Rioting in the Swedish suburbs

Youths are rioting in the Swedish suburbs after a recent violent incident involving police:

Hundreds of youths burnt down a restaurant, set fire to more than 30 cars and attacked police during a fourth night of rioting in the suburbs of Stockholm, shocking a country that dodged the worst of the financial crisis but failed to solve youth unemployment and resentment among asylum seekers.

Violence spread across the Swedish capital on Wednesday, as large numbers of young people rampaged through the suburbs, throwing stones, breaking windows and destroying cars. Police in the southern city of Malmo said two cars had been set ablaze…

The disturbances appear to have been sparked by the police killing a 69-year-old man wielding a machete in the suburb of Husby earlier this month, which prompted accusations of police brutality. The riots then spread to other poor Stockholm suburbs.

“We see a society that is becoming increasingly divided and where the gaps, both socially and economically, are becoming larger,” said Rami Al-khamisi, co-founder of Megafonen, a group that works for social change in the suburbs. “And the people out here are being hit the hardest … we have institutional racism.”

This sounds very similar to the context of the London riots a few years ago: the police are involved in a death and local residents respond in rioting while charging that this is part of a long line of negative actions taken by the police and government. However, we wouldn’t want to “commit sociology” by trying to explain such actions, would we?

This is a reminder of the state of some European suburbs where immigrants and lower-class residents live in run-down neighborhoods isolated from the native European society and opportunities for jobs and education. This is a different geography compared to the United States where rioting is linked to poor inner-city neighborhoods. But, the situations are alike: there is long-standing isolation, negative treatment from the government and police, and not much of a pathway to achieving the “good life” in society.

The mayor of a Miami suburb tries to get Spanish approved as the official second language – and is rebuffed by Spanish-speaking immigrants

Stories of suburbs trying to pass English as an official language ordinances have been fairly common in recent decades. But, what happens when the story is flipped around? Here is what happened when the mayor of Doral, a Miami suburb, tried to get Spanish approved as the official second language:

But when Doral’s mayor tried to make Spanish the official second language on Wednesday, he was rebuffed by every council member and numerous constituents. And it wasn’t from the small group of non-Hispanic residents who live here. It was largely from immigrants themselves…

But few cities have responded by declaring themselves officially bilingual. Far more states, and politicians, have adopted English-only policies. That has been reaffirmed in the recent immigration reform debate, with both Democrats and Republicans supporting English as a requirement for citizenship…

Florida itself is an interesting case study: Miami-Dade County declared itself bilingual 40 years ago after a wave of Cuban exiles fled island and settled in South Florida. That ordinance was later overturned, but the rejection was thrown out in 1993. The state voted to make English the official language in 1988.

In Doral, nearly 80 percent of the population is Hispanic and almost 90 percent speak a language other than English at home. The city is affectionately known as “Doralzuela” because of its large number of Venezuelan residents.

I wonder how particular this is to Florida which has its own unique history of immigration and whether there are similar cases elsewhere in the United States.

It is also interesting that this is a debate about the official second language. Many of the suburban debates over language have been about making sure English is number one.

Sociological study on why “nearly half of the motels in the U.S. are owned by Indian Americans”

A new sociological book titled Life Behind the Lobby tackles an interesting topic: why Indian Americans have gravitated toward the motel business. Here are some thoughts from the author about the study:

At first, I was caught by the numbers of it all: 40% of all motels in the United States are owned by Indians. After initial conversations with motel owners, I realized there was a lot more to learn: how they got started, how they afford motels, what happens to their children. There are so many layers, it becomes fascinating. I wouldn’t have pursued this project because of the numbers alone, but they were a key part of why I got started…

Dating back to the 1940s, the first Gujarati motel owner, Kanjibhai Desai, who came to the U.S. via Mexico, was based in San Francisco. He managed a “residential hotel,” which is the present-day equivalent of a youth hostel. People who stayed there were generally down and out.

Other Gujaratis who came to the U.S. in the 40s and 50s were typically farmers back in India, and even if they didn’t own land, they didn’t want to work for someone else. Part of the reason they gravitated towards the motel business was related to their desire to be autonomous in their work lives. They also wanted to know people who had done it before and succeeded. Those two factors helped create motivation and triggered a domino effect where others who were interested in small business and concerned about mobility went into the same thing…

At the same time, they still have to prove they are worthy owners as there are still stereotypes of Indian owners that pervade. They still have to make sure they are seen as 100% American. They’ve moved from becoming a novelty to a trend to a problem (especially following 9/11) to being somewhat accepted. There’s a lot about it that’s very impressive and it’s a testament to America, in terms of opportunity. But once you see the sacrifices the owners make—all the family living in motels, relying on kin from India to make things work—you realize they have other things that help them move up and it’s not just about meritocracy.

This sounds a little like chain migration where established immigrants bring over family and friends. However, in this case, the family and friends who came from India also often got involved in the motel industry.

This is a limited conversation here so I wonder about a few things:

1. How profitable is the motel industry these days? It may have made more sense in the 1940s and 1950s but is this lucrative today?

2. How much opposition have Indian American hotel owners had to overcome over the decades?

3. Is there competition between Indian American motel owners as they might be cutting into each other’s profits? If so, how does this get resolved?

4. How unusual is it to have this great of a concentration of one ethnic/racial group in one industry?

Latino population growth slows in some US cities

While sociologists and demographers have watched with interest as the Latino population grows in the United States, new data suggests the rate of that growth has slowed in some cities in recent years:

But with the economic downturn that began in 2007, the meltdown of the housing market and a slowdown of new foreign arrivals, many of these same communities have seen the Latino growth rates flatten out.

Of 107 metro areas where the number of Latinos doubled between 2000 and 2010, almost all showed a slowdown in population growth by the end of the decade, according to William Frey, a Brookings Institution demographer who analyzed recently updated figures from the Census Bureau…

Los Angeles, New York and other major metropolitan areas that have long served as gateways and hubs for immigrants still notched small upticks in Latino growth rates at the end of the decade. In fact, the Latino population in the Los Angeles area, which was flat in 2006 at the peak of the housing market nationally, expanded by 1.5% in 2010. New York showed a similar pattern; its Latino growth slowed in the middle of the decade but was up by 2.4% in 2010.

The reason is that many Latinos who had left the big metropolitan areas to find jobs and cheaper housing in smaller cities earlier in the decade returned to those big cities during the tough economic times, Frey said.

The implication here is that economic pressures have slowed these growth rates. A few other thoughts:

1. I’m surprised there are no figures about the overall migration rate into the United States in recent years. Does that factor into this?

2. The Latino population hasn’t declined in these cities but rather has grown as smaller rates. Was the expectation that the growth rate would continue at such a high rate? In other words, is this the economy or also an inevitable/predicted slowdown?

3. Frey argues that cities are still important for minorities. At the same time, we have seen more research in recent years that suggests more minorities and immigrants are moving to the suburbs. So, there are still sizable minority populations in cities that anchor the minority populations even as there is more opportunity and movement to the suburbs?

French suburbs moving away from mainstream French culture

The American suburbs are pretty unique compared to suburbs in other countries. For example, a new study shows that residents in French suburbs are moving away from mainstream French culture:

Local communities in France’s immigrant suburbs increasingly organize themselves on Islamic lines rather than following the values of the secular republic, according to a major new sociological study.

Respected political scientist Gilles Kepel, a specialist in the Muslim world, led a team of researchers in a year-long project in Clichy-sous-Bois and Montfermeil, two Paris suburbs that exploded in riots in 2005.

The resulting study ? “Suburbs of the Republic” ? found that religious institutions and practices are increasingly displacing those of the state and the French Republic, which has a strong secular tradition.

Families from the districts, which are mainly populated by immigrants from north and west Africa and their descendants, regularly attend mosque, fast during Ramadan and boycott school meals that are not “halal.”

American culture is dominated by suburban themes and values while this study suggests the suburbs of France are the alienated portion of society. The study also looked into why the alienation is present, particularly following the 2005 riots:

While the resentment in the poor suburbs has social roots, essentially the residents’ virtual exclusion from a tight jobs market, the rioters expressed frustration in a vocabulary “borrowed from Islam’s semantic register.”

Islamic values are replacing those of a republic which failed to deliver on its promise of “equality”, and the residents of the suburbs increasingly do not see themselves as French, the researchers said.

American culture has some similar issues: we talk about equal opportunities, which is something different than “equality” in the French sense – compare “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” to “liberty, equality, fraternity.” Of course, this doesn’t exactly happen: the American system is set up so that certain groups have fewer opportunities over time. The disconnect between official rhetoric and the actual situation on the ground tends to lead to problems at some point.

So which country will effectively tackle these issues first: the French dealing with immigrants in the suburbs or the United States with poor inner-city neighborhoods? Does either country have the political will to truly tackle the root problems rather than simply treating the symptoms?

Australian hipsters eschew suburbs, McMansions while immigrants seek after them

An Australian author argues that hipsters favor the authentic and gritty over suburbs and McMansions while immigrants hold different views:

In movies and TV shows, kids now talk wistfully of getting out of the ‘burbs and heading to funky town, the exact opposite of our grandparents, who drove the other way in search of an extra bedroom, a lawn and somewhere to barbecue the chops.

The aforementioned Great Australian Dream is apparently a nightmare for many hipsters; as laughably daggy as John Williamson singing about plum trees, ”a clothesline out the back, verandah out the front and an old rocking chair”…

Writing recently in Canada’s Toronto Standard, Navneet Alang observes, ”it’s a profoundly privileged, Western idea to want to forsake sterility for the ‘real and gritty’…

Their visions are probably pretty similar to those of our grandparents – a lawn and a nice, big, neat, bland house – because, as Alang writes, ”Once you’ve lived in a developing nation, sterile can feel good. Uncluttered is good. Cars are good.”

The author goes on to suggest that perhaps these young Australians simply think the grass is greener on the other side: after growing up in suburbs, these young people are now looking to urban life. Several thoughts about this:

1. It would be interesting to see survey data about what immigrants imagine America to be before they arrive or even during their early months in the United States. Does it look like suburbia? Is their goal from the beginning to make it to the suburbs?

2. The sterility of the suburbs, often held in contrast to the authenticity, richness, and contrasts of the big city, is an old argument. Just listen to Malvina Reynolds’ song “Little Boxes” for an overview. (Interestingly, more people probably know this song now because it is the theme song for a trendy/novel current TV show: Weeds.) I would guess that many suburban residents, particularly those older than hipster age, actually prefer the suburbs over the city because of this sterility: the city may be more interesting but this interesting could also include negative outcomes.

3. Could we see the rise of hipster suburbs or at least hipster enclaves within suburbs? For example, inner-ring suburbs would be perfect places for hipster types: denser and cheaper housing in neighborhoods that have been around a century or more. There are a number of neighborhoods in these suburbs ripe for gentrification (though there could be disadvantages to this). Also, newer New Urbanist developments or neighborhoods might offer the authenticity hipsters seek.

The educational level of immigrants in America

A new report suggests that there are more immigrants with college degrees than immigrants without high school diplomas:

“There’s more high-skilled (immigrants) than people believe,” said Audrey Singer, senior fellow with the Metropolitan Policy Program at the Brookings Institution and co-author of the report, which contends that the economic contribution of immigrants has been overshadowed by the rancorous debate over illegal immigration.

Singer and Matthew Hall, a sociologist at the University of Illinois-Chicago, analyzed census data for the nation’s 100 largest metropolitan areas and found that 30 percent of working-age immigrants had at least a bachelor’s degree, compared with 28 percent who lack a high school diploma.

The article suggests that the report is intended to influence the national immigration debate, presumably by suggesting that many immigrants are an asset to the country.

But it would be helpful here to compare these figures for immigrants to the statistics for American adults overall to know whether these figures are impressive or not. Here are the 2010 educational attainment figures for Americans 18 and older of all races: 27.28% have a bachelor’s degree or higher while 13.71% have less than a high school degree. It looks like the figures for immigrants are more polarized compared to the general population with a higher percentage, about 2-3% more, having a college degree while a much higher percentage, about double, having less than a high school diploma. (Figures for Americans 25 and older change a little: 29.93% have a college degree or greater while 12.86% have less than a high school degree.)

The value, then, in the figures about immigrants are probably in the field of public perceptions, particularly the statistic of immigrants with a college degree which matches up well with comparisons to Americans 18+ and 25+ years old.

(The article doesn’t address this and I don’t know if the report does either: does it matter that the figures for immigrants are drawn from the 100 largest metropolitan areas? Would the figures be different if looking at all immigrants?)