Race and Ethnicity

John Snetsinger

To many observers one of the surprises of the 2000 census was that fully 10 percent of Americans reported that they had been born in a foreign country. Thirty years earlier the figure had been just 4.7 percent, the smallest in the Republic's history. The significance for the future formulation of U.S. foreign policy is not to be lost in the current number of foreign-born within the population. The political reality of the American system is that the greater the number of foreign-born, as well as of others within the population who retain ties with ancestral associations, the more likely it is that ethnic group politics can influence foreign policy. Demographic trends in twenty-first century America hold the promise that ethnicity may well play an even greater role in the making of foreign policy than has generally been the case.

A defining element of the American experience has been the degree to which ethnic affiliations, and to a lesser degree racial identity, have influenced foreign policy. Since the first census in 1790, the federal government has gathered information on ethnicity and race, although the type of data collected has changed over time as interests have shifted. With public awareness heightened by the impact of surging immigration by 1850, census respondents were asked not just their place of birth but also that of their parents. The influence of ethnic groups on the making of foreign policy has fluctuated with the ebb and flow of immigration.

Because there has never been a time in which a higher percentage of Americans had themselves been born in a foreign country, or had at least one parent born overseas, historians commonly focus on the influence of ethnic constituencies on President Woodrow Wilson's diplomacy of war and peace. There is merit in identifying the winners and losers among those engaging in ethnic politics in this era, as will be discussed later. The 1920 census reported that approximately one-third of the national population either had been born overseas or had at least one parent who had been. This remarkably high figure is worthy of attention, but it is also significant that ever since the founding of the Republic, foreign policy issues have been viewed by millions of Americans through the prism of their ancestral ties of culture, nation, language, religion, or race.


Ahrari, Mohammed E., ed. Ethnic Groups and U.S. Foreign Policy. New York, 1987. Articles on selected ethnic constituencies and their efforts to shape American diplomacy.

Baldassare, Mark. California in the New Millennium: The Changing Social and Political Landscape. Berkeley, Calif., 2000. A treasury of quantified data and political analysis of California's current political scene that includes much on the state's multiple ethnic constituencies.

Chang, Gordon, ed. Asian Americans and Politics: Perspectives, Experiences, and Prospects. Washington, D.C., 2000. Rich collection of articles on both the collective Asian-American political experience and individual studies of particular ethnic groups. Section on voting behavior contains useful quantified data on the political behavior of Asian Americans.

Cohen, Michael J. Truman and Israel. Berkeley, Calif., 1990. Account of both the Jewish-American campaign to influence the Truman administration before and after the creation of the Jewish state, and the administration's response to the pressure, always with its own political interests in mind.

DeConde, Alexander. Ethnicity, Race, and American Foreign Policy: A History. Boston, 1992. By far the best and most thorough contemporary history of ethnic groups and the influence they have in shaping American foreign policy.

Druks, Herbert. The Uncertain Friendship: The U. S. and Israel from Roosevelt to Kennedy. Westport, Conn., 2001. Political history of the diplomacy of four presidential administrations and how they responded to the campaign to establish a Jewish state, and the alliance that developed between Israel and America.

Free, Lloyd, and Hadley Cantril. The Political Beliefs of Americans: A Study of Public Opinion. New York, 1968. Public opinion study with useful material on attitudes on foreign policy issues.

Fuchs, Lawrence. "Minority Groups and Foreign Policy." Political Science Quarterly 76 (1959). An early exception to the view that ethnic pressure on foreign policy goals was undesirable.

Gerson, Louis. Woodrow Wilson and the Rebirth of Poland, 1914–1920. New Haven, Conn., 1953. Specialized study of how one ethnic group affected a particular aspect of foreign policy. Gerson identifies the role played by Polish Americans in helping to create an independent Poland in the aftermath of World War I.

——. The Hyphenate in Recent American Politics and Diplomacy. Lawrence, Kans., 1964. One of the first thorough studies of ethnicity and American foreign policy, Gerson's perspective was the inappropriateness of ethnic group pressure being an important factor in shaping diplomacy.

Gomez Quinones, Juan. Chicano Politics: Reality and Promise, 1940–1990. Albuquerque, N.M., 1990. Examines the barriers Hispanics encountered in efforts to establish a position of legitimacy within the American political system, and the initial successes they experienced within the Democratic Party structure beginning in the 1970s.

Gutierrez, David G. Walls and Mirrors: Mexican Americans, Mexican Immigrants, and the Politics of Ethnicity. Berkeley, Calif., 1995. Of particular value for the material on the relationship between Mexican Americans and the Mexican government.

Huntington, Samuel P. "The Erosion of American National Interests." Foreign Affairs 76, no. 5 (1997): 28–49.

Levering, Ralph B. The Public and American Foreign Policy, l918–1978. New York, 1978. Valuable work on the link between public opinion and foreign policy from the end of World War I through the late 1970s.

Levy, Mark, and Michael Kramer. The Ethnic Factor: How America's Minorities Decide Elections. New York, 1972. Contains some valuable statistical data on ethnic group voting patterns.

Linn, Brian McAllister. The Philippine War, 1899–1902. Lawrence, Kans., 2000. History of the war waged in the Pacific that includes material on U.S. troops' racial attitudes and antagonisms toward the native population.

Moynihan, Daniel P., and Nathan Glazer, eds. Ethnicity. Cambridge, Mass., 1975. Moynihan and Glazer sympathize with the goals of ethnic political campaigns and emphasize the significant impact ethnicity has had on American diplomacy; they state "that immigration is the single most important determinant of American foreign policy."

Nathan, James A., and James K. Oliver. Foreign Policy Making and the American Political System. 3d ed. Baltimore, 1994. Survey of what Americans know of world affairs.

O'Grady, Joseph P. The Immigrants' Influence on Wilson's Peace Policies. Lexington, Ky., 1967. Account of the efforts by several groups to influence Wilson's peacemaking.

Rosenthal, Steven T. Irreconcilable Differences? The Waning of the American Jewish Love Affair with Israel. Hanover, N.H., 2001. Well-argued study to the effect that what was once unquestioned American Jewish support for Israel has been replaced by a number of sharp disagreements over Israel's conduct that have divided American Jews.

Schlesinger, Arthur M., Jr. The Disuniting of America: Reflections on a Multicultural Society. New York, 1998. A highly influential rejoinder to multiculturalism by a noted historian identified with the establishment. Although there is no real attempt to examine multiculturalism and its relationship to the issue of who should speak for the United States in foreign policy, the arguments nonetheless relate to the central issue of identity and policy.

Smith, Tony. Foreign Attachments: The Power of Ethnic Groups in the Making of American Foreign Policy. Cambridge, Mass., 2000. Persuasive argument that ethnic groups play a larger role in making foreign policy than is widely understood, and that the negative consequences of this phenomenon far outweigh any benefits.

Snetsinger, John. Truman, the Jewish Vote, and the Creation of Israel. Stanford, Calif., 1974. An effort to explain the critical role that Jewish Americans played in bringing the state of Israel into existence.

Torres, Maria de los Angeles. In the Land of Mirrors: Cuban Exile Politics in the United States. Ann Arbor, Mich., 1999.

United States Census 2000. Washington, D.C.: Department of Statistics and Administration, United States Census Bureau, Department of Commerce, 2001.

See also Asylum ; Cultural Imperialism ; Cultural Relations and Policies ; Immigration ; Public Opinion ; Refugee Policies ; Wilsonian Missionary Diplomacy .

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