Summer 2013

The Contributions of Immigrants to American Culture

Charles Hirschman

The standard account of American immigration focuses on the acculturation and assimilation of immigrants and their children to American society. This analysis typically ignores the significant contributions of immigrants to the creation of American culture through the performing arts, sciences, and other cultural pursuits. Immigrants and their children are not born with more creative talents than native-born citizens, but their selectivity and marginality may have pushed and pulled those with ability into high-risk career paths that reward creative work. The presence of large numbers of talented immigrants in Hollywood, academia, and the high-tech industries has pushed American institutions to be more meritocratic and open to innovation than they would be otherwise.

CHARLES HIRSCHMAN, a Fellow of the American Academy since 1998, is the Boeing International Professor of Sociology and Public Affairs at the University of Washington. His publications include The Handbook of International Migration (edited with Josh DeWind and Philip Kasinitz, 1999), Southeast Asian Studies in the Balance: Reflections from America(edited with Charles F. Keyes and Karl Hutterer, 1992), and Ethnic and Social Stratification in Peninsular Malaysia (1975).

To read this essay or subscribe to Dædalus, visit the Dædalus access page
Access now