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Sahana Mukherjee



In the past few decades, there has been a rapid rise in immigration in many countries. The challenges and benefits of immigration have continued be topics of hot debate especially amongst many major immigrant-receiving countries, including the United States. Psychological research on immigration has also increased dramatically with a focus on heterogeneous experiences amongst varied immigrant groups. This work includes: (1) differences in family cohesion and family cultural conflict between first, second, and third generation Latinos and Asian Americans (Change, Natsuaki, & Chen, 2013); (2) the role of media representations in perpetuating anti-immigrant sentiments (e.g., Marshall & Shapiro, 2018); (3) the infludence of local community systems such as schools, housing, and workplace in acculturation processes (e.g., Silka, 2018); and (4) experiences of stressors within such community systems, such as workplace discriminatory experiences (e.g., Ojeda and Piña-Watson, 2013).

While anti-immigrant sentiments can often arise from perceptions of realistic threats to citizens’ welfare (e.g., Esses, Dovidio, Jackson, & Armstrong, 2001; Shin & Dovidio, 2018, Valentino, Brader, & Jardina, 2013), researchers have also considered the role of symbolic concerns with a focus on national identity (e.g., a construction of the U.S. as “White”; Devos, Gavin, & Quintana, 2010; Espinosa et al., 2018). My colleagues and I have examined the role of assimilationist national identity—the notion that to be ‘truly’ American one must conform to dominant group values—on ethnocentric immigrant sentiments. We found that U.S. participants who endorsed an assimilationist construction of U.S. identity: (1) supported harsh punishment for undocumented immigrants, but not for the U.S. employers who illegally employed them (Mukherjee, Molina, & Adams, 2012); (2) supported punitive actions against Mexican immigrants compared to Canadian immigrants, at times, even regardless of documentation status (Mukherjee, Molina, & Adams, 2013); and (3) preferred to engage with nation-glorifying immigration historical narratives (vs. nation-critical narratives highlighting historical injustices against immigrant groups; Mukherjee, Salter, & Molina, 2015).  

These results suggest that anti-immigrant sentiments and support for restrictive immigration policies may arise from symbolic threats that cultural ‘others’ pose to Anglocentric understandings of U.S. identity. More recently, we also considered how U.S. participants responded to immigrants who conform (vs. not) to assimilationist constructions of identity. Results indicated that participants expressed support for harsher punitive treatment towards presumed immigrants who did not assimilate to dominant group values (e.g., listened to Mexican Ranchera or Irish folk music and watched soccer) compared to whose who did assimilate (e.g., listened to American rock music and watched baseball; Mukherjee, Adams, & Molina, 2018). Interestingly, U.S. participants also considered White targets as more American when they assimilated compared to when they did not, and also predicted that the more American targets would continue to assimilate (e.g., preferring hotdogs to rice or preferring baseball to hockey; Violante, Cain, & Mukherjee, under revision). Finally, assimilationist national identity is associated with denying (vs. acknowledging) present day issues of injustice, especially for those people who are exposed to nation-glorifying narratives of immigration history (Mukherjee et al., 2015). To summarize, much of our research demonstrates how attitudes about immigration reflect identity-defensive concerns rather than identity-neutral concern about rule of law, especially for those individuals who endorse assimilationist notions of national identity.



Chang, J., Natsuaki, M. N., & Chen, C. N. (2013). The importance of family factors and generation status: Mental health service use among Latino and Asian Americans. Cultural Diversity and Ethnic Minority Psychology19(3), 236.

Devos, T., Gavin, K., & Quintana, F. J. (2010). Say “adios” to the American dream? The interplay between ethnic and national identity among Latino and Caucasian Americans. Cultural Diversity and Ethnic Minority Psychology16(1), 37.

Espinosa, A., Guerra, R., Sanatkar, S., Paolini, S., Damigella, D., Licciardello, O., & Gaertner, S. L. (2018). Identity inclusiveness and centrality: Investigating identity correlates of attitudes toward immigrants and immigration policies. Journal of Social Issues74(4), 674-699.

Esses, V. M., Dovidio, J. F., Jackson, L. M., & Armstrong, T. L. (2001). The immigration dilemma: The role of perceived group competition, ethnic prejudice, and national identity. Journal of Social issues57(3), 389-412.

Marshall, S. R., & Shapiro, J. R. (2018). When “scurry” vs.“hurry” makes the difference: Vermin metaphors, disgust, and anti?immigrant attitudes. Journal of Social Issues74(4), 774-789.

Mukherjee, S., Adams, G., & Molina, L. E. (2018). Support for Tough Immigration Policy: Identity Defense or Concern for Law and Order? Journal of Social Issues, 74(4), 700-715. Chicago

Mukherjee, S., Molina, L. E., & Adams, G. (2012). National identity and immigration policy: Concern for legality or ethnocentric exclusion?. Analyses of Social Issues and Public Policy12(1), 21-32.

Mukherjee, S., Salter, P. S., & Molina, L. E. (2015). Museum spaces as psychological affordances: representations of immigration history and national identity. Frontiers in psychology6, 692.

Ojeda, L., & Piña-Watson, B. (2013). Day laborers’ life satisfaction: The role of familismo, spirituality, work, health, and discrimination. Cultural Diversity and Ethnic Minority Psychology19(3), 270.

Shin, H., & Dovidio, J. F. (2018). Differences, threats, values, and country-specific prejudice toward immigrants and foreign workers in three major receiving countries: The United States, Germany, and Australia. Journal of Social Issues, 74 (4), 737–755

Silka, L. (2018). Adding a community focus to the psychological investigation of immigration issues and policies. Journal of Social Issues74(4), 856-870.

Valentino, N. A., Brader, T., & Jardina, A. E. (2013). Immigration opposition among us Whites: General ethnocentrism or media priming of attitudes about Latinos? Political Psychology,34, 149–166.


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