Disenchanting Citizenship: Mexican Migrants and the Boundaries of Belonging

Disenchanting Citizenship: Mexican Migrants and the Boundaries of Belonging

Disenchanting Citizenship: Mexican Migrants and the Boundaries of Belonging

Disenchanting Citizenship: Mexican Migrants and the Boundaries of Belonging


Central to contemporary debates in the United States on migration and migrant policy is the idea of citizenship, and--as apparent in the continued debate over Arizona's immigration law SB 1070--this issue remains a focal point of contention, with a key concern being whether there should be a path to citizenship for "undocumented" migrants. In Disenchanting Citizenship, Luis F. B. Plascencia examines two interrelated issues: U.S. citizenship and the Mexican migrants' position in the United States.

The book explores the meaning of U.S. citizenship through the experience of a unique group of Mexican migrants who were granted Temporary Status under the "legalization" provisions of the 1986 IRCA, attained Lawful Permanent Residency, and later became U.S. citizens. Plascencia integrates an extensive and multifaceted collection of interviews, ethnographic fieldwork, ethno-historical research, and public policy analysis in examining efforts that promote the acquisition of citizenship, the teaching of citizenship classes, and naturalization ceremonies. Ultimately, he unearths citizenship's root as a Janus-faced construct that encompasses a simultaneous process of inclusion and exclusion. This notion of citizenship is mapped on to the migrant experience, arguing that the acquisition of citizenship can lead to disenchantment with the very status desired. In the end, Plascencia expands our understanding of the dynamics of U.S. citizenship as a form of membership and belonging.


There is no notion more central in politics than citizenship, and none
more variable in history, or contested in theory

—Judith Shklar (1991)

I am an alien and a citizen of the United States of America. My Certificate of Naturalization locates my political presence and notes that I am “entitled to be admitted to citizenship … and … admitted as a citizen of the United States of America.” The certificate finalizes my path to citizenship— a status that I respect and feel privileged to acquire, particularly in the context of the many migrants I have known over the years who struggled to obtain the same privilege but did not succeed. Many years after being granted U.S. citizenship, I noticed something in my certificate that I never noticed before. It locates me bureaucratically through three numbers: a petition number (10344), a certificate number (9698992), and my alien registration number (A12 628 001). I was particularly intrigued by the last of these. Did the prominent location of my alien number on the form, in the upper right-hand corner below the certificate number and the word “Naturalization,” mean that although I have been granted citizenship, I still remain an alien—a citizen with an alien number? Or is it simply a bureaucratic tracking strategy that does not matter because I have been admitted within the circle of membership where there is no second-class citizenship?

While there is no single answer to the above questions, the observations index central issues in this book: How has the circle of membership been constructed in the United States? Does acquisition of citizenship create equality among citizens and erase other social hierarchies in the society?

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