Transnational Dimensions of American Xenophobia

Friday, January 5, 2018: 3:50 PM
Marriott Ballroom, Salon 3 (Marriott Wardman Park)
Erika Lee, University of Minnesota
As the U.S. enacts new immigration policies that halt refugee resettlement, ban travel from six mostly-Muslim countries, build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, and expand deportation, many countries around the world are also debating and legislating new immigration restrictions, including Australia, Austria, Denmark, France, Great Britain, and Hungary. 21st century xenophobia is rooted in unique nationalist politics and domestic debates. But it is also operating transnationally through rhetoric, political actions, and media that transcend national borders. The spread of Islamophobia and the labeling of Muslim immigrants and refugees as terrorists, potential terrorists, or terrorist sympathizers is an especially powerful and active form of global xenophobia today. But there are historical precedents as well, including the global debates over Chinese immigration that occurred through North and South America as well as in Australasia.

This paper first outlines the long history of xenophobia in the United States and then examines key moments when U.S. xenophobia shaped and was impacted by similar anti-immigrant campaigns in other countries. Framing historical and contemporary xenophobia in the U.S. as transnational differs fundamentally from most historical scholarship that has explained anti-immigrant sentiment and campaigns as strictly national phenomena that have looked more inward through the lens of “nativism." By shifting the focus outward to explore the transnational dimensions of xenophobia, we can better understand the complicated ways in which migration, race, ethnicity, and nationalism work in both domestic and transnational contexts in the past and present.