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Iranian American Youth and the Limits of Assimilation

Maghbouleh, Neda
Degree Grantor:
University of California, Santa Barbara. Sociology
Degree Supervisor:
G. Reginald Daniel and Jon Cruz
Place of Publication:
[Santa Barbara, Calif.]
University of California, Santa Barbara
Creation Date:
Issued Date:
Sociology, Ethnic and Racial Studies and Sociology, Social Structure and Development
Dissertations, Academic and Online resources
Ph.D.--University of California, Santa Barbara, 2012

In light of current anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim, anti-Iranian, and anti-Middle Eastern developments across the U.S. and Europe, processes of assimilation are gravely under-theorized and inadequately problematized in contemporary research on diasporic Iranians. With this dissertation, I bring needed attention to the ways in which the Iranian case complicates sociological understandings of assimilation, whiteness, and racialization in the contemporary United States. Drawing from over 80 in-depth interviews and more than 750 hours of ethnographic research among Iranian-heritaged teenagers and young adults (ages 13--28), I argue that Iranian identity in the U.S. takes shape within a fundamental dissonance between the community's legal ethno-racial classification as "white" and its lived experiences of specificity and subordination in relation to racial projects like the U.S.-led War on Terror.

I assess youth-driven phenomenon in three case studies: the micro-level interactions that contest empire and race in one Title VI-funded "critical" Persian language classroom; the collective forms of "inherited nostalgia" developed in a University Middle Eastern Resource Center; and the construction of new forms of ethnic humor at a diasporic summer camp. The analysis across these case studies challenges existing scholarship that relies on theories of cultural trauma and stigma to assert a vision of Iranian American youth seeking entry to a white and normatively "American" ethno-racial formation.

Instead, I present evidence of push and pull factors away from assimilationist practices: these range from prejudice and discrimination deployed by others whose white and "American" identities are uncontested, through acts of cultural resistance, both small and large, that situate "Iranianness" as a powerful marker of ethno-racial specificity in an increasingly hostile social and political climate. For these youth, who in fact largely self-identify as racial, ethnic, and religious minorities in the U.S. setting, it is precisely the cultural and social practices they mark as "Iranian" or proudly "unassimilable," which serve as powerful source material for self-confidence, social activism, civic enfranchisement, cross-racial solidarity, and transnational belonging.

Physical Description:
1 online resource (253 pages)
UCSB electronic theses and dissertations
Catalog System Number:
Inc.icon only.dark In Copyright
Copyright Holder:
Neda Maghbouleh
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