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Ethnopolitical Entrepreneurs: Outsiders Inside an Armenian American Community of Los Angeles


This manuscript attempts to broaden scholarship on U.S. ethnic politics and group political incorporation by analyzing the emergence of novel political agents (ethnopolitical entrepreneurs) in evolving suburban spaces (ethnoburbs). The following chapters analyze these phenomena through a case study of the fascinating yet understudied Armenian community of Glendale, California. While Glendale’s Armenian community possesses its own history and character, it also reflects dynamic circumstances occurring in a diverse array of other U.S. suburban communities today, such as those affecting the Chinese in Monterey Park, Vietnamese in Westminster, Filipinos in Daley City, Koreans in Irvine, and many others. These communities force immigration and urban studies scholars to reevaluate traditional assumptions about the urban settlement and political incorporation trajectories of newcomers and other co-ethnic community members. Based upon Glendale’s Armenian community, this manuscript attempts to reorient the scholarship on group political incorporation by unpacking the increasingly important role of ethnopolitical entrepreneurs in contemporary American ethnoburbs.

Despite their significance to the political incorporation of immigrants and other group members, ethnopolitical entrepreneurs remain strikingly absent from scholarship on political incorporation. Following the Hart-Celler Act (or Immigration and Neutrality Act) of 1965, immigrants from diverse locations throughout the world began coming to U.S. cities in record numbers. Historically, immigrants with scant resources inhabited city centers and formed ethnic enclaves; some more recent newcomers, however, have brought resources that enable able them to “leapfrog” city centers and settle immediately into wealthier suburban communities. Over time, chain migration has transformed several sleepy, Anglo suburbs into vibrant, multi-ethnic communities, where at least one ethnic group comprises a demographic majority. In these dynamic “ethnoburbs” the majority ethnic community’s demographic concentration can enable it to influence local electoral politics. At times, this influence comes in the form of making claims and reallocating city resources on behalf of the community. But, increasingly, the community’s influence involves co-ethnic community members (many who are themselves first-generation immigrants) running campaigns and obtaining political office as mayors, city councilmembers, and school board members. The activities of these agents invert many social scientific assumptions about when immigrant political incorporation takes place. While scholars typically assumed political incorporation followed legal and social incorporation, ethnopolitical entrepreneurs run campaigns (often in the native language of their co-ethnic constituents) that incorporate newcomers before they have acquired the English language and these campaigns begin before many have obtained citizenship. These relatively novel municipal agents therefore influence how many newcomers and pre-existing co-ethnic community members become incorporated into American political institutions. And their emergence reflects shifting loci of political incorporation in many places throughout the U.S. – from marginalized racial minorities in cities to prosperous multi-ethnic immigrants in suburbs.

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