Cultural Geography Race and Ethnicity Index (later)
Keywords: acculturation, assimilation, chain migration, channelizaation, cultural maladaption, cultural
preadaption, cultural simplification, environmental racism, ethnic cleansing, ethnic flag, ethnic geography,
ethnic group, ethnic homeland, ethnic island, ethnic neighborhood, ethnic substrate, ethnicity, ethnoburb,
foodways, ghetto, involuntary migration, race, racism, return migration
Concepts: ethnic cleansing
Preface: This summary is an adjunct to your readings, and is not intended as a replacement. It does not cover all
relevant definitions. It has neither covered all applications nor all examples. In your studies, I recommend
reading this before and after reading the text. Please use this summary, your outlined text, your notes, and my
powerpoints to reinforce your knowledge of this chapter and overcome the learning decay curve.
After cultural differences in language and folk culture, ethnicity is the third major division of societies. These
develop over time among sufficiently large groups, as peoples develop internal cultural similarity and cohesion.
Ethnicities help bind some societies together, and tear others apart.
Terry Jordan-Bychkov’s book, Fundamentals of the Human Mosaic, does not define ethnicity, but refers
ethnicity to the definition of ethnic group. This definition attaches ethnicity to ancestry. Other books have a
more simple definition that does not mix ethnicity and race directly. Nonetheless, this often happens. This is
because ethnicity is more complex than race alone. Race itself is a complex topic, and these two topics deserve
deeper consideration. They have been matters of life and death, causes of persecution and ostracism in our
schools, our neighborhoods, and our nations. We see these concepts applied all around us, but what do they
My working definition of ethnicity is attachment to a culture of a homeland. (Remember that culture is the
actions, beliefs and items representative of a group.) However, a more complete definition is useful. Merriam
Webster has defined ethnic as ‘of or relating to large groups of people classed according to common racial,
national, tribal, religious, linguistic, or cultural origin or background” [Webster, 2011]. Ethnic identification can
include components of race, religion, language, other cultural norms, and group affiliation. It is complex, and
hard to constrain to one or two aspects alone, such as race and religion [Jordan, 2010].
Our textbook definition of ethnic group is “a group of people who share a common ancestry and cultural
tradition, often living as a minority group in a larger society.” [Jordan, p.119] Later, the authors point out that
sometimes “outsiders can join an ethnic group by marriage or adoption.” [Jordan, 2010] Ethnic affiliation often
increases when part of a minority group, particularly when the majority group also makes such distinctions
We may have multiple ethnicities to choose from, but generally select one or two to affiliate with. Groups may
also define individual ethnicity. One of my students who considered himself Mexican American returned to the
town of his family, only to be told that he was not of this ethnicity, but an American, an outsider. Nations can
also define ethnicity, and some, (such as Rwanda and Nazi Germany), have used it to discriminate and
ethnically cleanse these groups. Such actions are often driven by racism. So, this complex, varying ‘social
construct’ can be crucial to individual and group survival.
Jordan has a definition of race with three components, showing that it is also difficult to pin down. Race is “a
classification system that is sometimes understood as arising from genetically significant differences among
human populations, of visible differences in human physiognomy, or a social construction that varies across
time and space.” [Jordan, 2010 p. 119] The third part is very interesting, and it applies to ethnicity as well. Both
concepts are constructed by societies, and both vary in time and space [Jordan, 2010].
Ethnic cleansing is often driven by racism, as well as other cultural problems. Political instability, civil war,
loss of the rule of law, economic downturn, resource contention, religious conflict, historical animosity, recent
discrimination, international pressure, illicit drugs, and other cultural factors also contribute to ethnic cleansing.
Ethnic cleansing is systematically accomplished by suppressing the passing on of ethnic attributes, including
languages and religions. Threats, violence, rape, maiming, killing, sterilization, starvation, land theft, denying
occupation, re-education, child theft, and other methods are also used. We should be able to recognize and
describe what ethnic cleansing is, why it is done, and how it is carried out.
To avoid discrimination and thrive in their new land, many immigrants often strive to ‘fit in’ or assimilate.
When they move, cultural simplification often occurs, and less personally important cultural aspects are not
used, discarded, and eventually lost to successive generations. Over time, many in these successive generations
acculturate, losing their original cultural patterns and attachments. This is less likely if they stay in their ethnic
homelands, aggregate in ethnic islands, or move to ethnic neighborhoods, such as ghettos. After they
become successful, members of ethnic groups may aggregate in the suburbs, forming ethnoburbs that also have
ethnic services and provide a greater sense of ethnic place. Even if they disappear, ethnicities still leave a
cultural layer behind, an ethnic substrate that shows they once lived here as a distinct group [Jordan, 2010].
Ethnic groups often aggregate in some places in a destination country due to chain migration. Sometimes this
leads to channelization, and the majority of a town may end up in the same place in a new country. They may
be driven by economic factors, come to join family and friends, or be forced out. Involuntary migration is
often driven by ethnic cleansing, and return migration may occur after the violence is over. Other emigrants
‘go back home’ after working in another country, returning with wealth to re-enter the society they knew
Ethnic groups often have cultural preadaptations to the physical environment that gave them a distinct
advantage in similar environments. These preadaptations can help folk traditions and cultural distinctions
survive. As these ethnic groups undergo cultural simplification, many of these adaptations can be lost as well. In
different regions, the same knowledge and skills may be cultural maladaptations, because they don’t work, or
work poorly, in the new environment. Maladaptations can also damage the environment the culture relies upon
When environmental regulations are ignored in for some ethnicities, but not for others, or when specific
ethnicities are forced to live in contaminated regions charges of environmental racism will be likely.
Sometimes, such as Bhopal India, this leads to massive death and disability. In other cases, ethnic slums are ill-
protected, and a higher than average death rate occurs from poor sanitation, higher pollution rates, etc [Jordan,
Different ethnic groups have developed job patterns in some regions. Some, such as small Mexican food stores,
show both entrepreneurial drive and a demand for specialized foods in both grocery stores and eateries. We see
this higher density in Hispanic neighborhoods in San Jose. Some patterns result when recent immigrants take
low paying jobs, while others show continued specialization and continuation of these patterns within families
Ethnic flags, markers of ethnicities that most people can recognize, are found in many neighborhoods. Some
are religious in nature, such as crèches of Our Lady of Guadalupe, or Buddhist statues with specific cultural
attributes. Others involve store ornamentation, wall murals, and more subtle patterns such as color preferences
Sometimes, ethnic cultural landscapes include clearer references to homelands, showing simplified re-creations
of aspects of these homelands. We see Japantown and Little Saigon in San Jose, as well as flourishing Hispanic
cultural neighborhoods around anchors such as the Hispanic Cultural Center. These provide local cultural
anchors and opportunities for all cultures to appreciate the diversity of services and cultural patterns.
Ethnicities provide us with a rich cultural mosaic that we can enjoy, and they bring variety to our lives.
Immigrants often retain a simplification of their homeland ethnic culture, even as they acculturate to the new
society. While complete assimilation is possible, we can often still see a remnant ethnic substrate. Given an
opportunity, cultures can blend into the larger society, but racism and other factors can contribute to ethnic
cleansing. When this happens, future ethnic minority contributions to local societies are often suppressed or
lost. This also drives further ethnic migration.
Jordan-Bychkov, Terry J., Mona Domosh, Roderick P. Neumann, Patricia L. Price. 2010. Fundamentals of the
Human Mosaic. W. H. Freeman and Company. 357 pages.
Merriam Webster Online. http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/ethnic, online. Accessed 10/21/2011.