Phi Beta Kappa scholar Mae Ngai to discuss immigration policy in Coe presentation

Extra: Rod Pritchard, Director of Marketing and Public Relations
(319) 399-8605 or

2016-01-29 14:45:57 - General

Coe College will host a presentation by Phi Beta Kappa visiting scholar Mae Ngai, a U.S. legal and political historian interested in questions of immigration, citizenship and nationalism. Ngai's presentation is entitled "The United States as a Nation of Immigrants: A Short History of an Idea." The event will be held on Thursday, Feb. 11, beginning at 7:30 p.m. in Kesler Lecture Hall in Hickok Hall. It is open to the public at no charge.

In the last several years, a new immigrant rights movement has swept the United States, focusing on reforming immigration laws to give legal status and citizenship to 11 million undocumented immigrants. A common appeal made by immigrant rights activists is their claim that belonging to the U.S. is grounded in the history of America as a nation of immigrants. This is a central trope of American history.

Many Americans believe that the democratic and inclusive character of our society - specifically our ethno-racial diversity, and lack of hierarchy based on one's birth, and the opportunity for socio-economic advance - are most brightly illuminated by the immigrant experience. Without denying the power of the "nation of immigrants," in this lecture Ngai puts this idea under scrutiny, by considering its empirical validity, the origins of the idea, and its uses and abuses. In particular, she tests the idea by comparing and contrasting the experience and conditions of possibility for socio-economic mobility for the two great waves of labor migration to the U.S. at the turn of both the 20th and 21st centuries.

Ngai serves as professor of history and Lung Family Professor of Asian-American Studies at Columbia University. She is the author of the award-winning "Impossible Subjects: Illegal Aliens and the Making of Modern America," "The Lucky Ones:  One Family and the Extraordinary Invention of Chinese America," and "Major Problems in American Immigration History" (co-editor).

Before becoming a historian, she was a labor-union organizer and educator in New York City. She is now working on "Yellow and Gold: The Chinese Mining Diaspora, 1848-1908," a study of Chinese gold miners and racial politics in 19th-century California, Australia and South Africa. Ngai has written on immigration history and policy for the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times and the Washington Post. She has received fellowships and grants from the Institute for Advanced Study, New York Public Library and Guggenheim Foundation.

Founded in 1776, Phi Beta Kappa is the nation's oldest academic honor society. It has chapters at 283 institutions and more than half a million members throughout the country. Coe is one of five private colleges and universities in Iowa to host a chapter of Phi Beta Kappa.

The mission of Phi Beta Kappa is to champion education in the liberal arts and sciences, to recognize academic excellence, and to foster freedom of thought and expression. Phi Beta Kappa campus chapters invite for induction the most outstanding arts and sciences students at America's leading colleges and universities. The society sponsors activities to advance these studies - the humanities, the social sciences and the natural sciences - in higher education and in society at large.

For more information, call 399-8581.