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Immigrants With a Twist

To most of us, concepts like globalization and global citizenship seem so far removed from our daily lives that they seemingly have no impact. In fact, we hardly consider the possibility that such concepts can determine our friends, neighbors, and co-workers. Most of us also think of immigrants in very simple terms: Mexicans from Mexico, Poles from Poland, Asian Indians from India, etc. In most cases, immigrants do come from where they were born. But there are also others who have roamed the earth before arriving in our state. Some have settled in Illinois upon their travels and some are simply passing by.

Historically, people often moved for political and economic reasons. Many have fled Cuba, Bosnia, or a number of African nations to seek political asylum. And many have left the Philippines, India, Poland, and many other nations seeking economic opportunities. Today we travel with far greater frequency and over far greater distances than ever before. After 1965, when the Immigration and Naturalization Act was passed, Asian Indians who used to live in England during colonization and Koreans who were in Germany seeking coal mining and nursing opportunities moved to United States. In fact, in the 1970s, a third of Korean immigrants into the Chicago area came from Germany.

Illinois' immigrants with a twist: see where they're actually from.
According to the latest census data, from 2005, 317,027 of white immigrants in Illinois (38 percent) were born in Mexico. This is not surprising considering many Europeans have migrated to Mexico just as many settled in the United States. Aside from expected places of births in various European countries, whites in Illinois showed a fair amount of diversity, coming from Ecuador (5,722), Venezuela (4,166), Colombia (3,627), Egypt (3,174), Peru (2,592), Morocco (2,017), South Africa (1,882), Algeria (1,561), Uruguay (1,285), Afghanistan (955), India (954), Chile (276), Nigeria (199), Zimbabwe (109), Kenya (105), and Liberia (101). There were also 147 born in China with an additional 194 born in Hong Kong and 158 from Taiwan.

Also not surprising are blacks/African Americans who were born in various African nations, including Nigeria (6,838), Ghana (3,922), and Ethiopia (1,449). However, it is surprising that there were more blacks/African Americans born in Romania (1,336) and Norway (1,079) who have emigrated to Illinois than those from France (926), Germany (743) and England (150). We also have black residents who were born in a number of Asian countries, including Japan (745), China (288), and Korea (70).

Historically, Asians have been particularly mobile for the past century around the globe, and that is quite evident among Asian residents in Illinois. Their places of births outside of Asia practically covers the rest of the world, including England (1,113), Canada (786), Trinidad and Tobago (482), Australia (352), Brazil (336), Mexico (318), Venezuela (312), El Salvador (226), Argentina (214), Guatemala (213), Germany (133), Ethiopia (112), Guyana (111), Algeria (103), Tanzania (96), Russia (95), Kenya (89), France (83), Poland (73), and Nigeria (64). These figures do not include an additional 2,354 who simply stated that they were born in Africa.

While most people on this earth live their entire lives in one place, those few who explore the globe challenge our thoughts about social interactions and spark us to think beyond what we already know. Much of the debate about immigration today problematizes immigrants by reducing them into simple categorical terms: undocumented, limited English-speaking, fillers for unskilled jobs, etc. But in this world where everyone is more exposed to each other, the complexity of who we are also makes it increasingly difficult to describe people in simple terms. The level and rate of change in this new complexity will only increase, and we will need policies and cultural competence to accommodate it in the near future.

Kiljoong Kim is Research Director with the Egan Urban Center and a lecturer of sociology at DePaul University. For more Kiljoong, see the Who We Are archive.


Posted on January 8, 2007

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