Date of Degree

2-2014

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Ph.D.

Program

Sociology

Advisor(s)

Nancy Foner

Subject Categories

Ethnic Studies | Jewish Studies | Sociology

Abstract

This study is an in-depth look at how religion, class, and ethno-racial status interact and intersect to affect assimilation and integration prospects for new immigrants. The research focuses on Latin American Jewish immigrants in the Northeastern United States, a particularly interesting group to study because they are not easily classified within the American racial and ethnic system and existing ethno-racial categories. As a result, they are presented with a number of ethnic options that they can call upon. The choices they make as well as the constraints they face in making these choices, can broaden our understanding of contemporary immigrant life in America today. Using qualitative data from forty-one in-depth interviews as well as ethnographic research, the study shows how immigrants develop and adopt different ethnic labels as part of their larger sense of ethnic identity. The study finds that Latino Jews have a number of identities to choose from - national identities, Latino, Jewish or panethno-religious (Latino Jewish) and the label or ethnic identity they choose (or are assigned) is often situational and instrumental, yet legitimate. The study also focuses on the construction of panethnicity and a panethnic group identity. Latino Jews develop a panethnic identity through interaction with other in-group members, in an institutional setting such as a community centre or religious organization. Within an institutional or organized site, the exchange of religious customs reinforces a sense of shared history and is a strong factor in the development of a new pan-ethnic identity. Overall, the experience of Latino Jews shows that class and race are important determinants in the construction and instrumentality of ethnicity and ethnic identity for this group of immigrants.

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