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date: 19 March 2019

Intermarriage and the Creation of a New American

Abstract and Keywords

Intermarriage remains a uniquely revealing site for exploring questions about immigration and the creation of American cultures and racial hierarchies in the past and present. At every stage of U.S. History, practices of and policies regulating intermarriage have helped define belonging and distribute political and economic privileges. Although historians have sometimes interpreted persistent and lasting intermarriages between particular ethno-racial groups as a harbinger of more amiable ethno-racial relations and evidence of assimilation, they have also noted that such marriages can reinforce gender and racial inequalities. Scholars will continue to enhance the field by studying intermarriages that crossed and transcended national borders, defied the assumption of heterosexuality, and tested the salience of ethnicity among new immigrants from Latin America and Asia.

Keywords: intermarriage, assimilation, ethnicity, creation, racial hierarchies, cross, national borders

Scholars have studied immigrants’ patterns of intermarriage to make larger claims about assimilation, cultural change, preservation and invention, the progress of civil rights movements, the nature and efficacy of colonial conquests, and ultimately the definition of who is an American. As the most intimate and arguably committed form of interracial or interethnic relationships, these marriages have tested and blurred existing ethno-racial categories and cultural boundaries as the transgressors defied familial and social conventions about the necessity of maintaining traditions and the integrity of established communities. Although all couples may confront the challenges of living and loving together, especially after adding children, those in mixed marriages have often faced more external opposition and attempted to bridge wider differences in values and expectations. Historians have thus interpreted persistent and lasting intermarriages between particular ethno-racial groups as a harbinger of more amiable ethno-racial relations, as part of a process of integrating and consolidating previously separate groups. Striking an optimistic note, some have wondered whether rising rates of intermarriage in recent years will erode ethno-racial divisions absolutely, generating a postracial society in which individuals no longer identify and differentiate themselves on the basis of ethnicity or race. Richard Rodriquez has eloquently described this view of the seemingly inevitable mixing and remixing of diverse Americans as a “browning” of the nation.1

However, others have quickly countered that not all interracial marriages are created equal. Asians and Latinos intermarry more regularly and their multiracial offspring more readily embrace the identity, “mixed race,” than blacks, a distinction that may highlight a readier acceptance of newer immigrants from Asia and Latin America and the emergence of black/non-black rather than black/white as the most salient racial divide in the contemporary United States.2 Distinctions in the gender and racial patterns (p. 233) of contemporary intermarriages, namely that black men and Asian ethnic women are, respectively, twice as likely to marry outside their ethno-racial group as black women and Asian ethnic men, or that white-Asian couples have the highest combined incomes and levels of education, also raise questions about social norms and opportunities.3 Moreover, marriage to a person of another ethno-racial background does not always reduce prejudices or diminish a sense of difference; intermarriages can introduce and direct changes without collapsing the racial order. Certainly, intermarriage remains a uniquely revealing site for exploring questions about immigration and the creation of American cultures and ethno-racial hierarchies in the past and present. At every stage of U.S. history, the experiences of intermarried couples and the policies governing their unions have helped define membership, distribute political and economic privileges, and describe national identity.4

Among the earliest immigrants to the Americas, European colonizers—most notably the Spanish, French, and British—intermarried with indigenous peoples and African slaves, relationships that shaped the successes and character of their respective conquests. Historians of New France have depicted how French officials initially recommended the marriages of French traders and Indian women in the 17th century. Such liaisons would facilitate economic exchanges and grow the population. Without the integration and cooperation of Indians, the sparsely settled French colony could not expand the fur trade, protect its settlements, or assure military security. Indigenous peoples accepted miscegenation as a means of strengthening alliances and access to European goods. French officials imagined that French men would necessarily educate their Indian wives and contribute to the reproduction of “Frenchness” in the New World, an assumption that betrayed French cultural paternalism. However, in practice, the influence flowed in the opposite direction. Amerindians selected some merchandise, economic practices, and military tactics of the French, but eschewed French language, customs, and laws. French men appeared to “go savage,” losing their French culture as they became members of their wives’ families and communities.5 Alarmed by such developments, French officials launched an ultimately futile effort in the second half of the 17th century to discourage intermarriages by importing French women from the metropole. Drawn from the lower ranks of French society, these so called Filles du Roi, did not suit the fancy of French men, perhaps because the women could not offer the advantages of their Indian rivals. Saliha Belmessous has argued that the failure of the policy of assimilation through intermarriage helped create a previously absent concept of race by the 18th century. French officials now criticized miscegenation and described differences between French settlers and Amerindians in racialized terms.6 In formulating these ideas, Guillaume Aubert suggests that the colonizers drew upon and applied a metropolitan discourse about mixing intended to protect the racial purity of the French nobility to the French colonial population generally. Acceptance of intermarriage between French immigrants and Indians in New France, gave way to intolerance as French notions of ethnicity that were cultural became racial. Demographics and more inchoate racial views had also generated French-African marriages in the Caribbean and Louisiana in the early decades of the French presence there, but French authorities (p. 234) never advocated for such marriages and would more vehemently oppose them as slavery matured and such unions appeared to threaten the institution.7

Although the first Spanish immigrants to the Americas also intermarried with African and Indian peoples, such interactions were structured by their different intentions of conquest, specifically efforts to both convert Indian peoples into good Spaniards and depend on their labor. When these 16th-century settlement policies faltered, as the Indian population dropped precipitously due to disease and violence, colonial officials began to import African slaves to fill their needs. From the confluence of regular mixing among Spanish, Indian, and African peoples, greater competition over the gains of conquest emerged. An elaborate caste system developed that both named and organized the many racial types now populating New Spain by the second half of the 16th century. The classifications intended to confirm Spanish rule in the multiracial and multicultural society, by dividing the colonial population and creating a free wage-labor force. One could read the acknowledgment of the many racially mixed people, visually represented in the caste paintings consumed by Spanish colonial officials, the Catholic Clergy, naturalists, and others in the 18th century, as evidence of a greater racial tolerance. Yet, the use of such categories to determine cultural, political, and economic opportunities—access to land, eligibility for the priesthood and political offices, exemptions from tribute, certain protections, marriage rights—suggested otherwise. Among the discriminating principles embedded in the system were that reproduction among castes created new castes, the descendants of Spanish-Indian partners could steadily improve their status through marriages with Spaniards, and black blood corrupted more absolutely than native blood.8 The leading role of Mestizos in Mexico’s Revolutionary War, further highlights how racially mixed people suffered under the prevailing system.

Historians of British America reference the Spanish and French examples to highlight the emergence of a much narrower, binary racial system in their colonies. The legend and reality of the Pocahontas-Rolfe union stands out in large part because of its rarity. The marriage between the Englishman and Indian princess who surrendered her “savage ways” in favor of English customs, famously traveling to England where she received a warm welcome from the Queen, was celebrated as an alternative, desirable model of relations between English immigrants and American Indians through much of the 17th and 18th centuries. If only settlers would lay down their weapons and marry Indian women, peace and prosperity would prevail, English colonial and then later American leaders, including Thomas Jefferson, believed. This prescription depended on an incomplete understanding of the motives and context that had led Pocahontas to wed John Rolfe. Having lived with the English as a hostage, Pocahontas had discovered their resources and realized the value of an alliance between them and her Indian community. Following Algokian tradition, she orchestrated what proved to be a temporary détente by marrying and having children with Rolfe; she expressed affection for her husband, but appreciated his position as a member of an enemy people. The English appetite for land, expanding colonial population, and diminished fears of Indians, however, would limit the practical appeal of peace through Indian-English intermarriages and, (p. 235) thus, their numbers. The presumption of Anglo superiority also discouraged formal marriages, even though interracial sexual contacts happened frequently and produced significant numbers of mixed-race offspring.9

Scholars of slavery have explicated how intermarriages between African slaves and English immigrants—poor indentured servants whose working conditions and degree of freedom did not drastically differ from those of the first generation of black laborers—became impossible or at least highly suspect in a labor system increasingly defined by the separation of white freemen from black slaves. Miscegenation laws, which had no precedent in English common law or statute, debuted throughout the American South by the 1660s. The specifics of their language and patterns of enforcement exposed gender and class inequities, most conspicuously the authority of elite white men who alone might violate the color line and avoid social and legal punishment.10

The intermarriages among European immigrants in the 17th and 18th centuries, by contrast, figured prominently in the making of the new American and setting the conditions for independence, so insisted J. Hector St. John de Crèvecouer and other observers:

He is either an European, or the descendant of an European, hence that strange mixture of blood, which you will find in no other country. I could point out to you a family whose grandfather was an Englishman, whose wife was Dutch, whose son married a French woman, and whose present four sons have now four wives of different nations. He is an American, who leaving behind him all his ancient prejudices and manners, receives new ones from the new mode of life he has embraced, the new government he obeys, and the new rank he holds.11

Of course his relatively cosmopolitan definition of American, excluded immigrants from Asia, Africa, and Latin America who fell into color categories Benjamin Franklin would label, “Black and Tawny.” Class distinctions also circumscribed Crèvecouer’s definition of American; he spoke dismissively of many poor whites on the frontier whom he hoped would become civilized or disappear. 12

Citizens of the new American Republic would carry this selectively Eurocentric and white-centric understanding of national identity into Mexican territory in the early 19th century as they explored, traded, settled, and invited annexation. The first generation of Euro-American traders and trappers throughout what would become the American West often assimilated into the Indian tribes and Mexican communities they encountered. Historians estimate that approximately 15 percent of recorded marriages in California between 1822 and 1846 involved California women of means and well-traveled Anglo men connected through trade to diverse peoples and cultures. The migrants learned requisite languages, religions, and other cultural traditions and exhibited the “respectable” manners, material well-being, and fair skin that California women and their families desired. From the perspective of the Euro-American immigrants, such marriages offered political and economic access. From the perspective of Mexican and Indian families, such unions suggested a way of controlling a foreign threat and consolidating resources. Even after the U.S. conquest, California women married to Euro-American men continued to exercise dominant sway over cultural values, successfully (p. 236) transmitting the Spanish language and Mexican ideals of honor and kinship to their biethnic children.13

However, a later wave of immigrants, encouraged by the rhetoric of Manifest Destiny and the permissiveness of Mexico’s immigration policies resisted integration. Their desire to claim and settle land rather than create commercial opportunities put them at odds with local populations.14 Their deliberately protected separateness—they spoke English, remained American citizens, married one another, and railed against what they depicted as the corruption and incompetence of the Mexican government—provided the foundation for revolutionary action that precipitated the fateful U.S.-Mexican War. Fears about the legacies of intermarriage, namely the mixed character of the Mexican population of the Southwest, almost halted the momentum toward expansion. In 1848, insisting that “Ours, sirs is the Government of a white race,” John Calhoun warned against repeating “the greatest misfortunes of Spanish America,” which had permitted and been undone, he believed, by racial mixing.15

Despite Calhoun’s cautions, the U.S. pushed forward and chose to manage “Mongrel Mexicans,” by eschewing new intermarriages and slowly dispossessing them of property and political power. This process happened more quickly and completely in some locations of the American West. In San Francisco, Anglos readily established their control, overwhelming local Californios. Mexican women married to elite Anglo men did not suffer as dramatic a loss of status, but still felt their position diminished.16 In New Mexico, where delayed statehood limited the political privileges (right to vote for president or run for governor) of even the most accomplished and affluent of Euro-Americans, intermarriages (approximately 6–11 percent of all marriages between 1890 and 1920) remained a common and respected means of accumulating land and wealth through the early 20th century.17 Some of the territory’s most prominent leaders were the children of or partners in marriages between Hispanics and Anglos, among them the territory’s governor between 1897 and 1906, Miquel A. Otero. The acceptance of Anglo-Mexican marriages could coexist with and seem to fulfill a belief in Manifest Destiny that guided American imperialism. Euro-American men sometimes imagined themselves as the saviors of Mexican women, freeing them from the decadence and immorality that would have marked their lives with Mexican husbands. Some forecasted that the distinctiveness of Mexican blood could be erased and thus Anglo control secured through several generations of intermarriage. The promotion of these strategic, cross-cultural connections stood in sharp contrast to disapproval of intermarriages with the region’s blacks and Indians.18

Meanwhile, in Southern Arizona, Euro-American-Mexican marriages continued through the 19th century and sustained the unrefined and erratic line between Mexican and “White American.” The ascendance of race science, with its delineation of different racial types and assertions about the dangers of racial mixing in the 1910s and 1920s, however, had a chilling effect on marriages between Mexicans and Euro-Americans in Arizona and throughout the Southwest. More than 50 years after the signing of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, the persistence of Mexicans as a separate cultural and racialized group dampened optimism about the possibility of amalgamation through (p. 237) intermarriage. The rising numbers of Anglo women in the region also reshaped marital opportunities. As important, Mexican Americans may no longer have seen intermarriage as a savvy political or economic decision after witnessing the acquisitive, aggressive behavior of Anglos. The decline contributed to heightened segregation and sharpened the distinction drawn between Mexicans and Whites. 19

Incorporating the peoples and lands of Alta Mexico in the second half of the 19th century also rested upon discouraging the immigration of and intermarriages with Chinese, Japanese, and Filipino immigrants. As Peggy Pascoe depicted in her exhaustive history of miscegenation law, Western legislators elaborated antimiscegenation statutes to accommodate fears of intermarriage not only between whites and blacks, but whites and “Mongolians” (Chinese, Japanese, Koreans,) and eventually “Malays” (Filipinos). These prohibitions were intended to shore up the authority of white men and protect their property as much as to assure white racial purity. Although Asian immigrant men had not pursued white women with the hunger Westerners claimed, demographic imbalances, physical proximity, and the discovery of cultural commonalities did generate some intimacies and intermarriages. Filipinos proved more likely to find spouses outside their ethnic group than other Asian men because so few had married prior to their emigration and so few fretted about racial blending given the history of mixing in the Philippines. Moreover, as once subjects of the Spanish Empire and now nationals of an overseas territory of the United States, they had an understanding of American culture that made them more appealing to American-born and European-immigrant women. However, their very success with White working class and immigrant women became a leading complaint of White men who expressed their displeasure by attacking Filipinos and insisting upon their exclusion. Legislators soon obliged this nativism by passing the Tydings-McDuffie Act, which established the Philippines as a Commonwealth and reclassified Filipinos as aliens subject to a miniscule immigration quota.20

One strategy for obeying the law and still finding a wife was to marry a non-White woman. In the San Fernando Valley just north of Los Angeles and San Joaquin Valleys, vibrant communities of Mexican-Filipino families set down roots. The couples and sociologists who observed them noted how the Catholic faith and a familiarity, if not fluency in the Spanish language—legacies of a common colonial past—attracted these men and women. The partners also noted the appeal of their similar skin tones that allowed them to pass in public spaces without attracting undesirable attention.21 Karen Leonard detailed the presence of Mexican-Punjabi communities in California’s rural valleys during the 1910s and 1920s created through repeated intermarriages between young Mexican immigrant women and Punjabi immigrant men. The typically much younger Mexican wives would introduce their friends and relatives to the single, Punjabi acquaintances of their Punjabi husbands. In addition to complementary demographic imbalances and common agricultural labor, the spouses discovered similarities in material culture (language, food) and physical appearance that drew them together. Although their names and affection for their fathers and godfathers indicated the sway of Punjabi culture, the biethnic children learned more about and were encouraged to identify with their mother’s traditions as evidenced in the languages they spoke, their (p. 238) Catholicism, and choice of Mexican Americans as romantic partners. These leanings demonstrated not simply the strength of their mother’s role in their education, but their father’s deliberate choice not to stress their Punjabi heritage; the men reported having too little time given their work responsibilities and too little desire given their commitment to conventional Americanization. Even when particular minorities did not intermarry in a systematic, regular fashion that generated recognizable new communities, some chose to marry other non-Whites, not only because the law permitted those kinds of interracial relationships, but because they found unexpected cultural and economic commonalities.22

Although the intermarriages of Asian men in the American West suggested a creative, defiant, and sometimes dangerous solution to the desire for love and family in the absence of co-ethnic women, rising intermarriage rates between European ethnics in the middle third of the 20th century highlighted their consolidation and acceptance as White Americans. As new immigration from Europe, especially from Southern and Eastern nations, dropped sharply in the wake of the Johnson-Reed Act in 1924, and the sons and daughters of European immigrants met in the factories and mixed-ethnic neighborhoods of industrialized cities, and as Americanizing campaigns urged them to forget their ethnic heritage, drop the hyphens, and simply “melt” into America, they discovered connections and affections that defied the preferences of their parents. The experience of military service in units segregated from Asian and African Americans, but inclusive of various European ethics hurried this sense of solidarity. And, of course, the opportunities of suburbanization and higher education that the GI bill extended easily to European ethnics, but not their Asian American, Latin American, or African American peers also encouraged intermarriages and the equation of whiteness with European descent. In addition, European ethnics married because the law permitted them to do so. 23

However, the importance of ethnicity did not disappear among the nation’s Whites in the post-WWII period. Nor was its continued salience simply a reaction to the race-based activism and gains of African Americans through the 1960s and 1970s. Using New York City as a case study, Joshua Zeitz argued that Jewish, Italian, and Irish Americans still interpreted political, social, and cultural issues differently. Variations in how these White ethnics viewed authority, spirituality, and community contributed to the dissolution of Roosevelt’s New Deal Coalition, with Catholics turning away from the Democratic Party and Jews shifting more decisively to the antiliberal New Left. Such observations invite the specific question of what role interethnic marriages among Jews, Italians, and Irish did or did not play in shaping political behavior and the general question of how ethnic differences survive, mutate, or dissipate within interethnic families. Ronald H. Bayor addresses this question in his investigation of the private forms of ethnicity that have persisted among Whites through the second half of the 20th century. He notes that even as the most visible, external expressions of ethnicity such as language or foods or festivals has faded, certain cultural patterns—deeper values, common reactions, and ways of thinking—have survived among Jewish, Italian, Irish, and other Euro-Americans despite their interethnic marriages. Psychologists who have noticed (p. 239) differences in the patterns of childrearing, mental illness, ideas toward disease, disease rates, and family values among White ethnics support this assertion.24

The persistent prohibition against marriages between Whites and Asian or African Americans appeared all the more egregious and incompatible with American principles as a maturing civil rights movement and heightened rhetoric about the necessity of practicing democracy in the Cold War era brought attention to discrimination in marriage. Freedom of marriage did not top the list of goals championed by most Civil Rights leaders who believed pursuing the cause could complicate or undermine more pressing concerns about equal opportunities in education, housing, and employment. Although Martin Luther King had once contemplated marrying a White woman, in 1958 he publicly sought to decouple the movement’s efforts to create racial integration and interracial community from interracial marriage, assuring jittery Whites that “The Negro’s primary aim is to be the White man’s brother, not his brother in-law.”25 Despite his assertions, some individuals and organizations such as the NAACP came to recognize intermarriage as the ultimate expression of integration and to shed their early hesitance to challenge miscegenation laws. Their efforts would lead legislators and courts to replace or overturn antimiscegenation statutes, most definitively in the U.S. Supreme Court decision, Loving v. Virginia (1967). In that year, King would join Malcolm X in revising his stated position on intermarriage, observing that “the question of intermarriage is never raised in a society cured of the disease of racism.”26

The Loving v. Virginia decision proved a powerful blow to inequality, even though it did not precipitate an immediate increase in interracial marriages. Within blossoming ethnic power movements, in fact, Black, Asian, and Chicano youths often denounced interracial marriages as a form of cultural genocide. Marrying within the group would assure the preservation and political force of traditions imperiled in the past by pressures to Americanize. For Asian ethnics who worried about rates of interracial marriage that outstripped other groups, they often accepted interethnic marriages as part of their invention of a panethnic, Asian community built upon common confrontations with discrimination. Although “Asian American” served strategic political interests, shared views and experiences also informed its creation. Immigrant parents noted a sense of being one race generated not only by the racial marks imposed on them, but the greater racial and ethnic diversity in the United States that illuminated similarities with other Asians. They typically advised their sons and daughters to marry within their ethnic group, but protested much less if their children married other Asians. Typically, second-generation Chinese, Korean, and Japanese Americans confessed feeling closer to and more interest in intermarrying with other East Asians, revealing socioeconomic and physical divisions among Asian Immigrants. Their preferences also indicated that, as East Asians growing up in the United States, they had similarly struggled to belong and manage the expectations of their parents, described as an emphasis on education, hard work, honesty, and family. More broadly, the making of Asian Americans reminds us that immigrant assimilations are multiple and may lead to integration into communities other than the white mainstream. The significance and survival of Asian American as an (p. 240) amalgamation, however, may dissipate as the fortunes of its ethnic components change in the United States or as Southeast Asians become more familiar.27

Complicating these debates about whether interracial marriage represented a pathway toward integration and equality or the surrender of political power through the collapse of cultural differences were interracial marriages that originated overseas and preceded immigration. As the United States became more diffusely involved in regions throughout the world during and after World War II, offering economic aid and intervening militarily, its civilians and soldiers came into intimate contact with other peoples. Wherever posted, American men developed sometimes fleeting, sometimes coerced, but sometimes consensual and lasting relationships with local women. Concerned that all such liaisons would cause tensions with local communities and leaders, the U.S. government at the request of the Armed Services, initially prohibited the immigration of war brides. Even after revising its policy toward soldier marriage through a series of bills passed between 1945 and 1952, Congress initially excluded Asian brides and refused the request of Black and White interracial couples, reflecting and reinforcing racial prejudices of the period. War brides gained a privileged immigration status marked by exemption from quotas, accelerated naturalization, complimentary housing and care before departure, and free transport to the United States. Their stories in part resemble those of other intermarried immigrants who struggled to build lives in a new country. Based upon personal narratives, American soldiers frequently celebrated their foreign wives’ “feminine” and traditional qualities, presumably in contrast to the assertiveness of American women, but their wives countered such depictions, explaining their decision as an opportunity to thwart conventional gender roles and practice American freedoms. However, unlike other intermarried, immigrant women, war brides served as “a multifaceted prism through which Americans have sought to make meaning on a popular level of their relationships with other countries.”28 After World War II, Christina Klein and Susan Zeiger have observed, as the United States sought to win the loyalties of third-world peoples and justify its global reach, it conflated domestic and foreign relations and embraced war brides as evidence of the benevolence and success of its policies. In response to heightened Civil Rights activism and the search for peace between racial groups, these couples were also touted as an example of how diverse Americans could get along. Moreover, the heightened visibility of these war brides would practically encourage broader reforms, specifically an end to exclusionary policies toward Asian immigrants and the eventual substitution of preference categories for discriminatory, national quotas.29 The elevation of family creation and reunification as a prevailing intention of immigration laws since 1965 gives new importance to marriages formed within and outside U.S. borders.

The reassuring and romanticized image of interracial war couples faded by the later Cold War as American doubts about the efficacy of U.S. overseas entanglements intensified. The transition began in Korea with the proliferation of prostitution districts explicitly sanctioned by the Korean government and tacitly endorsed by the U.S. military in the late 1950s and early 1960s. Although an estimated 11,000 Korean military wives would immigrate to the United States, most of whom had not worked in the sex (p. 241) trade, Americans paid little attention to these women, focusing instead upon lurid tales of Korean prostitutes. Americans would similarly interpret Vietnamese women as prostitutes or saboteurs whose relations with American men should be reviled, not revered. Such sentiments informed immigration policy; no longer would Vietnamese and other wives of American servicemen by the mid-1970s enjoy the special protections of the separate classification of war bride. Instead, they joined the general, undifferentiated pool of refugees.30

The history of war brides poses another crucial question for researchers of immigration. What is the significance of intermarriage completed prior to immigration, a sequence that challenges Milton M. Gordon’s still influential theory of assimilation, which posits intermarriage as the culmination of a sequential series of adaptations.31 Based upon U.S. Census data, Daniel Hidalgo and Carl Bankston concluded that marriage to American citizens and resident aliens became a main avenue of Southeast Asian migration between 1965 and 1975. Overwhelmingly women, these “marriage migrants” had become familiar with American culture and American men in the context of the Vietnam War, a familiarity that launched and accelerated their incorporation into American society. In contrast, Vietnamese refugees reaching the United States after 1975 proved less likely to marry non-Vietnamese. For both groups, the experience and memories of the war had a continuing, though declining effect on their connections with Americans as the century progressed. Considering the phenomenon of marriage migration by Asian women generally and currently, sociologists have contextualized popular stories about “mail-order brides” and foreign sex workers that connect migration and marriage to the abuse of poor, powerless women. To the contrary, they have noted that migration within or as a consequence of marriage can offer a unique path to social and economic mobility.32

More recently, the rising incidence of intermarriages and the election of Barrack Obama—son of a Kenyan immigrant and White American—have emphasized the complexities of migrations and racial mixing in a more globalized society as well as the prospects for new understandings of race and ethnicity. A more visible, and organized movement of mixed race Americans, who mounted a successful challenge to the U.S. Census’ one-box rule and advocated for more fluid notions of identity in a multiracial nation, has also changed public perceptions and discourse. Yet, questions about belonging and place remain unsettled. Will intermarriages if frequent and numerous enough, ultimately render meaningless the very categories of ethno-racial difference that have changed over time, but continuously organized American immigrant experience? Will we settle on another system of classification?

The importance of these and other questions reinforce the value of continuing to study intermarriage and immigration in the past. Despite the turn toward the transnational in U.S. history, we still know too little about intermarriages that moved across multiple national borders and those created at the seams of or spaces betwixt nations. David A. Chang, Martha Hodes, and Ben H. Johnson offer exciting examples of this line of investigation. Defining borderlands as something other than the “region surrounding one border,” Chang tells the story of Lakaakaa, a Concow American Indian, her Kanaka (p. 242) Maoli husbands, and their children. He traces their paths back and forth across time, land, and water to illustrate the fluidity and multiethnic complexity of connected nodes in a global network.33 Martha Hodes followed another couple (the Connollys) across racial and national borders to suggest not only the malleability, but the power of race. Eunice Connolly’s poor, Irish-descent, New England family may have frowned upon her marriage to Smiley Connolly, a sea captain of African and European descent born in the Grand Cayman Island, believing she endangered her claims to White womanhood by linking her fortunes to a man often designated and treated as Black despite his mixed-race heritage. However, her union and migration to the Carribbean, a region that described race in ternary terms and positioned the middle category of “colored” closer to White than Black, actually elevated her social status. There she enjoyed material comforts and respectability that had eluded her in Massachusetts. 34 Exploring how the cosmopolitan ideals of postrevolutionary, Mexican ideologue, José Vasconcelos, shaped the thinking of Texas members of the civil rights organization LULAC in the 1930s and 1940s, who were as ready to base their activism on an acknowledgment of their racial hybridity and collaborate with non-Whites as insistence of their whiteness and distinction from other minorities, Ben H. Johnson’s study exposes how interpretations of intermarriage that originated outside the United States shaped local ideas and strategies.35

Historians are beginning to pay more attention, and should continue to do so, to immigrants arriving since 1965. Who are they marrying and not marrying? What ethno-racial and economic lines have they blurred or confirmed? Will new immigrants from Asia and Latin America repeat the patterns of European predecessors in creating larger categories of affiliation? What will these categories resemble? Will they assimilate as readily? Some researchers studying current immigration have already expressed their doubts, citing the persistent, relative socioeconomic disadvantages of Mexicans in particular.36 Others read intermarriage statistics for Hispanics more hopefully. The conclusions of such research about the marriage patterns of recent immigrants, of course, could shape thinking about immigration reform in a nation whose citizens agree change is necessary, but cannot agree about the details of change. More theoretically, should we further interrogate the belief that intermarriage hurries integration or consolidation? How, when, and why are distinctions preserved and passed to new generations? For all the focus on intermarriages between defined racial groups, how has ethnicity fared especially among varied immigrants from Latin America who often resist the unity and utility of the labels, Latino or Hispanic? Can historians discover more about the private as much as the public meanings of intermarriage? This poses a particular challenge given the interiority of such relationships, but oral histories and memoirs may offer glimpses into lives that are often discussed from afar, but not understood from within. Lastly, if not exhaustively, our definitions of intermarriage have assumed heterosexuality, but how do more capacious and varied definitions of sexuality and gender invite studies of other kinds of intimate, lasting relationships? Ultimately, the marriages and families forged by immigrants that defied narrower descriptions of ethno-racial traditions and community expose so much about the changing categories and hierarchies of belonging in American society.


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Zeiger, Susan. Entangling Alliances: Foreign War Brides and American Soldiers in the Twentieth Century. (New York: New York University, Press, 2010).Find this resource:


(1.) Richard Rodriquez, Brown: the Last Discovery of America, (New York: Viking, 2002): xi–xv.

(2.) Based upon data from the 2000 Census and in depth interviews of multiracial interviews, Jennifer Lee and Frank Bean, tested three different theories of contemporary racialization: the preservation of a White/non-White divide, which assigns Latinos and Asians to the Black side of a biracial system; the evolution of a triracial structure, common in Latin American and Caribbean countries, consisting of Whites, “honorary Whites” and Blacks; the emergence of a new color line that positions Latinos and Asians closer to White and reinforces the separateness of Blacks. The authors did not pay consistent attention to or differentiate between immigrants classified as black who originated in the Caribbean, Latin America, or Africa and, native-born, Black Americans. Jennifer Lee and Frank Bean, “Reinventing the Color Line: Immigration and America’s New Racial/Ethnic Divide,” Social Forces 86, no. 2 (December 2007): 561-568.

(3.) According to a study released by the Pew Research Center, among all American newlyweds between 2008 and 2010, 9% of Whites, 17% of Blacks, 26% of Hispanics, and 28% of Asians married outside their ethnoracial group. Nationally, 15% of all new marriages in 2010 crossed ethnic or racial lines. Residents of the American West were more likely to marry out than those of other regions. Wendy Wang, “The Rise of Intermarriage: Rates, Characteristics Vary by Race and Gender.” Pew Research Center. Released Feb 16, 2012, accessed Feb 16, 2012.

(4.) David Hollinger, “Amalgamation and Hypodescent: The Question of Ethnoracial Mixture in the Story of the United States,” American Historical Review 108, no. 5 (December 1, 2003): 1363–1389; Henry Yu, “Tiger Woods Is Not the End of History; or, Why Sex across the Color Line Won’t Save Us All” American Historical Review 108, no. 5 (December 1, 2003): 1406–1414.

(5.) Guillaume Aubert, “‘The Blood of France’: Race and Purity of Blood in the French Atlantic World,” William and Mary Quarterly 61, no. 3 (July 2004): 455.

(6.) Saliha Belmessous, “Assimilation and Racialism in Seventeenth and Eighteenth-Century French Colonial Policy,” American Historical Review 110, no. 2 (April 2005): 322–329.

(7.) Aubert,. “The Blood of France,” 342; Jennifer Spears, “Colonial Intimacies: Legislating Sex in French Louisiana,” The William and Mary Quarterly, 60, no.1 (January 2003): 75–98.

(8.) Maria Elena Martinez, “The Language Genealogy, and Classification of ‘Race,’ in Colonial Mexico” in Race and Classification: The Case of Mexican America, edited by Ilona Katzew and Susan Deans-Smith (Palo Alto: Stanford University Press, 2009), 35–41; Ilona Katzew and Susan Deans-Smith, “Introduction: The Alchemy of Race in Mexican America,” in Race and Classification, 1–24.

(9.) Camilla Townsend, Pocahontas and the Powhatan Dilemma: An American Portrait, (New York: Hill and Wang, 2004), 119; Peter Bardaglio, “‘Shameful Matches’: The Regulation of Interracial Sex and Marriage in the South Before 1900” in Sex, Love, Race: Crossing Boundaries in North American History, edited by Martha Hodes (New York: New York University Press, 1999), 112–140.

(10.) Bardaglio, “Shameful Matches,” 113; Winthrop Jordan, White Over Black: American Attitudes Toward the Negro, 1550-1812 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina, 1969); Martha Hodes, White Women, Black Men: Illicit Sex in the Nineteenth Century South (New Haven, CT: Yale University, Press, 1997).

(11.) J. Hector St. John de Crèvecouer, Letters From an American Farmer (Gloucester, MA: P. Smith, 1968);

(12.) Jared Sparks, ed. The Works of Benjamin Franklin; Several Political and Historical Tracts Not Included in Any Former Edition and Many Letters Official and Private Not Hitherto Published with Notes (Boston: Hillard, Gray & Co., 1840), 320.

(13.) Maria Raquel Casas, Married to a Daughter of the Land: Spanish-Mexican Women and Interethnic Marriage in California, 1820-1880 (Reno, NV: University of Nevada, 2007): 8.

(14.) Deborah Moreno, “‘Here the Society is United’: ‘Respectable’ Anglos and Intercultural Marriage in Pre-Gold Rush California,” California History 80, no. 1 (Spring 2001): 2–17.

(15.) John C. Calhoun and H. Lee Cheek. John C. Calhoun: Selected Writings and Speeches. (Washington, DC: Regency Pub, 2003).

(17.) Percentages based upon Albuquerque, NM data; Pablo Mitchell, Coyote Nation: Sexuality, Race and Conquest in Modernizing New Mexico, 1880-1920 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2005), 109.

(18.) Ibid., 108; Anthony Mora, Border Dilemmas: Racial and National Uncertainties in New Mexico, 1848-1912 (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2011), 136–138.

(19.) Bora, Border Dilemmas, 139. Katie Benton-Cohen, Borderline Americans: Racial Division and Labor War in the Arizona Borderlands (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2009), 36–38, 160.

(20.) Peggy Pascoe, What Comes Naturally: Miscegenation Law and the Making of Race in America (New York: Oxford University Press, 2009); Linda España-Maram, Creating Masculinity in Los Angeles’s Little Manila: Working-Class Filipinos and Popular Culture, 1920s-1950s (New York: Columbia University Press, 2006); Dorothy B. Fugita-Rony, American Workers, Colonial Power: Philippine Seattle and the Transpacific West, 1919-1941 (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 2003).

(21.) Allison Varzally, Making a Non-White America: Californians Coloring Outside Ethnic Lines (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 2008): 103–107.

(22.) Karen Leonard, Making Ethnic Choices: California’s Punjabi Mexican Americans (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1992), 115, 123–124; Varzally, Making a Non-White America.

(23.) Eli Lederhendler, New York Jews and the Decline of Ethnicity, 1950-1970 (Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 2001); William Chafe, The Unfinished Journey: America since World War II (New York: Oxford University Press, 1986); Matthew Pratt Guterl, The Color of Race in America, 1900-1940 (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2001); Nell Irving Painter, The History of White People, (New York: Norton Press, 2010); Matthew Frye Jacobson, Whiteness of a Different Color: European Immigrants and the Alchemy of Race, (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1998).

(24.) Lisa Neidert and Reynolds Farley, “Assimilation in the United States: An Analysis of Ethnic and Generation Differences in Status and Achievement.” American Sociological Review 50, no. 6 (1985): 840–850.; Joshua Zeitz, White Ethnic New York: Jews, Catholics, and the Shaping of Postwar Politics (Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 2007); Ronald H. Bayor, “Another Look at ‘Whiteness:’ The Persistence of Ethnicity in American Life,” Journal of American Ethnic History 29, no. 1 (Fall 2009): 13–30.

(25.) Malcolm X quoted in Jonathan Zimerman, “Crossing Oceans, Crossing Colors: Black Peace Corps Volunteers and Interracial Love in Africa, 1961-1971,” in Sex, Love, Race: Crossing Boundaries in North American History, edited by Martha Hodes (New York: New York University Press, 1999), 516.

(27.) Nazil Kibria, “The Construction of ‘Asian American:’ Reflections on Intermarriage and Ethnic Identity Among Second-Generation Chinese and Korean Americans,” Ethnic and Racial Studies, 20, no. 3 (1997): 523–544; Yen Le Espiritu, Asian American Panethnicity: Bridging Institutions and Identities (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1992); Larry Shinagawa, “Asian American Panethnicity and Intermarriage,” Amerasia Journal 22, no. 2 (1996): 127–153.

(28.) Susan Zeiger, Entangling Alliances: Foreign War Brides and American Soldiers in the Twentieth Century (New York: New York University Press, 2010), 2.

(29.) Philip Wolgin and I. Bloemraad, “‘Our Gratitude to Our Soldiers’: Military Spouses, Family Re-Unification, and Postwar Immigration Reform.” Journal of Interdisciplinary History 41, no. 1 (Summer 2010): 27–60; Christina Klein, Cold War Orientalism: Asia in the Middlebrow Imagination, 1945-1961 (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 2003); Zeiger, Entangling Alliances.

(31.) Milton M. Gordon, Assimilation in American Life: The Role of Race, Religion and National Origins (New York: Oxford University Press, 1964).

(32.) Daniel Hidalgo and Carl Bankston “Military Brides and Refugees: Vietnamese American Wives and Shifting Links to the Military, 1980-2000,” International Migration Review, 46 (May 1, 2008): 167–185; Rajni Palriwala and Patricia Uberoi, eds. Women and Migration in Asia, (Los Angeles: Sage, 2008).

(33.) David A. Chang, “Borderlands in a World at Sea: Concow Indians, Native Hawaiians, and South Chinese in Indigenous, Global, and National Spaces,” Journal of American History 98, no. 2 (September 2011): 384–403.

(34.) Martha Hodes, “The Mercurial Nature and Abiding Power of Race: A Transnational Family Story” American Historical Review, 108, no. 1 (Feb 1, 2003): 84–118.

(35.) Benjamin H. Johnson, “The Cosmic Race in Texas: Racial Fusion, White Supremacy, and Civil Rights Politics,” Journal of American History 98, no. 2 (September 2011): 404–419.

(36.) Brian Duncan and Stephen J. Trejo, “Ethnic Identification, Intermarriage and Unmeasured Progress by Mexican Americans” in Mexican Immigration to the United States, edited by George Borjas (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2007).