Growing Up in a Diverse Hometown and Neighbourhood

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I grew up in a diverse neighborhood that had several strong immigrant populations that welded significant power and influence in the community. Many of my friends were sons and daughters of Puerto Rican, Dominican, and Portuguese first-generation immigrants. I was strongly influenced by their cultures and customs as a child as I spent lots of time in their homes and with their families. There is a strong presence of social clubs on the southside of Bethlehem, Pennsylvania where I grew up. My friends and their parents belonged to many of the social clubs. The social clubs held annual festivals and events to promote their culture and aid those of like descent in their community. I am interested in conducting research on social clubs and hometown associations and their impact on immigrant communities nationwide. This is of interest to me as I would like to know if their influence is similar across the entire United States compared to the robust influence they hold in my hometown. Similar to hometown associations, which will also be researched in this paper, the Puerto Rican Beneficial Society (a Puerto Rican-American social club) in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania organizes aid efforts for families residing in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria. These social clubs also welded significant political clout with elected officials, albeit within the local and grassroots political sphere. These social clubs sponsored candidates, raised money for campaigns and were a presence within local politics. Thus, my research question is: What role do social clubs and hometown associations play in immigrant communities?

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My research will be exploratory and qualitative. My main source of information collection will be through interviews with leaders and members of social clubs and hometown associations in cities and towns across the United States. I acknowledge that the results will be different throughout the entire country based on the types of immigrant communities interviewed. However, this research is attempting to gain a general national feeling of the power and influence of social clubs and hometown associations in immigrant communities across the United States. Questions will range from how many members are a part of the clubs and associations, to how many social clubs and associations are present in the community. Further, I will ask the leaders and members about the activities that the club conducts, if they are politically involved, and what their goals are. These questions will be asked in an effort to understand social clubs’ motives and how they differ or are alike throughout immigrant communities in the United States. The interviews will be conducted through Skype or Facetime, as traveling across the country is not a time efficient or cost effective means for conducting this research.

One of the obstacles that will occur during the research collection process is locating the social clubs in different towns and cities and finding out who the leaders and members are in order to interview them. Further, since in certain cities social clubs and hometown associations operate underground it will be increasingly difficult to identify research participants. It will take extensive preparation and time to find participants. Interview participants might want to keep the activities of their club private, therefore, information collection might become difficult and a rapport might have to be established before interviewing leaders of social clubs and hometown associations, which will take time and cost money.

The journal article pertains to support structures in place in areas of high Latino immigrant density. For this study, “Focus groups were used to examine the sources of support available to Latino immigrant families within their social network and the role support agents play, as well as families’ access to formal sources of advocacy” (Ayón and Bou Ghosn Naddy 363). One of the places where support is found in Latino immigrant communities in the United States is within social clubs. Theses social clubs bring together Latinos and sub-groups of Latinos and provide a support network. Among other things, the social clubs allow immigrants an opportunity to organize more easily and become a more unified force for advocating for themselves.

Susan Drucker and Gary Gumpert published this journal article regarding public life and how it is regulated. An important section of their research focuses on social clubs and shows how their existence is often under threat due to city laws and regulations, specifically in New York City. “These clubs often provide places for men to play cards or reminisce. They may sponsor sports teams in the community, offer dancing or music, or offer gambling. The clubs serve not only social but economic, cultural and political functions as well. They have served as sites for political mobilization and as an unofficial employment agency. Clubs are a part of American’s changing character as immigrant members become more involved in their new communities” (Drucker and Gumpert 290). The authors note the multiple functions that social clubs offer in immigrant communities. Due to the broad range of activities offered by social clubs, immigrant life is often centered around them during the early days of their transition period to a new country. Due to strict regulation of social clubs, especially in larger cities, they often must operate underground, sometimes promoting a culture of organized crime within them.

This journal article’s research found that “using the case of Mexican HTAs in the Los Angeles area, we find that transnational organizations are indeed disadvantaged in relation to ethnic organizations such as the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials (NALEO) and the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF)” (Ramakrishnan and Viramontes 157). The article noted financial restrictions and laws that govern non-profit organizations work to prevent hometown organizations from being effective in their goals. It is more useful to concentrate on local issues in the immigrant community than in their home country.

This journal article noted that immigrants who spend large amounts of time participating in a social club, in this case, a Muslim-American social club, “lowered their chances of developing friendships outside of their ethnic community” (Stodolska and Livengood 296). The researchers conducted interviews with participants in order to find out more about leisure life in Muslim immigrnt communities. Those interviewed were from several different Middle Eastern countries. The participants emphasized the importance of a robust family and community life, which is emphasized in the religious texts of Islam. Researchers noted that the tendency of those who practice Islam to follow a strct adherence to the lifestyle it promotes. Thus, Muslims tend to stick together more and not assimilate into American culture, unlike other ethinc groups. Pertaining to my research question, it is apparent from this journal article that the social club’s mentioned serve as a wall to permeation from other cultures present in the United States.

The above journal article assesses the importance of hometown associations in Mexican immigrant communities in Southern California. A hometown association is similar to a social club in the sense that it is a group of people who share a common ethnicity and group together in order to advocate, promote, and preserve themselves and their culture. The hometown associations are strictly local entities and serve as pillars of their community. Besides political activity, hometown associations also help to support the home country where the members are from. “As a result of this program, Mexican clubs have channeled funds for infrastructure to their hometowns” (Zabin and Rabadán 19). The researchers concluded that the hometown associations main goal is to advance their home nation’s interests and not involve itself with local politics as much. Thus, the institution within the community tends to serve as an isolating institution rather than one that is meant to bridge divides.

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