HCCW: Worker Identities in a New Era of Immigration

Kim Voss
UC Berkeley

Since 1990, immigrants and their children have been the fastest growing component of the American population and their presence is profoundly altering the nation’s racial and ethnic landscape. Nowhere are such changes more profound than in the workplaces of California, where the number of immigrant workers exceeds that of every other state. Yet little research has assessed how these immigrants understand social hierarchy in America or how their workplace presence might be shaping both their own identities and that of native-born workers. Building on an approach pioneered by Michèle Lamont, I have completed 59 in-depth interviews and have written a working paper about the ways in which white and Latino working-class Californians construct the boundaries that define “people like me” and “people different from me.” Over the summer, I will complete additional interviews, systematically code interview transcripts, and draft an article for publication. The interviews done to date suggest that Latinos are replacing African Americans as the most salient comparative group for white workers in California and that this is altering how both white and Latino workers see themselves and each other. It is also influencing how they conceive of the work they do.