Between Two Nations: The Political Predicament of Latinos in New York City

By Michael Jones-Correa | Go to book overview

5
Resistance from Within: The Myth of Return and the Community of Memory

There's a paradox in Latin American immigration to the United States. Many come to make the United States their permanent residence.1 Contrary to popular belief, the return rates of the new immigrants are lower than those of immigrants in the past. Yet naturalization rates for these immigrants are also low; it often takes decades to make the decision to naturalize. Why is this? The first part of the answer, we've seen, is the consequence of external constraints -- the logic of a machine politics that values the calculus of available resources over the incorporation of marginal players.

The second half of the answer is that, in part, the desire to stay is an acquired taste. Often people come to the United States with the hope (even if faint or obscure) of returning someday to their countries of origin. One recent observer astutely points out that no matter how much immigrants appreciate the United States, and even if they plan on staying, they always use the impersonal "este país" -- "this country" -- to speak of the United States, and emotional, possessive terms like "mi patria," "mi tierra," "mi país" -- my land, my country -- to refer to the country of their birth. There's always an emotional distance from the host society ( Duany 1994: 33-34).

But these emotional ties to the home country are not enough in themselves to explain the hesitation to naturalize as American citizens. The explanation also lies with the costs immigrants encounter as they face the decision to naturalize. Even as immigrants shift their attachments and their lives to the United States, the costs of naturalization are simply too high for many of them to pay. American citizenship not only ends the romanticized

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1
Ninety-four % of Pachón and DeSipio's New York sample said they had "plans to make the U.S. their permanent residence" ( 1994: 177, table 8.31).

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