UB Anthropology Professor Authors Book on Texas Immigrants

Release Date: August 9, 2012

BUFFALO, N.Y. -- Deborah Reed-Danahay, professor of anthropology at the University at Buffalo, has recently co-authored her second book with Caroline B. Brettell, a professor of anthropology at Southern Methodist University.

"Civic Engagements: The Citizenship Practices of Indian and Vietnamese Immigrants" is the culmination of research the two began while Reed-Danahay was teaching at the University of Texas-Arlington.

The work focuses on the third- and fourth-largest growing immigrant populations in Texas: Indian and Vietnamese citizens. Reed-Danahay's research focused exclusively on Vietnamese refugees and the issue of identity, specifically, how people learn about their national identity -- a process very different for adults who are emigrating from their homeland than for native-born children who are unconsciously inculcated in their cultural norms simply by growing up within their society.

"Civic Engagements" does not focus on the more formal participation in political processes such as voting and campaigning for political positions, she said. Rather, the book focuses on informal civic engagement that occurs through houses of worship, ethnic organizations, festivals and banquets, and other non-governmental agencies, although Reed-Danahay recognizes that there is a link between the formal and the informal.

"This informal civic engagement may lead to pathways to formal civic engagement," she said.

While "Civic-Engagements" looks only at the participation in civic activities of adults and young adults, not children, Reed-Danahay currently is outlining a manuscript about Vietnamese children of the diaspora who immigrated to both America and France -- studying their memoirs, cultural products and other representations, as well as how they represent those memories and artifacts to outsiders.

She expects to work on that manuscript, and another, while in residence at Magdalene College, Cambridge University, during a sabbatical from UB. Reed-Danahay will be in residence at Cambridge as a Yip Fellow during the school's Michaelmas term, which is the school's first term of the academic year, and roughly corresponds to UB's fall term.

"Adults come with civic engagement experience, albeit from their own country," Reed-Danahay said. That was the reason she decided to only look at adults' and young adults' civic engagement. Even between the two groups, though, there was significant difference in how the groups saw themselves, and how they defined words like "citizenship" and "patriotism" -- and if those two ideas were distinct or were inseparable.

While Reed-Danahay's worked solely with the Vietnamese, many of whom began to arrive in the U.S. after the fall of Saigon in 1975 for political reasons, "Civic Engagements" also looks at the Indian community -- immigrants who came to the U.S. for much different reasons. Brettell contributed the research on the Indian community in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. The book looks at the ways in which the two groups similarly engage, as well as ways that are unique to each culture.

Since becoming a professor of anthropology at UB, Reed-Danahay has presented some of her research culled from "Civic Engagements" at the Baldy Center for Law and Social Policy and at events sponsored by Asian Studies Program.

"Civic Engagements: The Citizenship Practices of Indian and Vietnamese Immigrants" is available from Stanford University Press.

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