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American Sociological Association: Robert Courtney Smith Award Statement
Mexican New York: Transnational Lives of New Immigrants by Robert Courtney Smith is an ambitious, methodologically meticulous analysis of the lives of Mexican immigrants both in New York City and in their regular visits back to their communities of origin in Mexico.Based on fifteen years of ethnographic research in New York City and Puebla, Mexico, Mexican New York is ethnographic research at its best.It is a timely and important book that offers significant contributions to a dizzying number of areas within sociology.The book shows how migration decisions, assimilation patterns, gender relations among both first and second generation immigrants, the development of adolescent identities, religious experiences, political participation in American and Mexican communities, the process of racialization, social mobility patterns through the life course, and the participation in gangs are all influenced by transnational life and how transnational lives are influenced by the above social processes.
Smith convincingly argues that it is a mistake to treat transnationalism as a separate phenomenon from assimilation.Rather, he shows through various examples that to understand the assimilation experiences of immigrants in the United States it is necessary to study their ongoing transnational experiences.Similarly, the transnational lives of these migrants cannot be fully understood without analyzing their complex experiences of assimilation in the United States.By looking at the daily lives of Mexican migrants both in the United States and in Mexico, Smith is able to illustrate globalization in intimately human terms and to show how globalization affects both individuals and communities across national borders.
Robert Courtney Smith demonstrates that we cannot understand the experiences of migrants without understanding their daily lives in both their countries of origin and their countries of destination.Furthermore, we must understand the reasons for and the consequences of their ongoing relationships within and between these countries.Smith’s nuanced and complex book argues that the experience of migration and transnationalism has lasting consequences not only for the individual identities of migrants, but for the multiple communities in which they live.For instance, in both Puebla and New York City the migrants’ transnantional experiences have an influence upon electoral politics, youth culture, gang participation, and the meanings of gender and sexuality.
Smith offers us an academically rigorous yet emotionally moving account of migration and transnational life.Passionate about the issues he analyzes and sympathetic to those he studies, Smith is also strikingly honest.He explains the ways in which both positive as well as negative assimilation occurs and he vividly illustrates the many tensions that exist in the lives of transnational migrants; tensions between those who migrate and those who don’t, between those who return to Mexico and those who don’t, between men and women, between first and second generation immigrants, between parents and children, between political interests, and between gang members and the college-bound.
In spite of his Ph.D. from Columbia University in political science (for which we will forgive him), Robert C. Smith is an exemplary practitioner of public sociology.In addition to his advocacy for Mexican American immigrants in New York City, he is the co-founder of the Mexican Educational Foundation of New York.This nonprofit organization has as its goals to “foster Mexican and Mexican American leadership and progress in New York by promoting educational achievement, mentorship, and positive definitions of Mexicanness. (Smith, 2006:293).”Robert Smith is currently an Associate Professor of Public Affairs at Baruch College.