Research Projects



Asian American Panethnicity 

How did the panethnic category and identity of “Asian American” come to be?  This research makes racial group formation and ethnic boundary change a visible process by tracing how ethnic groups differing in language, culture, and religion were able to cooperate and build a shared collective identity. It illuminates the social conditions that encouraged groups to cross ethnic boundaries, and uncovers the emerging narratives and cultural tools they used to articulate and bolster newly-forming panethnic identities. By documenting and analyzing archival materials and patterns of panethnic collective action in different locations across the U.S., this project forges new ground by developing a systematic understanding of group boundaries and change. This research also calls for comparative projects to gain leverage on the general processes that contribute to boundary movements and the emergence and crystallization of boundary claims.

Funded by the National Science Foundation 

Related publications: 

  • Mora, G. Cristina and Dina Okamoto. 2020. “Postcolonialism, Racial Political Fields, and Panethnicity: A Comparison of Early ‘Asian American’ and ‘Hispanic’ Movements.” Sociology of Race and Ethnicity 6(4): 450–467. 
  • Mora, G. Cristina and Dina Okamoto. 2019. “Boundary Articulation and Emergent Identities: Asian and Hispanic Panethnicity in Comparison, 1970-1980.” Social Problems 67(1): 56-76. 
  • Okamoto, Dina and G. Cristina Mora. 2014. “Panethnicity.” Annual Review of Sociology 40: 219-39. 
  • Okamoto, Dina G. and Melanie Jones Gast. 2013. “Racial Inclusion or Accommodation?: Expanding Community Boundaries among Asian American Organizations.” DuBois Review 10(1):131-53. 
  • Okamoto, Dina G. 2007. “Marrying Out: A Boundary Approach to Understanding the Marital Integration of Asian Americans.” Social Science Research 36 (4): 1391-1414. 
  • Okamoto, Dina G. 2006. “Institutional Panethnicity:  Boundary Formation in Asian American Organizing.” Social Forces 85 (1): 1-27. 
  • Okamoto, Dina G. 2003. “Toward a Theory of Panethnicity: Explaining Asian American Collective Action.” American Sociological Review 68: 811-42. 

Creating Ties for Mobility: Community-Based Organizations and Immigrants in Low-Income, Urban Neighborhoods

(with Melanie Gast) 

Immigrants from Asia and Latin America are among the fastest growing populations in the U.S. These newcomers may not have kin as a source of social support due to family disruption during the migration process, or they may have network ties to friends and kin who do not possess the social and economic capital needed to help increase prospects for social mobility. With the devolution of the welfare state, community-based organizations (CBOs) are now a key part of the mobility process for those living in higher-poverty neighborhoods, as they provide access to education, housing, and work. This project uses interview and ethnographic methods to gain an in-depth understanding of how CBOs work to provide resources for Filipino/a, Mexican, and Central American immigrants and in turn, how immigrants, some of whom are undocumented, view these local institutions and use CBO resources. It also highlights the importance of youth-serving organizations as well as how local contexts, legal status, and ethnicity shape and at times, limit immigrant civic participation and empowerment. 

Funded by William T. Grant Foundation, Center for Poverty Research at the University of Washington, and University of California-Davis 

Related publications: 

  • Gast, Melanie, Dina Okamoto, and Emerald Nguyen. 2021. “Making Requests: Filipino/a and Latino/a Claims-Making and Racialization.” Ethnic and Racial Studies 44(7): 1211-1230.
  • Gast, Melanie, Dina Okamoto, and Valerie Feldman. 2017. “‘We Only Speak English Here’: English Dominance in Language Diverse, Immigrant After-School Programs.” Journal of Adolescent Research 32(1): 94-121. 
  • Simpkins, Sandra, Nathaniel Riggs, Andrea Attekal, Dina Okamoto, and Bic Ngo. 2017. “Designing Culturally-Relevant After School Program Systems.” Journal of Adolescent Research 32(1): 1-26. 
  • Gast, Melanie and Dina Okamoto. 2016. “Moral or Civic Ties?: Deservingness and Engagement among Undocumented Latinas in Non-Profit Organizations.” Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies, 42(12): 2013-2030. 

The Civic and Political Incorporation of Immigrants in the U.S.

(with Kim Ebert) 

How do immigrants engage in civic and political life beyond the ballot box? What social conditions shape immigrant political activity, as well as local residents’ responses to newcomers? This project documents collective action in the U.S. related to immigration, and investigates how variation in political and economic factors across metropolitan areas influence the emergence of protest and civic events where immigrants are the main organizers and participants, as well as inclusionary and anti-immigrant activity organized by local communities. The study is based on statistical analyses of original data sets documenting immigrant collective action constructed from English- and Spanish-language newspapers, and identifies potential mechanisms underlying the relationship between context and immigrant adaptation. This research provides new insights on the civic and political integration of immigrants in the U.S. with an emphasis on understanding of immigrant adaptation as a group or collective process. 

Funded by the Russell Sage Foundation, American Sociological Association, and National Science Foundation 

Related publications: 

  • Ovink, Sarah M., Kim Ebert, and Dina Okamoto. 2016. “Symbolic Politics of the State: The Case of In-State Tuition Bills for Undocumented Students.” Socius: Sociological Research for a Dynamic World 2: 1-15. 
  • Okamoto, Dina G. and Kim Ebert. 2015. “Group Boundaries, Immigrant Inclusion, and the Politics of Immigrant-Native Relations.” Special Issue on The Cultural and Political Foundations of Inequality, American Behavioral Scientist, 60(2): 224-250. 
  • Ebert, Kim and Okamoto, Dina G. 2015. “Legitimating Contexts, Immigrant Power, and Exclusionary Actions.” Social Problems 62(1): 40-67. 
  • Ebert, Kim and Dina G. Okamoto. 2013. “Social Citizenship, Integration and Collective Action: Immigrant Civic Engagement in the U.S.” Social Forces 91(4): 1267-1292. 
  • Okamoto, Dina G., Kim Ebert and Carla Violet. 2011. “¿El Campeón de Los Hispanos? Comparing the Coverage of Latino/a Collective Action in Spanish- and English-Language Newspapers.” Latino Studies: Special Issue on Latinos and the Media 9: 219-241. 
  • Okamoto, Dina G. and Kim Ebert.  2010. “Beyond the Ballot Box: Immigrant Collective Action in Gateways and New Destinations.” Social Problems 57(4): 529-558. 

Immigrant and US-Born Relations in 21st-Century America: Intergroup Contact, Trust, and Civic Engagement

(with Michael Jones-Correa, Helen Marrow, and Linda Tropp) 

This interdisciplinary mixed-methods project addresses current debates about diversity and its effect on social cohesion and civic engagement by investigating where and how contact occurs between immigrant and U.S.-born groups, and how contact in turn shapes feelings of trust, views of public policies, and participation in civic life. Drawing upon survey, interview, and observational data in Philadelphia and Atlanta from two immigrant groups – Mexicans and South Asian Indians – and two U.S.-born groups – Blacks and Whites – we provide an elaborated understanding of how different groups perceive and define one another and experience diversity within the different spaces they inhabit, as well as what intergroup interactions look like in public areas across a variety of social settings.

Funded by the Russell Sage Foundation and Carnegie Corporation of New York 

Related publications: 

  • Muna Adem, Shelley Rao, Helen B. Marrow, Melissa J. García, and Dina G. Okamoto. 2023. “A Relational Approach to Perceived Discrimination: The Case of South Asian Indians.” Social Psychology Quarterly 86(3): 357-378.
  • Helen B. Marrow, Dina G. Okamoto, Melissa J. García, Muna Adem, and Linda R. Tropp. 2022. “Skin Tone and Mexicans’ Perceptions of Discrimination in New Immigrant Destinations.” Social Psychology Quarterly 85(4): 374–385.
  • Okamoto, Dina G., Linda Tropp, Helen Marrow, and Michael Jones-Correa. 2020. “Welcoming, Trust, and Civic Engagement:  mmigrant Integration in Metropolitan America.” The ANNALS of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 690(1): 61-81. 
  • Marrow, Helen, Linda Tropp, Meta van der Linden, Dina G. Okamoto, and Michael Jones-Correa. 2019. “How Does Inter-Racial Contact among the U.S.-Born Shape White and Black Receptivity toward Immigrants?” DuBois Review 16(2): 385-416.  
  • Tropp, Linda, Helen Marrow, Dina G. Okamoto, and Michael Jones-Correa. 2018. “How Contact Experiences Shape Welcoming: Perspectives from U.S.-Born and Immigrant Groups.” Social Psychology Quarterly 81(1): 23-47. 
  • Jones-Correa, Michael, Helen Marrow, Dina G. Okamoto, and Linda Tropp. 2018. “Immigrant Perceptions of Native-Born Receptivity and the Shaping of American Identity.” The Russell Sage Foundation Journal of the Social Sciences 4(5): 47-80. 

Analyzing Boundary Rhetoric

(with Tamara van der Does, Mirta Galesic, and Armin Pournaki) 

Public officials use rhetoric to devise policies that shape the social and economic opportunities available to different groups. This research project examines boundary rhetoric – the ways that speech is used to make distinctions between groups – on the U.S. Congressional floor to investigate how immigrant-related rhetoric has changed from 1930 to 2020. Using computational methods, we investigate how ethnic, racial, language, and citizenship boundaries are used in political discourse, and how growing population diversity and changing immigration policies affect their focus. Understanding how members of Congress draw boundaries between “deserving” and “undeserving” immigrants is crucial because their speeches convey messages about belonging—who is “American” and who is not—to multiple audiences, including constituents, lobbyists, other politicians, and federal officials.

Funded by the Russell Sage Foundation