Will 'Transnationalists' Redefine What It Means to Be American?

Stone and her students -- who also included Erica Gomez, the daughter of Cuban emigres, and Despina Hotzoglou, who is from Greece -- interviewed a variety of transnationals for their project. Unlike past immigrants, they or their parents arrived in this country with the expectation of returning to their homeland, if only for a visit, because it is now so much easier to do that.

In the past, many immigrants, including Jewish refugees during World War II, had no "back" to go back to.

The researchers also found that the family stories are different today. Instead of promoting assimilation, they push for the best of both worlds. Children are encouraged to become full-fledged Americans, but they are also taught to remain faithful to their roots.

And today, it's much more possible to do that. Stone herself has made two trips to Sicily in the last year, searching for records and information about her family's distant past.

But sometimes, even today, that can be difficult. Of her Cuban student, Erica Gomez, Stone says: "The Cuba she feels loyal to is the Cuba of her parents imagination. It ceased to exist 40 or 50 years ago."

But the duality in Gomez's life remains real, reinforced by frequent contact with distant relatives who are still in Cuba. She feels both Cuban and American, and Stone says that was true of all the students who participated in the study.

"They're completely American," Stone says. "There's no head scarf, there's no accent, they're American. Except that there's a whole part that's not visible. It's a whole collection of attitudes, and sometimes conflicts, that's not visible.

"But it's not divided loyalties. It's not like a baby with two heads. It's like ambidexterity," Stone says.

Unfortunately, "American provincialism," as she puts it, tends to regard those who are different, or those with other loyalties, as something of a threat, especially nowadays.

"I think you're endangered only if you have someone here who doesn't feel affiliated with this country," she says.

Can we as a nation, and can our cities, feel both American and foreign?

Stone answers that like this: "New York is 52 percent foreign born, but do you see any indication that it is insufficiently American?"

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