Making a Life in Multiethnic Miami makes a significant contribution to the study of urban affairs. Elizabeth M. Aranda, Sallie Hughes, and Elena Sabogal examine three aspects of the lives of Latin American immigrants to Miami: (1) the experiences of material insecurity and vulnerability that drive migration from Latin America, (2) the ontological insecurities (i.e., lack of a sense of confidence, security, community and trust) and volatilities experienced by immigrants in Miami, and (3) the strategies by which immigrants in Miami exercise agency in response to these new insecurities. The authors argue that immigrant communities in Miami practice various forms of co-presence and translocal citizenship in an effort to simultaneously attain a level of material security unavailable to them in their home countries and a feeling of security and confidence not immediately available in Miami.
The book adds to existing understanding of global cities and immigrant communities by clarifying the motivations—the “push factors” and “pull factors” alike—of immigrants. The former include the conditions of instability, insecurity, volatility, and vulnerability that drive decisions to migrate. The latter include the ways in which Miami is perceived as a place that meets these unmet needs but also provides distinct opportunities to overcome the challenges of immigration. To help us understand how immigrants to Miami navigate various new instabilities, Aranda, Hughes, and Sabogal draw upon Anthony Giddens’s work on ontological insecurity resulting from discontinuities in life experiences.
The book’s greatest strength is its focus on what might be called the tragic dimension of the immigration experience. The authors note that the immigrant communities they studied trade one sort of security for another. Specifically, they trade the relative ontological security experienced in their home countries for the relative material security available in Miami. It is thus difficult or impossible to posses or secure all nontrivial goods at once.
This is not to say that immigrants to Miami do not exercise agency in an attempt to resolve this tension. Practices of embodied co-presence, such as travel and virtual co-presence using telecom- munications technology such as Skype, are coupled with practices of translocal citizenship through which immigrant populations build social networks and transform the built and natural environments in ways that afford some continuity of experience with their lives in their home countries. Through these practices, some immigrants to Miami are able to reestablish a sense of ontological security that is lost upon leaving their home countries. Even then, though, these various strategies of co-presence and translocal citizenship are not without their costs and are not available to all immigrants.
The book has two notable shortcomings. First, it lacks some complexity and nuance in its account of material insecurities faced by immigrants in their home countries, at times seeming to fault neoliberalism for all of the material vulnerability that drives migration. When it comes to forces that shape ontological insecurity in Miami, the authors are clear that neoliberalism is one force among many, giving attention to a number of other factors. By contrast, the account of material insecurity in immigrants’ countries of origin is flat. Nearly the entire chapter on origin contexts is devoted to insecurities caused by neoliberalism. Waves of crime and other violence are blamed on the advance of neoliberalism. Other sources of insecurity—for example, limitations of gender roles in contexts of origin—receive very little attention and are not well contextualized.
Secondly, the book fails to acknowledge that the very sorts of co-presence and translocal citizenship practiced by immigrant groups in Miami, the very ways in which they exercise agency in the face of ambivalence, are actually undergirded by neoliberalism and global capitalism. Acknowledging this would have strengthened the most important contribution that the book makes to the literature—its realism about the tragic experience of immigrants to Miami. More discussion of the causes of so much insecurity would have enhanced the persistent emphasis on the tragic aspect of immigrant experience. In some ways, it is precisely this ability to turn features and products of neoliberalism against its ill effects that makes immigrant expressions of agency so interesting.
On this point, the book might be interestingly paired with Gordon Mathews’s Ghetto at the Center of the World: Chungking Mansions, Hong Kong (Mathews, 2011), which deals with drivers and experiences of migration (among other themes). But Mathews is not as quick to demonize neoliberalism. While he suggests that neoliberalism likely has destructive tendencies on the macro level, he also emphasizes that neoliberalism is a mechanism for real upward mobility among the population that he studies and that it also undergirds the cosmopolitan peace that marks the Chungking Mansions community. Similar nuance, subtlety, and complexity would have given Making a Life in Multiethnic Miami an even greater air of reality.
Notwithstanding these shortcomings, the book constitutes an important contribution to the field. It is suitable for academic and practitioner audiences alike. It will be useful for courses in a number of different fields, because it draws upon a broad literature on migration, neoliberalism, and urbanism while also conducting original primary and secondary research. While the authors primarily employ the “extended case study” approach originally outlined by Burawoy, arguing that this gives them an advantage in seeing and understanding the relationship between global contexts and structural forces, on the one hand, and lived lives on the other, they also demonstrate the merits of mixed-methods approaches. For practitioners, this book will be useful in understanding the distinct ways in which vulnerability and ambiguity are not just experienced, but shaped, by immigrants, and in outlining the ways in which programs may be able to help empower immigrant communities and address the tragic aspect of their experience.