Migrants, Refugees, and Asylum Seekers: Re-thinking Migration to Latin America and the New Ethnic Studies
Funded by the Thyssen Foundation researchers of the Department of History and the S. Daniel Abraham Center for International and Regional Studies of Tel Aviv University work together on a new approach to Ethnic Studies.
Scholarship on ethnicity in modern Latin America has traditionally understood the region’s various societies as fusions of European, Indigenous, and/or African descent. These categories are often deployed as stable categories inherited from the pre-independence period, with European or “white” as a monolith against which studies of indigeneity or blackness are set. The role of post-independence immigration from Eastern and Western Europe—as well as Asia, Africa, and other Latin American countries—in constructing the national ethnic landscape remains understudied. Historians of immigration have exacerbated this trend by reproducing narratives of ethnic exceptionalism. Rather than studying immigrant groups as part of larger, multi-ethnic contexts, historians of Italians, Germans, Jews, and other groups have tended to privilege (perceived) common origins over the particularities of experience in their “new” homes. Seeking to situate immigration within the broader scholarship on ethnicity in Latin America, we propose a “New Ethnic Studies.” We reject the exceptionalist and homogenizing tendencies within immigration history.
Instead, they advocate an approach that emphasizes the locally- and nationally-embedded nature of ethnic identification. In this conception, the process of becoming Italian-Brazilian may more closely resemble the process of becoming German-Brazilian rather than Italian-Chilean. Furthermore, this approach reminds historians that the presence of groups resulting from (im)migration challenges notions of whiteness, indigeneity, and/or blackness that inform the construction of national identities in Latin America.