civic and political engagement. In the following section, I focus on four broad sets of factors including geography, socioeconomic characteristics, institutional completeness, and the role of the state.

Transnational Villages - A Dominican Example

In 1990, approximately 8,000 Dominicans lived in Boston. About 1,000 of these individuals, or one-third of village residents, came from Miraflores (U.S. Census 1992). The continuous flow of people, money, goods, and social remittances between Boston and Miraflores created a transnational village which completely transformed village life. Many families have televisions, VCRs, and compact-disk players though their houses have no indoor plumbing or running water. Almost everyone in Miraflores can talk about "La Mozart" or "La Centre," or Mozart Street park and Centre Street, two focal points of the community in Boston.

In Boston, Mirafloreños have recreated their pre-migration lives within the constraints of their new cultural and physical environment. Community members leave their apartment doors open so the flow between households is as easy and uninhibited as it is in Miraflores. And, when someone is ill, cheating on their spouse, or finally granted a visa, the news spreads as quickly on the streets of Miraflores as it does on the streets of Jamaica Plain.

Both migrants and nonmigrants repeatedly acknowledged that the boundaries of their village now extend beyond Dominican borders to include those living in the U.S. Many community members in Boston work in the same factories or for the same office-cleaning companies. They go to the same high school and church. Community members created the Miraflores Development Committee, with chapters in Boston and Miraflores, to support village improvement projects.

The first factor contributing to transnational village creation is geographic. One reason migration changes Miraflores so completely is because the village is so small and because its migrants cluster residentially in the U.S. Communication and travel between the sending and receiving countries are relatively easy and inexpensive. Social remittances flow efficiently between the sending and receiving-country group.

The second set of factors is socioeconomic. In the early years of migration, Mirafloreños left a fairly homogeneous group characterized by limited social stratification. High levels of social parity made it easier for members to stay attached to one another and to sanction those who did not. High levels of economic dependence on the part of nonmigrants also reinforced these ties. In addition, the community's social characteristics and the economic climate it encountered upon arrival mitigated against Mirafloreños' easy integration into the U.S. MirafloreÒos brought few of the skills required by the changing labor market. Most study respondents also reported few social contacts with Anglos. They continued to live, shop, and socialize with their family and friends from Miraflores. Their isolation inhibited their social integration and reinforced their sending-community ties.

The third factor affecting transnational village development is the role of the state. In 1994, Dominican leaders approved dual citizenship, ensuring Dominicans their civil and political rights even if they became citizens of other countries and granting citizenship to persons' born-abroad to Dominican parents (Graham 1996). In 1997, the Dominican Senate approved an electoral reform package allowing migrants the right to vote and to run for office, including naturalized American citizens of Dominican descent (Sontag 1997). By doing this, the government institutionalized the means to sustain dual involvements and extended those to the second generation.

The strength of state sovereignty is also important. The U.S. has a long history of economic and political involvement in Dominican national affairs. The U.S. military occupied the island in 1916 and 1965. Despite this, Dominicans generally feel a strong sense of nationalism, partially instilled by the dictator, Trujillo, during his 1930-1961 reign. Migrants leaving weaker states, with less strongly-developed national identities, would be less likely to remain involved in sending-country affairs.

The final factor influencing transnational village formation is institutional completeness. The MirafloreÃ’o transnational village is highly institutionally complete. Political, religious, and community organizations created transnational structures and conducted their activities transnationally, thereby imbuing members with the capacity to continue to participate in both settings. Here, I focus on politics.

Partido Revolucionario Dominicano (PRD) leaders recognized that migrants' made major contributions to their party budget and strongly influence the nonmigrant vote. To ensure migrants continued support, they proposed a dual agenda which encouraged political integration into the U.S. while creating the mechanisms to allow continued participation in Dominican political affairs. The party replicated its structure in the U.S., establishing community-level committees, city-level zones, and regional sections all along the eastern U.S. seaboard. A U.S. coordinator and four regional representatives sit on the party's Executive Committee. Local-level support groups of naturalized U.S. citizens and the children of Dominican-born parents were also established.

Transnational structures and activities, however, do not automatically produce transnational outcomes. Despite opportunities to be active in U.S. and Dominican politics, most MirafloreÃ’os continue to be more concerned about Dominican affairs. Less than one percent have become U.S. citizens. Only two respondents reported they had ever participated in a state or citywide campaign despite the PRD's commitment to encourage them to do so. MirafloreÃ’os did observe political life around them, however. As one respondent said, " I began to watch the news in the U.S. and though I wasn't a member of a party, I knew what was going on around me and how the American system works." Participation in non-electoral politics also increased. About one-third said they joined community development groups. They also reported more frequent contacts with public sector officials such as teachers, social workers, and health care providers. Since few MirafloreÃ’os had much contact with the Dominican state prior to migration, these experiences stimulated their desire for a different kind of politics. They communicated this vision to their nonmigrant counterparts which translated into demands for local-level change.

" Emigration is a factor in the modernization of the political system in favor of a new type of establishment within the society. It is playing a role, since the people who come back come with these ideas. Even though they haven't participated in the political heart of the U.S., they have lived there. They have a notion of the relationship between public and private and that these distinctions are clearer than those in the Dominican Republic. And these things, any person picks up on them because they see it when their kids go to school or when they pay taxes. If people live this in their daily lives, it produces a change in mentality. It is not that they have formed a movement in favor of the rights of citizens, but they have friends and neighbors, and they say to their cousins if you have a problem, go to a lawyer. Don't try to work it out through a friend." (PRD Vice President, Santo Domingo)

Dominican migration from Miraflores to Boston created a transnational village characterized by frequent, diverse ties that redefined the boundaries of village life. The lives of migrants and nonmigrants have been transformed in long-term, far-reaching ways that are reinforced by the state and by a migrant population whose potential for easy assimilation is limited. Though the community displayed high levels of transnational institutional completeness, the outcomes of these efforts were primarily Dominican-focused. These findings suggest that MirafloreÃ’os may engage in long-term participation in Dominican affairs and enjoy only limited representation in Boston. Though some may opt for dual citizenship, the nature of the community suggests that many community members may continue to view Dominican civic and political life as the primary locus of their concern.

Urban to Urban Transnational Communities -The Case of Valadares

Most Brazilian migrants to the Boston metropolitan area come from the city of Gov. Valadares. Though most migrants settle in Allston, Somerville, and Framingham, three small cities close to Boston, Framingham is widely recognized as the center of Valadarense migrant life.

Relations between Boston and Valadares began during World War II when Boston-based mining companies began extracting mica from the area around the city. To ensure a steady supply for its war effort, the U.S. government undertook major public works and public health initiatives. Missionaries from the U.S. were also active. When mining executives returned to Boston after the war, they brought Brazilians with them to work as domestic servants. These young women created the social networks that later stimulated large-scale migration.

Widespread migration from Brazil began in the 1980s following the failure of the Cruzado Plan, an economic stabilization package, which hit hard at the middle and working classes. A consumer price index set at 100 in March 1986 had, by February 1991, reached 3,041,400(Economist 1991). The numbers of Brazilians living abroad grew by 20% between 1987 and 1991 from 300,000 to 600,000 (de la Dehesa 1998). By 1994, an estimated 1.5 million Brazilians had emigrated, including 600,000 who are living in the U.S. Of these, 30,000 were from Governador Valadares, with an estimated 20,000 settling in the Boston Metropolitan area. A survey conducted in Framingham in 1989 found that 86.8% of Brazilians interviewed were from the state of Minas Gerais (Bicalho, 1989), though community organizers now estimate that Mineiros now constitute about half of Brazilians in the area.

Migrant Valadarenses exert such a strong economic effect on their sending city that the term "Valadolares" was coined to describe the almost complete dolarization of the local economy. In 1994, the Municipal Secretary of Revenue calculated that migrants injected $10 million monthly into the local economy (De la Dehesa 1998). Not surprisingly, our findings suggest a strong culture of migration. The "Boston," "Framingham," and "Empire State" Buildings are visible advertisements for the riches awaiting in the U.S. New, cafeteria-style restaurants are one popular cultural import. Several respondents commented that they had always had "U.S.-fever," and thought about migrating from the time they were very young. As one man put it, "Migration is much more practical than the options available in Brazil."

Relations between Gov. Valadares and Boston form a second type of transnational community. Brazilian migrants leave a larger, more economically-developed, socially-stratified setting than MirafloreÃ’os. Nonmigrants rely on their migrant family members far less for economic support. They receive remittances only periodically, when there is a particular need. Valadarenses arrive somewhat more familiar with global culture because Brazil plays a more active role in its production and consumption. Discotheques and automatic cash machines are commonplace in Valadares, while they are fairly recent innovations in Miraflores.

Urban-based transnational communities grow out of weaker, more expansive social networks that link the threads of migrant and nonmigrant life in a looser, more infrequent manner. In transnational villages, a relatively small group of migrants and migrants continues to enact their lives as if there were little distance between them. While urban-to-urban connections also extend household boundaries across borders, they do not necessarily transform the community's everyday social life in a similar fashion. Not everyone recognizes one another when they walk down the street in Framingham. Respondents expressed a generalized sense of belonging to a community arising partially from personal contacts and partially from the discovery of common connections once members arrived in the U.S.

Though transnational community membership does not take central stage in most Valadarenses' daily lives, however, it is always waiting in the wings. Brazilian businesses are a dominant presence in downtown Framingham. One can bank, shop, learn, pray, send remittances, phone Brazil, make travel arrangements, and socialize in Portuguese. At least seven religious and civic organizations encourage ties between Framingham and Valadares and the Brazilian state is taking an increasingly active role in ensuring their persistence.

The same set of factors encourages transnational community formation. In the Valadares case, however, these create a transnational group whose members seem to divide their energies more evenly between sending and receiving-country concerns and to be moving toward greater social and political integration into the U.S.

Again, geography is critical. The size of the sending community and the numbers that have actually migrated render the same type of personalized, simultaneous connections that characterize a transnational village impossible. Valadarenses do not all arrive with a strong sense of collective attachment to their sending city. This group partially emerges in response to the shared experience of migration. In addition, Brazilians from other regions have begun moving to the area since the early 1990s.

Second, Valadarenses are a more diverse socioeconomic group than Mirafloreños. They are more likely to be from middle-class backgrounds, with higher levels of education, and somewhat better English language skills. They often work at jobs involving more contacts outside the Brazilian community. They also seem to be naturalizing slightly more quickly than MirafloreÒos.

A third factor influencing transnational community formation is institutional completeness. In spite of its relative youth, a large number of organizations serve the Brazilian community. These groups, however, provide less frequent, less intensive opportunities for participation in home-country affairs than in the Dominican case. They also encourage greater participation in receiving-country activities.

This is particularly true with respect to politics. Though the Brazilian constitution allows dual citizenship and requires expatriates to vote in national elections and national referendums, only approximately 1,000 migrants voted in the last election. There are no active transnational political parties like the PRD. Periodic, mandatory voting forges weaker sending-country ties than voluntary, ongoing participation in actual party structures. At the same time, most Brazilian community organizations seem to focus on immigrant concerns, orienting the community toward its U.S. experience. Valadarenses, for example, have not created a group specifically promoting development in their sending city.

The most important institutions in the community are the Catholic and Evangelical churches. These groups unite the community around shared Christian beliefs but weaken it because of the many divisions which are between evangelical groups. In many cases, church structures and activities are transnational but their message stresses immigrant community development. Both Catholic and Protestant leaders claimed they urged followers not to live as sojourners. As one Protestant Minister stated, "It is difficult to build anything when a person is divided: living here but with their heart in Brazil. So my appeal to them is to be completely here. If not, they will end up not accomplishing anything."

State-sponsored activities are the fourth factor influencing the nature of the Valadarense transnational community. In general, these seem to encourage migrants' continued economic rather than political involvement in Brazil and their complete integration into the U.S. The Brazilian Consulate created "mobile consulates," which bring services to the community and a Council of Citizens which meets every six months to discuss community development. These innovations are directed at migrants as settlers not sojourners. As the Brazilian consul explained, "I also mean to teach them [emigrants] to be good citizens of this country and to integrate into the local society as fast as possible . . . I've been working not only with them but with local authorities to achieve this goal." The consulate also supported the creation of the Brazilian Business Network (BBN), a pilot organization which encourages business development in the U.S. as well as investment in Brazil. Plans are also underway to open a branch of SEBRAE (Serviço Brasileiro de Apoio às Micro e Pequenas Empresas), the equivalent of the Brazilian Small Business Administration in Boston. This would provide information for Brazilian emigrants on the regulations and procedures for opening small businesses in Brazil.

These preliminary findings suggest that Valadarenses may become more integrated than MirafloreÃ’os into the U.S. social and political context. Some of the church and Brazilian government programs serving this community actively encourage this. Other organizations reinforce migrants' ties to Brazil but in a much less frequent, economic rather than politically-driven way. Valadarenses' socioeconomic characteristics and their mode of incorporation into the labor market facilitate greater integration in the U.S. And the more-loosely connected nature of the transnational community, coupled with the divisions created by differences among Protestant groups, also attenuate sending-country ties.

Transnational Clans - The Gujarati Case

In 1990, there were over 815,500 Indian immigrants living in the U.S. An estimated 30,000 Indian immigrants currently reside in Massachusetts, over half of whom arrived in the 1980s. Many of those living around the city of Lowell are Gujaratis from the Baroda and Anand Districts. Like Indians throughout the U.S., they are likely to have at least some college education (78%) and to speak English well (91%) (U.S. Census 1992). More recent arrivals, however, tend to come from more working class backgrounds or to bring occupational skills that are not as easily transferable to the U.S.

Ties between Gujarati migrants in Lowell and nonmigrants produce a third form of transnational community. At first glance, these individuals might be expected to unite migrants weakly and to display attenuated attachments to Gujarat. Though there is a critical mass of Gujaratis in Massachusetts, there are also large communities in New Jersey, California, and Texas. The Indian government and Indian political groups have played a minimal role in reinforcing these ties. But geographic dispersion and limited transnational institutional development seem to be counteracted by the multiple, overlapping identities community members share with one another. Larger, more inclusive identities, such as being from Gujarat or belonging to the same caste, are reinforced by membership in smaller endogamous marriage groups of residents from particular towns or religious organizations. The requirements of membership in many of these groups, and the substantive content of their activities, isolates members from the host society and constantly reminds them of their attachments to Gujarat. In the case of Gujaratis, then, the kind of transnational clan which emerges may result in strong continuous ties to Gujarat combined with abbreviated participation in the U.S.

Several aspects of India's geography reinforce sustained regional attachments. First, the relative numbers migrating from India are much smaller than those leaving the Dominican Republic and Brazil. India is also much more ethnically and linguistically diverse. Regional, state, or even district-level identities are often stronger than any sense of national allegiance to India. Transnational attachments are likely to be directed toward a particular region or the villages and cities within it.

While Brazilians and Dominicans, like their U.S. hosts, are from the west, Gujaratis are from the east. Most respondents recalled growing up in an India oriented toward the Soviet axis, in which imports of western goods were severely restricted and a sense of economic and cultural nationalism prevailed. While many MirafloreÃ’os and Valadarenses claimed they had always been exposed to and envied U.S. products and values, most Gujaratis remembered little U.S. influence and felt their culture to be superior to that in the West.

The socioeconomic characteristics of the Gujarati community also influence the types of transnational attachments that evolve. They naturalize faster than Dominicans and Brazilians (35%) though they arrived during the same approximate time period. Two general groups are emerging. Many of the professionals, who are the predominant group, are global citizens. They have lived, studied, and worked throughout East Africa, England, India, and the U.S. They are comfortable in multiple settings and construct portable identities that are not strongly rooted to a particular place. They are already fluent in global culture before they come to the U.S. When asked about the effect of social remittances on Gujarati life, one respondent replied, "What could I possibly learn in the U.S. to teach my sister that she does not already know?" These individuals are unlikely to send economic remittances, though many continue to own homes or land in Gujarat. They are fluent in English, occupationally mobile, and organizationally skilled. But although they live amongst and work alongside upper middle class white professionals, they tend to remain socially apart. They socialize primarily with other Indians, most of their activities revolving around the religious and cultural organizations they have formed.

The second, expanding group of Gujaratis belongs to the working class. They are less educated and have weaker English language skills. Even if they held semi-professional or technical jobs in India, they cannot replicate their status in the U.S. They seem to have more in common with MirafloreÃ’os because they are more likely to send economic remittances to family members, pay for improvements to the family home, or invest in small businesses. As in Miraflores, we found tupperware, children's dishes decorated with Disney characters, and U.S.-made posters of puppies and kittens when we visited their homes.

The working class members of the community benefit from the organizational and leaderships skills and economic resources of their better-off counterparts. Because, unlike Valadarenses and MirafloreÃ’os, there are no comparable "sister" religious groups waiting to receive them, Gujaratis must create their own organizations. These groups reinforce cultural and religious identities that contrast sharply with U.S. values and require members to reject elements of the receiving-country milieu despite their high levels of economic and residential assimilation. Because they demand a high price for membership by socially separating members from the receiving society, these groups strongly reinforce ties to Gujarat, despite the limited presence of the Indian government and Indian political parties.

In India, Hinduism is perceived as a largely amorphous set of beliefs and practices that are an integral part of daily life. It is both a civilization and congregation of religions with no beginning, no single founder, and no central authority. The experience of being a religious minority in the U.S. forces Hindus to organize their religious practices more formally and to consciously assert their Hinduness as a way to preserve their identity (Eck 1997, Vertovec ----, Kurien 1998). Gujaratis in the Boston area, many of whom are Hindu, have had to codify and simplify traditions and rituals which in India were extremely diverse and complex. They transform what are largely home-based, private rituals into public, immigrant community-affirming events.

Because Gujaratis are few in number and display a range of affinities toward different deities and teachers, no one sect or group can afford to establish a place that belongs to them exclusively. Non-sectarian religious organizations arise, bringing together groups on a regular basis, who had little contact with one another in Gujarat.

Some groups are more explicitly transnational than others because they have created structures, coordinate activities, or they are oriented toward constituencies in multiple settings. At one end of this spectrum is Gurjar, a regional, cultural organization which reinforces sending-country attachments by affirming and transmitting cultural practices. At the other is the Swadhyaya Parivar, which is administered transnationally, organizes its meetings around videotaped messages from the group's leader sent from India each week, and has adapted its charitable work requirement so it is easier to fulfill given the constraints of immigrant life.

The substantive content of these organizations strongly reinforces a distinct, homeland-oriented identity among their membership. While migration weakens religious attachments among some groups, it often heightens religious orthodoxy among Hindus (Williams 1984, Lessinger 1995). Underlying this stronger religiosity is a deep concern about maintaining the "authenticity" of Hindu/Gujarati/Indian identity overseas. Most immigrant adults expressed the view that their ethnic identity and religious and cultural practices had to be protected from the contamination of "American" influences which were considered culturally inferior. Their need to do so grows in an immigrant context because migration has traditionally been viewed in India as a "polluting enterprise" (Chandra, 1997).

Despite minimal input from the Indian state and Indian political groups, Gujaratis' high degree of economic and residential integration, and their relatively high naturalization rates, the religious and cultural lives of this regional transnational clan keep them socially segregated and reinforce their ties to Gujarat. The nature of immigrant Hindu practice brings more individuals together on a regular basis who purposefully set themselves apart from the receiving-country context to preserve their traditions. The Gujarati community may become the most transnational, displaying higher levels of economic and political participation in the U.S. and continuing to remain involved in the religious and cultural life of Gujarat.


In this paper, I use preliminary findings from a comparative, historical study of eight immigrant communities to begin to identify different types of transnational communities and to suggest their implications for civic and political engagement. Three different types of communities emerged - a MirafloreÃ’o transnational village whose members continued to remain oriented toward their sending community, a Valadarense urbanized transnational community, which affords members comparable opportunities for participation in the sending and receiving country but seems to shift their orientation toward the U.S.; and a type of Gujarati transnational clan which also provides members with the opportunity to remain active in two contexts but which socially separates members from the host context and reinforces their ties to Gujarat.

Some scholars insist that transnational communities are a passing phenomena, arguing that earlier migrants also remained attached to their homelands but eventually assimilated into the U.S. This is undoubtedly true for some groups. For others, aspects of contemporary migration encourage the maintenance of transnational ties in ways that were not present before. First, early waves of mass migration to the U.S. were followed by a forty-year period of restricted entry. There was a very limited supply of raw materials for the "grist mill of ethnicity "ensuring that whatever ethnic identities existed would be, for the most part, a product of the events and processes operating in the United States." (Massey: 1995:642). In contrast, contemporary migration to the U.S. will probably continue unabated because the conditions which encourage it, such as wage differentials, labor market segmentation, and the globalization of the economy are unlikely to disappear (Massey et al. 1993). Homeland elements, aided by new communication and travel technologies, are continuously infused into the receiving-country context.

"New arrivals will tend to exceed the rate at which new ethnic culture is created through generational success, social mobility and intermarriage. The character of ethnicity will be determined relatively more by immigrants and relatively less by later generations, shifting the balance of ethnic identity toward the language, culture, and ways of life in the sending society (Massey et al. 1993: 645).

Sending-country attachments also persist because socioeconomic integration into the U.S. is more difficult than before. An economic boom creating hundreds of low-skilled manufacturing jobs followed the first great wave of migration. Economic restructuring during the last two decades has created fewer jobs requiring educational and language skills that many migrants do not bring. Contemporary migrants are more likely to be non-whites who may experience discrimination. While earlier groups tended to move into more heterogeneous neighborhoods as they achieved social mobility, the level of geographic concentration among new immigrant groups seems to exceed earlier arrivals at comparable stages of migration (Massey 1994, Alba and Nee 1997). Finally, classic integrating institutions, like the ward-based political party system, are on the decline. And for some groups, like the Catholic church for most Indian immigrants, they are irrelevant.

Given that transnational connections are likely to persist, what are the consequences for civic and political participation? Findings from this study suggest that the nature of the transnational community matters. Each transnational community creates different combinations of membership options ranging from continued sending-country citizenship and long-term partial membership in the host society to dual citizenship. The nature of the MirafloreÃ’o transnational village suggests that many members will be slow to naturalize, and experience social and economic marginalization in the U.S., and continue to participate in local-level Dominican affairs. In contrast, the Valadarense experience suggests a more traditional, albeit segmented path to assimilation into the U.S. with some periodic involvement in sending-country affairs. While Gujaratis exhibit more economic and residential assimilation than the other groups and they naturalize faster, their religious and cultural lives keep them strongly attached to their sending region.

What is cost to the individual, group, and nation of long-term partial membership in the host society? Can continued membership in the sending society compensate for this?

Until 1996, the difference between the rights and privileges of citizens and permanent resident aliens in the U.S. was minimal. Green card holders did not have the right to vote, they could not serve on juries, and they could not run for certain elected offices or hold public sector positions that were considered politically sensitive. Apart from this, they were basically entitled to the same protections and benefits as citizens. In 1996, however, legislative reforms scaled back welfare benefits and food stamps for many legal immigrants. Though some states reinstituted benefits and Congress has restored some benefits at the national level, the tenuousness of social rights without full political membership in the U.S. is apparent. While citizenship does not determine social and economic status, nor does it guarantee equal representation and protection, long-term partial membership will leave increasing numbers without electoral voice or input into the democratic process. Given the trends in some communities described here toward long-term transnational involvements, what are the participatory alternatives and how do they measure up?

In some cases, migrants participate in non-electoral forums. They join union and factory councils. They take part in business owners' and cultural groups like the Brazilian Business Network and Gurjar in this study. These groups can be effective vehicles for addressing local concerns. They can save the local health clinic or help prevent supermarket chains from displacing local bodega (small grocery store) owners. But even the largest, most well established organizations will not sway politicians if its members do not vote or make campaign contributions. Participation and representation through these types of groups still leaves migrants positioned unsatisfactorily with respect to state and national affairs.

Non-citizens have been granted the right to vote in certain local elections. The city of Cambridge, Mass., for example, allows resident aliens to vote. In the Nordic countries and in the Netherlands, long-term non-citizens can also vote in local elections. Some local and regional governments in Europe have created consultative councils which advise them on public policies for foreigners (Miller 1989). Here again, while these arrangements prevent complete disenfranchisement, they also mean limited influence over regional and national politics. Non-citizen voting rights are also reversible. In the late 1800s, various states allowed migrants to vote but reversed this policy during the Progressive Era.

Some argue that continued membership in the sending state affords migrants adequate protection and voice. Migrants can turn to their sending states for representation and participate in sending-country politics, which is often what concerns them more to begin with. There are an increasing number of cases in which sending states try to intervene on migrants' behalf. In 1998, The Paraguayan government tried, unsuccessfully, to stay the execution of a Paraguayan national sentenced to death in Maryland. The Mexican government publicly objected to poor working conditions in a Maine factory employing Mexican workers. But I find it difficult to imagine how these kinds of actions by sending states can equitably protect their citizens on a long-term, large-scale basis. The United States has often ignored the mandates of international bodies that it does not agree with, even if it is an official member of these groups. Some states are clearly in a stronger position to advocate for expatriates than others. Because of its socioeconomic position, the numbers of Mexicans living in the U.S., and the nature of international relations between the two countries, the Mexican government can clearly defend its foreign nationals' interests better than the Dominican state can.

On the other hand, it is difficult to predict the shape of migrants' continued participation in sending country politics. Despite full membership, many migrants opt for only partial participation. While large numbers of Dominicans used to return to the island to vote before expatriate voting was possible, voter turnout among expatriate Brazilians and Colombians has been low. These numbers may increase as registration and vote casting becomes easier. The Brazilian Consulate in Boston, for example, plans to open three polling stations during the upcoming 1998 election so that migrants can vote closer to their workplaces and homes. If voting rates remain low, the ability to influence the political process through financial contributions or reciprocal exchange (i.e. lobbying U.S. legislators in exchange for legislation favorable to emigrant interests) may satisfy many migrants. Or they may be again relegated to non-electoral participation in the sending country, resulting in limited participation in both settings.

Proponents of post-national citizenship would argue that individuals today are ensured a set of universally-accepted rights regardless of their membership in particular states. Transnational institutions and treaties guarantee these to all citizens regardless of their place of residence, making full membership less important.

I believe we are moving toward a world in which some rights are universally accepted and guaranteed by extra-state entities and a world in which some form of transnational political participation will become the norm for some groups. We need institutions which reflect how political actors actually live their lives more realistically. We are, however, a long way off from this. States still matter. The institutional mechanisms which would guarantee universal rights are weak at best. In the interim, it is of great concern that large numbers are long-term partial participants in ways that sending country membership cannot compensate for. Social rights remain vulnerable if those who hold them are not positioned politically to defend them. Some migrants' lack of organization and marginality to the political process could take years to recoup. And some nations have an increasing pool of passive members who do not shape its agenda or decide its course.

We need both short-term and long-term solutions. In the short-term, encouraging naturalization is an important goal. Dual citizenship should help. It eases the emotional barriers to citizenship felt by those who are reluctant to abandon their roots, fear being viewed as traitors by their fellow countrypersons, or anticipate bureaucratic nightmares when they return home. In the long-term, new institutions and new forms of membership are needed for those ineligible for or unwilling to become dual citizens. Just as international trade unions play an increasingly important role in protecting transnational labor, so comparable political venues are needed for transnational political actors.


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