Political, Legal Historian to Examine Notion of U.S. as Nation of Immigrants

Columbia University scholar Mae Ngai will lecture at UCR on Jan. 14

Mae Ngai

Mae Ngai

RIVERSIDE, Calif. – The narrative of the United States as a nation of immigrants will be examined by legal and political historian Mae Ngai in a public lecture at UC Riverside on Thursday, Jan. 14, at 3 p.m.

The event will be held in Interdisciplinary Building 1113, and is free and open to the public. Complimentary parking will be available. Parking permits may be obtained at the kiosk on West Campus Drive at the University Avenue entrance to the campus.

Ngai’s lecture, “The United States as a Nation of Immigrants: A Short History of an Idea,” is part of the UCR Phi Beta Kappa Visiting Scholar Program and is being presented in cooperation with the University Honors program.

In the last several years, a new immigrant rights movement has swept the United States, focusing on reforming immigration laws to give legal status and citizenship to the 11 million undocumented immigrants, Ngai explained.

“A common appeal made by Dreamers and other immigrant rights activists is their claim of belonging to U.S. is grounded in the history of America as a nation of immigrants,” she said. “Many Americans believe that the democratic and inclusive character of our society – specifically our ethno-racial diversity, and lack of hierarchy based on one’s birth, and the opportunity for socio-economic advance – are most brightly illuminated by the immigrant experience.

“Without denying the power of the ‘nation of immigrants,’ I will put this idea under scrutiny by considering its empirical validity, the origins of the idea, and its uses and abuses. In particular I test the idea by comparing and contrasting the experience and conditions of possibility for socio-economic mobility for the two great waves of labor migration to the U.S. at the turn of the 20th century and at the turn of the 21st.”

Ngai is professor of history and Lung Family Professor of Asian American Studies at Columbia University whose research focuses on questions of immigration, citizenship, and nationalism. She is author of the award-winning “Impossible Subjects: Illegal Aliens and the Making of Modern America” and “The Lucky Ones: One Family and the Extraordinary Invention of Chinese America.”

She has written on immigration history and policy for the Washington Post, New York Times, Los Angeles Times, the Nation, and the Boston Review. Before becoming a historian she was a labor-union organizer and educator in New York City, working for District 65-UAW and the Consortium for Worker Education. She is writing “Yellow and Gold: The Chinese Mining Diaspora, 1848-1908,” a study of Chinese gold miners and racial politics in 19th century California, the Australian colony of Victoria, and the South African Transvaal.

Media Contact


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