Portuguese Immigrants and Citizenship in North America



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Irene Bloemraad, Lusotopie 1999, pp. 103-120

Portuguese Immigrants and Citizenship in North America


P


eople born in Portugal – both on the mainland and from the Azores – have been migrating to all corners of the globe for hundreds of years. In the 20th century, this migration stream became a torrent during certain periods ; Teixeira and Lavigne (1992) estimate that in the ten-year period from 1964 to 1974 about 100,000 Portuguese were leaving the country every year. A substantial number of these immigrants ended up in North America, either moving to the

United States, particularly New England and California, or to Canada, especially in Ontario. Yet, little is known about the comparative experiences of these immigrants. Those who went to North America were very similar in many respects, sharing a common culture and religion, leaving behind a dictatorship and, in most cases, also leaving behind intense economic hardship. Did it make a difference whether a Portuguese immigrant went to Canada or the US ? In this paper I look at the naturalization processes of Portuguese immigrants in North America – their propensity to acquire the citizenship of their new host country – and I argue that the political culture and institutional configuration of Canada facilitated and encouraged naturalization among Portuguese immigrants to a much greater extent than in the United States.

Numerous studies have documented that immigrants to Western Europe become citizens at widely varying rates because of the different citizenship laws in each country (Brubaker 1992). In North America, however, a common history as immigration countries has led to very similar and generous regulations governing naturalization. Consequently, it might be expected that naturalization patterns in the United States and Canada should be roughly equivalent. Yet, according to census data, in 1990 only 43 % of all adult, Portuguese-born residents of Massachusetts had natura­lized, compared to 57 % of all adult Portuguese in Ontario1. Furthermore, if one looks at immigrants who had lived in their respective host countries for ten years prior to the census, one finds that while 62 % of the Portuguese in Ontario have become Canadian citizens, the comparable figure for the US is only about 17 % (see Table I for more details). The difference is enormous, and begs further investigation.

In this paper, I consider a number of potential explanations for this gap, highlighting the limits of past theories. Using the case of Portuguese immigrants in Ontario and Massachusetts, I suggest that differences in rates and level of naturalization for the Portuguese in the two countries can be understood by examining the different ways in which the State encourages – both symbolically and financially – immigrant communities and indivi­duals to naturalize. I suggest that in Canada there exists a top-down approach to naturalization : the process is actively encouraged by the federal government through policies like official multiculturalism, while support and funding from federal agencies make it easier for community organiza­tions to help immigrants to become citizens. In contrast, the US naturali­zation process is more generally bottom-up : grassroots organizations are expected to mobilize on their own, with little or no support from the State, while federal agencies can be seen as forbidding and unhelpful, more interested in policing frontiers than in encouraging immigrant incor­poration.



Is there Really an Unexplained Difference in Naturalization Rates ?
Two approaches currently found in the academic literature could conceivably be used to explain the difference in Portuguese naturalization levels in North America. The first one looks at the formal rules and regulations governing citizenship acquisition. This approach is popular in Europe where researchers have investigated cross-national differences in the legal apparatus surrounding citizenship, as well as the effects of these differences on actual incorporation rates. A second explanation is more popular among scholars in « New World » countries ; it focuses on the characteristics of individual immigrants, argues that socio-economic and demographic attributes affect individuals’ ability and motivation to acquire citizenship. I contend that while both arguments have merit, none can adequately account for the observed naturalization gap between Portuguese immigrants.
Formal Institutional Explanations
An obvious reason why there might be a difference in citizenship patterns in the US and Canada would be because the laws governing naturalization are different. A rich European literature investigates the reasons for, as well as the consequences of, different citizenship laws in Western Europe (Brubaker 1992 ; Layton-Henry 1990). The classical formulation of this argument compares the more inclusive French regime to the restrictively ethnic German pattern which only accords citizenship on the basis of blood2. It is consequently argued that one of the biggest obstacles for many immigrants in Europe are restrictive regulations.Tabl. I. — Naturalization levels of Portuguese-Born Residents of Ontario and Massachusetts

Adults 18 years old and over, non-institutionalized population





United States

US %/Cnd %

Canada




Portuguese Immigrants

Portuguese Naturalized




Portuguese Naturalized

Portuguese Immigrants

Year of Entry

Number

 % of total immigration

Number

 % of total period




 % of total period

Number

 % of total immigration

Number

before 1950

4,402

4.95

3,732

84.78

-15.22

100.00

33

0.02

33

1950-1959

3,940

7.89

3,108

78.88

-4.38

83.27

6,800

1.70

8,167

1960-1964

5,211

14.69

3,265

62.66

-16.02

78.67

9,100

6.97

11,567

1965-1969

18,688

31.99

9,108

48.74

-19.82

68.56

15,700

7.48

22,900

1970-1974

13,842

24.88

5,718

41.31

-17.85

59.15

21,000

11.23

35,500

1975-1979

12,683

22.56

3,302

26.03

-25.91

51.95

4,000

4.88

7,700

1980-1981

3,105

8.80

545

17.55

-35.73

53.28

2,167

4.37

4,067

1982-1984

2,023

5.08

254

12.56

-49.44

62.00

1,033

2.50

1,667

1985-1986

1,753

4.92

322

18.37

-16.67

35.04

1,600

4.12

4,567

1987-1990

2,542

3.61

356

14.00

11.32

2.69

300

3.76

11,167

TOTALS

68,189

12.97

29,710

43.57

-13.95

57.52

61,733

4.88

107,333
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