Where We Live Now: Immigration and Race in the United States

Iceland, J
University of California Press, Berkeley, CA
2009
9780520257634 (pb)

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Cover of book John Iceland's Where We Live Now: Immigration and Race in the United States focuses on the central question of residential segregation in the United States. Mobilising rigorous analyses of US census data, Iceland addresses the importance of racial and ethnic factors in US residential patterns, dealing both with the black/white colour line as well as with the residential integration of groups that have traditionally been less discussed in immigration scholarship, Asians and Hispanics.

Iceland proposes to examine patterns of residential segregation through an analysis of census data based on the dissimilarity index, and positions his discussion in relation to three major theories of migrant integration. The first of these theories 'spatial assimilation' suggests that migrants move out of their ethnic communities as they achieve higher proficiency in English and higher socio-economic status. The second theory 'ethnic disadvantage' challenges the importance given to increasing familiarity with English and with American culture in the spatial assimilation model, and argues that lingering prejudice and discrimination against certain groups can hinder their integration into American society. Finally, 'segmented assimilation' focuses on the existence of significant differences in the patterns of assimilation of various immigrant groups, acknowledging the contrasting ways in which different groups have been integrated.

Iceland situates his analyses within these three theories, proposing that while differences in residential segregation between native-born and foreign-born groups seem to support the spatial assimilation model, such model is in fact mostly appropriate to account for the residential patterns of white immigrants. Many of Iceland's analyses provide support for the segmented assimilation model, not least his argument that while black-white segregation has declined, it still remains higher than Hispanic-white and Asian-white segregation. Perhaps the book's most significant contribution lies in its nuanced analysis of Hispanic segregation, which rejects the common tendency to apprehend Hispanics as a monolithic group. Iceland rightly points out that Hispanics who describe themselves as black in the US census sometimes do so 'because the broader population defines and treats them in that way' (105).

Where We Live Now includes detailed tables and graphs and clear explanations of the theories being used. Each chapter ends with a section that provides an excellent summary of the chapter as well as concluding remarks. Iceland is careful to situate his own findings in relation to both establish and recent research, and provides detailed analyses of his data. In the first chapter, he clearly introduces the questions and stakes that are addressed in the book. The second chapter provides a short presentation of theories of immigrant spatial incorporation as well as a short historical overview of US immigration history. Chapters 3 and 4 provide detailed analyses of patterns of residential segregation for African Americans, Hispanics and Asians. Chapter 5 focuses more specifically on Hispanics, with some significant contributions to immigration scholarship. In Chapter 6, the author discusses the unique case of multi-ethnic or diverse communities, arguing that such communities are not necessarily free of tension or characterised by a sense of community, and that they can only be regarded as truly multi-ethnic if their population is characterised by relative stability. Iceland concludes that while we may expect an increase in Hispanic segregation, assimilation can generally be said to reduce the significance of various colour lines.

Although Iceland's findings are not wholly surprising, Where We Live Now provides rich and detailed results. One may deplore the fact that his graphs and tables are based on the dissimilarity index and do not provide readers with more concrete figures on residential segregation. Iceland's contention that Washington D.C. is representative of trends in residential segregation in the US is a little unjustified, and his analyses of residential patterns in Washington D.C. could have deserved an entire chapter. His rigorous scientific approach could also be complemented by an interpretation of the cultural and historical circumstances that have shaped the figures being analysed. His evocation of US immigration history remains a short at times simplistic account that makes the book accessible to non US specialists, but that also lacks sophistication. Despite these small remarks, Iceland's Where We Live Now is a significant contribution to immigration scholarship that goes beyond binary black/white discussions of residential patterns in the United States.

Marilyne Brun
Université de Toulouse-le Mirail and The University of Melbourne