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February 26, 2001


DALLAS (SMU) -- An interdisciplinary team of researchers from Southern Methodist University and the University of Texas at Arlington has received one of the largest grants ever given by the National Science Foundation in the field of cultural anthropology. The three-year, $445,000 grant will be used to conduct the first comprehensive study of immigrants in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex.

While older cities such as New York and Chicago have been the subject of numerous studies on immigration, this is one of the first studies to focus on a "suburban metropolis" that includes new suburban as well as older urban environments. Dallas, Tarrant, Collin and Denton counties will all be included in the study.

"There is a new kind of immigration that has emerged just like there is a new kind of city that has emerged in the United States," said James Hollifield, a professor of political science at SMU and one of four researchers involved with the project. "Today's immigrants span the gamut from the top to the bottom of the labor market, and they go where the jobs are, not just where their compatriots are."

The study will compare and contrast the experiences of five distinct groups of post-1980 immigrants in the Metroplex: Mexicans, Nigerians, Vietnamese, Salvadorans and Asian Indians. It will focus on social, economic and political factors that influence incorporation.

"Immigrants come to this country with a certain baseline of human capital in terms of education and skills," Hollifield said. "Something happens between their moment of arrival and the time they become incorporated. We want to look at that black box in terms of what happens between these two periods."

In addition to Hollifield, researchers involved with the study are Caroline Brettell, chair of the Anthropology Department at SMU; Dennis Cordell, professor of history and associate dean for general education at SMU; and Manuel García y Griego, director of the Center for Mexican American Studies at UT-Arlington.

All four professors have conducted extensive research on immigration in other contexts, but this is the first time they have turned their attention to their hometown area.

"The Dallas-Fort Worth metropolitan area is a really understudied area from a social scientific point of view," Brettell said.

In the past 20 years, Brettell noted, the Dallas-Fort Worth area has quietly become more diverse in terms of its population. Between 1970 and 1990, the proportion of foreign-born residents in Dallas and Tarrant counties doubled. The area's population is now believed to include more than 300,000 residents from Mexico, 50,000 Asian Indians, 35,000 Nigerians, 30,000 Vietnamese and 5,000 Salvadorans.

"This has raised a lot of questions that are crying out for some sort of systematic research project," Brettell said.

For example, García said, the Dallas-Fort Worth area has not witnessed the kind of anti-immigrant sentiment that has been seen in many other United States cities during the 1990s. He believes that the area's strong entreprenurial orientation may influence how newcomers are received.

"We want to see to what extent entrepreneurship influences not just people's attitudes generally toward immigrants but also whether that has an impact upon the way that immigrants become incorporated," he said.

The new study will include a detailed review of census data from the past 30 years as well as a review of changes in federal laws pertaining to immigration since 1980. The researchers will conduct telephone interviews with 1,200 randomly selected households in the Metroplex and at least 100 face-to-face interviews with representatives from each of the five national groups to be studied. Additional interviews will be conducted with state and local government officials, heads of social service agencies and community organizations, employers and immigrant entrepreneurs.

The researchers also will analyze how immigration is portrayed in the mainstream press and study the area's ethnic language press.

"With the exception of Mexican immigrants, who have been here a very long time, most of these groups are recent enough that we can actually capture their whole immigration history in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex," Cordell said. "That is a very unusual opportunity."

The researchers have already made contacts in the local immigrant communities through a preliminary study conducted in 1996 with funds from the Social Science Research Council. This study led to a conference at SMU in the spring of 1997 in which representatives of immigrant communities participated in panel discussions. It also led to a book titled The New Dallas: Immigrants, Community Institutions and Cultural Diversity that was just published by the Willaim P. Clements Center for Southwest Studies at SMU.

This is the second interdisciplinary project on which Brettell and Hollifield have collaborated. Last year the two published Migration Theory, which examines the issue of migration across disciplines. The book incorporates the work of anthropologists, demographers, historians, lawyers and sociologists to gain greater insight into the phenomenon of international migration.

Hollifield and Garcia each contributed a chapter to the 1994 book Controlling Immigration: A Global Perspective, which is the most widely used text on comparative immigration policy.

Cordell said the new project is an excellent example of universities in the Metroplex working together rather than each doing its own research. "No one of us could do this project by ourselves," he said.

The researchers involved with the study expect that it will result in numerous publications, as well as a conference and several Ph.D. dissertations in history and anthropology.

Brettell said results of the new study could be used by civic leaders and grassroots organizations to plan effectively for the integration of new immigrants.

"We hope this will teach people who live in Dallas more about the complexity of the populations that live in their city," Brettell said. "Dallas is not what you see in 'Walker, Texas Ranger.'"