Resources for Teaching about Immigration and Work

In the thread that follows are some of our working group’s recommended resources for teaching about labor, immigration, and changing conceptions of work.

Posted in Blog, Uncategorized.


  1. Teaching resources on Immigrant Work

    My approach, as a work and labor sociologist, is to better understand how work is organized and experienced using a lens of migration. So the resources I am suggesting reflect some of the works that I feel have really contributed to (and address) the scholarship on work and labor drawing on studies of (im)migrants in various historical and geographic contexts.

    Lan, Pei-Chia. 2006. Global Cinderellas: Migrant Domestics & Newly Rich Employers in Taiwan.
    – a fascinating study of the negotiations and power relations between middle-class Taiwanese families and their Filipina and Indonesian domestic workers. The study weaves a nuanced analysis of gender, race and migration within a context of employers’ homes, which serve as both a shared and intimate worksite and living space.

    Jung, Moon-Kie. 2006. Reworking Race: The Making of Hawaii’s Interracial Labor Movement. Columbia University Press
    – pushes the sociological literature on class, race and collective action using the case of labor organizing among Hawaiian plantation workers, who sought not to erase racial differences between migrant labor groups, but to “rework race” by forming an inter-racial working class “narrative identity” shared across groups, then institutionalizing inter-racialism through race-conscious practices in electing union leadership.

    Waldinger, Roger and Michael Lichter. 2003. How the Other Half Works: Immigration and the Social Organization of Labor. UC Press.
    – this book re-examines key issues in the labor and segmented labor market scholarship with a specific focus on the character of work in low-wage labor markets, what employers seek in filling such jobs, and why ethnic and immigrant niches often form in such labor markets. The book also theorizes how immigrant workers act through their networks to create “closure” around such jobs, and, over time, manage to “usurp” hiring power away from employers.

    Milkman, Ruth, J. Bloom and V. Narro (eds). 2010. Working for Justice: The L.A. Model of Organizing and Advocacy. UC Press.
    – this book is not entirely focused on migrants, but highlights the union and labor organizing strategies (the “L.A. model”) that helped some of the most vulnerable workers win a wide variety of victories in Southern California in the 1990s and 2000s.

    Ngai, Mae. 2004. Impossible Subjects: Illegal Aliens and the Making of Modern America. Princeton University Press
    – a seminal book in the study of immigrants and their influence on American citizenship – much of it focused on legal actions related to workplace and labor market issues surrounding Filipino, Mexican, Chinese and Japanese workers.

    In Motion: The African-American Migration Experience;jsessionid=f8302658431350995887864?bhcp=1
    – a wonderful resource – developed by the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture – that traces the “thirteen defining migrations that formed and transformed African America.” The site includes sections on each of the 13 migrations – from the 1400s to today – with a wealth of images, maps, texts and primary source documents – all available online.

  2. These are some of the more influential studies for my work in sociology. The resources focus specifically on the social relations of California agriculture. One of the central areas of my research is analyzing the affects of migration on specific regions and industries.

    Daniel, Cletus E. 1981. Bitter Harvest: A History of California Farmworkers, 1870-1941. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.
    – This historical study documents the initial waves of California farmlaborers: Chinese, Japanese and Mexicans migrants. The study utilizes first-hand sources to show how the rise of large-scale agribusiness was made possible due to the construction of a low-wage, migratory labor force. Daniel highlights the historical power relations (political, economic and social) that serve as the foundation for agriculture and agricultural workers today.

    Friedland, William H., Amy E. Barton and Robert J. Thomas. 1981. Manufacturing Green Gold: Capital, Labor and Technology in the Lettuce Industry. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.
    – The authors of Manufacturing Green Gold analyze the lettuce-harvest labor process in the Salinas Valley. Their research extends the labor process to include lettuce firms, the organization of production (planting, harvesting, transportation and distribution, retail), the political economy of lettuce production, and agricultural labor relations in the Salinas Valley.

    Thomas, Robert J. 1985. Citizenship, Gender and Work: Social Organization of Industrial Agricultures. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.
    – This study by Thomas was a follow-up to Manufacturing Green Gold. It is an ethnographic account of Salinas Valley lettuce harvesting that details, 1) who the workers are, 2) what is their role in the labor process, and 3) how does a worker’s background influence their role in labor process organization.

    Walker, Richard. 2004. The Conquest of Bread: 150 Years of Agribusiness in California. New York, NY: The New Press.
    – This book is a geographic account of the history of California agribusiness. It connects agriculture to the formation of towns, cities, regions and clusters of industry. The study also links agriculture to industrial food-processing, the creation and role of supermarkets, California politics and other areas of California studies.

    Wells, Miriam. 1996. Strawberry Field: Politics, Class and Work in California Agriculture. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.
    – Wells’ study of strawberry production in the Central Coast of California looks at how work is negotiated amongst wage and piece-rate laborers, sharecroppers and firms. It emphasizes the role of the state and the law in the construction of the social relations of strawberry production. Wells also includes the relevance of worker agency and challenges to the organization of strawberry production and the labor process.

  3. “Resources for Teaching about Immigration and Work”

    As an historian and ethnic studies scholar, I greatly appreciate studies of immigration and work that honor the perspectives of multiple historical actors, and especially the viewpoints of the immigrants themselves, over time and across space. Since Filipino American history is one of my research and teaching areas of specialization, the first three resources feature this group. The final two resources pay tribute to the diversity and complexity of contemporary immigration in my hometown of New York City.

    – The documentary film “Dollar A Day, Ten Cents A Dance” (originally released in 1984, and now available in DVD) presents a portrait of Filipino farm workers who migrated to the U.S. mainland in the 1920s and 1930s through archival photographs and moving interviews with the now elderly men. They articulate their beliefs in their humanity and the dignity of their work, while reminiscing about the difficulty of their labor conditions and the racism they encountered.

    – Anna Romina Guevarra’s “Marketing Dreams, Manufacturing Heroes: The Transnational Labor Brokering of Filipino Workers” (Rutgers University Press, 2010) critically examines how the labor-brokering process plays a central role in the production of Filipino nurses and domestic workers for a global economy. Two chapters feature in-depth interviews Guevarra conducted with two groups of recently recruited Filipino nurses in Texas and Arizona. While many of these nurses achieve socio-economic mobility through many hours of hard labor, their stories also reveal disappointment and estrangement. Ironically, these Filipino nurses chased their American dreams to discover that ‘‘the good life’’ was in the Philippines. They long to return home.

    – “Oklahoma Home” is one of three segments in the 2003 television series “Searching for Asian America.” It features two Filipino immigrant doctors, Martin Bautista and Jeffrey Lim, who discuss issues of work discrimination, homesickness, and cultural adaptation. It shows how Filipino immigrants are transforming the landscape of rural America.

    – Miliann Kang’s “The Managed Hand: Race, Gender, and the Body in Beauty Service Work” (University of California Press, 2010) is an ethnographic study of late twentieth- and early twenty-first-century Korean-owned nail salons in New York City. It provides a fascinating lens through which to view the convergence of multiple phenomena: new forms of service labor, the growing Korean immigrant community, and unequal relations between women.

    – Gabriel Thompson’s “There’s No Jose Here: Following the Hidden Lives of Mexican Immigrants” (Nation Books, 2006) follows Enrique, a Mexican American livery cab driver and the multiple challenges he and his family and friends encounter in New York City: dilapidated housing conditions, youth violence, and immigration raids. Students appreciate the accessible and engaging writing.

  4. From Working Group Member SHANNON GLEESON:

    My research focuses on the experiences of low-wage immigrant workers, the role of legal status for claims-making, and the strategies advocates adopt for implementing immigrant worker rights.

    My book “Conflicting Commitments: The Politics of Enforcing Immigrant Worker Rights in San Jose and Houston” was just published by ILR/Cornell University Press.

    Bernhardt, Annette, Heather Boushey, Laura Dresser, and Chris Tilly. 2008. The Gloves-off Economy: Workplace Standards at the Bottom of America’s Labor Market. Ithaca: ILR Press.

    -In this volume the authors trace the gaps in labor standards enforcement in the U.S., and the challenges facing workers, including immigrants. The final section also outlines the innovative models for bridging these gaps organizing worker power.

    Bosniak, Linda. 2006. The Citizen and the Alien: Dilemmas of Contemporary Membership. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

    – This rich theoretical and legal analysis examines the nature of formal citizenship in the modern era. Bosniak argues that the “two faces” of citizenship, inclusion and exclusion, actually operate in complementary fashion to shape the nation-state’s treatment of immigrants.

    Calavita, Kitty. 2005. Immigrants at the Margins: Law, Race, and Exclusion in Southern Europe. New York: Cambridge University Press.

    – Calavita takes us outside of the U.S. context to examine the ways in which the European Unionís integration policies have paradoxically failed to promote integration of immigrant populations. She contrasts the E.U. rhetoric that lauds the ideals of integration, with the effects of immigration policies on the racialization and criminalization of immigrant minorities in Spain and Italy.

    Fine, Janice. 2006. Worker Centers: Organizing Communities at the Edge of the Dream. Ithaca: Cornell University Press/Economic Policy Institute.

    -In addition to creating an inventory of worker centers in the United States, this book examines the role that these new organizations play for improving conditions for low-wage and immigrant workers in an era of declining union membership. Fine highlights the importance these organizations have for fostering civic and political engagement for populations that are often excluded from formal participation.

    Garcia, Ruben J. 2012. Marginal Workers: How Legal Fault Lines Divide Workers and Leave Them Without Protection. New York: NYU Press.

    -In this book Garcia outlines the gaps in on the group implementation labor law, which leave “marginal workers” [including immigrant workers] unprotected. He also critiques the constitutional basis for worker rights, and instead argues for a move towards a more universal human rights paradigm.

    Gordon, Jennifer. 2007. Suburban Sweatshops: The Fight for Immigrant Rights. Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press.

    -Gordon uses the specific case of the Workplace Project in Long Island, NY to examine the local dynamics of advocating for immigrant worker rights. This book discusses how legal clinics bridge the strategies of “lawyering” and “organizing,” to shift individual and collective meanings of citizenship for undocumented workers.

    Milkman, Ruth. 2006. L.A. Story: Immigrant Workers and the Future of the U.S. Labor Movement. New York, Russell Sage Foundation.

    – Through her review of four sectors in Los Angeles (janitorial, residential construction, truck transportation and apparel) Milkman examines the organizing successes unions have had with immigrant workers, despite earlier dire predictions. Through her rich historical description, L.A. is presented as a demographically and historically exceptional story of working class immigrant organizing, while arguing that those factors initially thought to preclude unionization (language limitations and fear of deportation) are in fact not ultimate barriers to organizing.

    Zlolniski, Christian. 2006. Janitors, Street Vendors, and Activists: the Lives of Mexican Immigrants in Silicon Valley. Berkeley: University of California Press.

    – Zlolniski offers an anthropological account of the Silicon Valley labor movement, with a focus on a largely Mexican-immigrant neighborhood in San Jose, CA. The study highlights the role of labor unions during the Justice for Janitors campaign, and the ultimate economic and political impact it had for low-wage workers.


    National Employment Law Project

    Broken Laws, Unprotected Workers

    National Day Labor Organizing Network

    Interfaith Worker Justice

    Hyatt Hurts

    Justice for Mercado Workers

    Employment Law Center

  5. From the Working Group’s historian-documentarist GILBERT GONZALEZ – a bibliography of films useful for teaching immigration and work:


    The City


    Uneasy Neighbors

    In the Shadow of the Law


    Ties that Bind: Immigration Stories

    The Sixth Section


    Labor and Labor Organizing

    The Land is Rich

    Factory Farms

    Uno Veinticinco

    The Harvesters

    Poverty in the Valley of Plenty

    Chicano! Part 2, Farmworkers


    Bracero Stories

    Tristes Recuerdos: Sad Recollections

    Harvest of Loneliness: Cosechas Tristes

    Los Braceros: Strong Arms to Aid the USA

  6. My research and teaching focus on points of intersection between social policy and labor markets (particularly the low-wage sector); immigration emerges as a theme at various junctures. These resources include works that I have taught and/or would suggest to graduate or undergraduate students interested in research on the subject.

    Eileen Appelbaum, Annette Bernhardt, and Richard J. Murnane, eds., Low-Wage America: How Employers are Reshaping Opportunity in the Workplace (New York: Russell Sage Foundation, 2003). A study of the strategies employers use to respond to new competitive pressures and their impact on the character of work and experience of workers. Includes detailed case studies of industries with large immigrant worker populations, including hotel, hospital, food service and temporary employment industries.

    Alejandra Marchevsky and Jeanne Theorharis, Not Working: Latina Immigrants, Low-Wage Jobs, and the Failure of Welfare Reform (New York: New York University Press, 2006). Includes a case study that focuses on Los Angeles County and the city of Long Beach.

    Janice Fine, Worker Centers: Organizing Communities at the Edge of the Dream (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2006). Overview of new community-based institutions (more than 100 in 2005) attempting to combine organizing and service provision, largely to immigrant communities in metropolitan areas.

    Cynthia Cranford, “Networks of Exploitation: Immigrant Labor and the Restructuring of the Los Angeles Janitorial Industry,” Social Problems (2005). Examines how social networks of undocumented Central American and Mexican workers can serve as mechanisms for exploitation (rather than resources for mobility) in particular economic, social and political contexts.

    Natasha Iskander, Christine Riordan and Nichola Lowe, “Learning in Place: Immigrants’ Spatial and Temporal Strategies for Occupational Advancement,” Economic Geography (2012). Explores how low-wage immigrant workers manage relationships between residence and production to create paths for occupational mobility. The case study examines how Mexican immigrants in Philadelphia balance work in their neighborhood restaurant industry with work on nearby housing renovation jobs, developing skills that allow them to move into higher-wage construction work.

    Alejandro Portes and Ruben Rumbaut, Immigrant America: A Portrait (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2006). Overview of the patterns and experience of immigration, including a chapter focused on “Occupational and Economic Adaptation.”

  7. I would like to recommend this documentary for teaching about the roots of immigration to the US:

    “Harvest of Empire”

    At a time of heated and divisive debate over immigration, the new feature-length documentary, “Harvest of Empire,” examines the direct connection between the long history of U.S. intervention in Latin America and the immigration crisis we face today. Based on the groundbreaking book by award-winning journalist and Democracy Now! co-host Juan González, “Harvest of Empire” takes an unflinching look at the role that U.S. economic and military interests played in triggering an unprecedented wave of migration that is transforming our nation’s cultural and economic landscape. González is a columnist at the New York Daily News and author of three other books, including “News for All the People: The Epic Story of Race and the American Media.”

  8. Pingback: Highlights from Immigrants and Work Workshop | UC Humanities Forum

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