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Ethnic/Immigrant Associations and Minorities’/Immigrants’ Voluntary Participation

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In today’s globalized world, migration has changed the social, cultural, political, and economic landscape of many countries. The influx of immigrants increases the cultural and ethnic diversity of host countries as well as the needs of social services in these countries (Gesthuizen, van der Meer, & Scheepers, 2009; Jenkins, 1988; Padilla, 1997). Ethnic associations, including mutual aid organizations, hometown associations, and various other types of ethnic and immigrant organizations, emerged to respond to the particular needs of specific immigrant communities (Smith et al., 1994, 1999). For countries with a tradition of civic participation, integrating immigrants into civic life becomes an important issue. Since immigrants, particularly newcomers, tend to involve themselves more in ethnic/immigrant organizations than in mainstream organizations in a host country (and they also engage more in informal volunteering and mutual help than their native-born counterparts), it is important to study ethnic/immigrant organizations and immigrants’ voluntary participation, including informal volunteering, which could help us better understand immigrants’ integration into the civic life of a host country.This article reviews the literature on ethnic/immigrant associations and minorities’/immigrants’ voluntary participation in major developed countries in North America, Europe, and Oceania, including countries such as the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, France, Italy, Spain, Australia, and New Zealand, which have experienced a significant increase of immigrants or a surge of foreign-born population since World War II, and particularly after the 1990s.In terms of ethnic/immigrant associations, the author reviews the historical background of research in this area, the size and scope of ethnic/immigrant associations, the formation and development of ethnic/immigrant associations, the memberships, the financial well-being of these associations, the roles they play in helping immigrants adapt and acculturate into the host countries, and the classification of ethnic associations. Particular attention is given to immigrants’ mutual aid organizations, ethnic cultural organizations, ethnic-oriented religious organizations, and hometown associations. The characteristics of ethnic/immigrant associations vary by culture or ethnic groups and by the context of their host countries. The author reviews the English literature on ethnic/immigrant associations formed by people from various backgrounds, such as European, African, Latin American, and Asian immigrants/ethnic groups in the United States, as well as similar immigrant/ethnic groups in Western developed countries that have a large number of immigrants.Research on immigrant voluntary participation tends to show that immigrants participate in or volunteer less for mainstream nonprofit organizations than native-borns (Sundeen, Garcia, & Wang, 2007). Some studies further examine the barriers for immigrants to participate in formal volunteering, such as language, cultural perception of volunteering, time constraints, lack of information or connection to organizations, and lack of transportation (i.e. Baer, 2008; Campbell & McLean, 2002; Scott et al., 2005). Others have also examined immigrants’ motivation to participate in formal volunteering, such as developing social networks, resume building, and so on (Handy & Greenspan, 2009). Several studies, however, find that after controlling for sociodemographic characteristics, there is little or no difference between immigrants’ and non-immigrants’ likelihood of voluntary participation (Andersen & Milligan, 2011; Baer, 2008). In addition, studies show that ethnic minorities and immigrants may involve more in ethnic/immigrant associations or ethnic-oriented religious groups and engage in informal volunteering or mutual help (Smith et al., 1994, 1999). This study reviews the literature on both formal and informal volunteering of minorities and immigrants.Ethnic-oriented religious associations play an important role in helping immigrants adapt to the new environment and providing a venue for voluntary participation (Handy & Greenspan, 2009; Wang & Handy, 2014). Studies of different religious organizations (such as Catholic vs. Protestant or Buddhist) show that the influences of religion on immigrant volunteering vary by the religious beliefs. The author reviews studies that examine the scope of religious organizations in a host country, the formation of ethnic-oriented religious organizations, their structures, and the roles of these religious organizations in helping immigrants integrate into the host country and encouraging ethnic groups’ and immigrants’ voluntary participation.Immigrant youth have different patterns of voluntary participation from adult immigrants and their native counterparts. Those who moved to the host country at a younger age are more likely to adopt the civic culture of the host country and thus volunteer more (Kawashima-Ginsberg & Kirby, 2009). School is a main venue where immigrant youth are exposed to the civic culture (Ishizawa, 2015; Oesterle, Johnson, & Mortimer, 2004). This study reviews the literature on immigrant youths’ voluntary participation, including the factors that influence immigrant youths’ participation and the consequences of their participation.

Affiliations: 1: Associate Professor, School of Community Resources and Development, Arizona State University Arizona


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