Professor Jennifer Lee, Professor of Sociology at University of California, Irvine

Professor Jennifer Lee, Professor of Sociology at University of California, Irvine

October 21, 2019 0 By Stanley Isaacs


[Rob Tate]
Well Dr. Lee, it’s a real pleasure to welcome you here to New Zealand, I understand it’s
your first time here and it’s a real pleasure for us here at the American Embassy here in
Wellington to have played a small part in helping to bring over one of America’s leading
academic experts on diversity and ethnicity in the United States and immigration. So you’re
the author of the Diversity Paradox and the soon to be released Asian American Achievement
Paradox. So you’re here to give a keynote address at the Population Association of New
Zealand, University of Waikato. But first, I believe it is your first time in New Zealand
and as an expert on diversity in the United States, this is something we talk about quite
a bit as diplomats in New Zealand is that this is a value that we share, a recognition
that diversity is our strength. What are your impressions of New Zealand? [Dr Lee]
I have to say, one, thank you for inviting me and for hosting me here it is such a pleasure
to be here, it’s the first time I’ve been to New Zealand and it is an enormous treat
to be here and a privilege and I have to say I’m incredibly impressed by the cultural and
ethnic diversity of New Zealand and I’m especially impressed with the way in which New Zealand
law has thoughtfully incorporated Maori culture and language into the broader culture of New
Zealanders and kiwi for instance that people are able to speak in Maori and introduce talks
in Maori and what that does is give symbolic recognition to the Maori population but also
create a sense of we-ness among kiwis which is wonderful [Rob Tate]
So in your books you discuss immigration and changes in demographics in the United States,
and was that something that you talked about in your keynote address? [Dr Lee]
I did, actually I think that the United States is undergoing tremendous racial and ethnic
diversity. About one in four Americans are immigrants or the children of immigrants and
they are largely coming from Latin America and Asia, and what it’s doing is creating
a new type of diversity, a new type of racial and ethnic diversity and so where as the United
States used to be a largely black/white society, as a result of changes to immigration law
we now see a kaleidoscope of racial and ethnic groups and it’s not only produced more diversity
but it’s produced more interracial marriage, a larger and more visible multi-racial population
and what we’re finding is that areas in states and metropolitan areas that are more diverse
you’re seeing more mixing, more inter-marriage, more multi-racial Americans popping up so
I think some people fear diversity, that it will lead to harder divisions, what we are
finding is the opposite, that diversity is helping to break down color-lines. [Rob Tate]
So a lot of people have been commenting in the United States about the changing face
of America and demographic trends, where do you think that is leading us as a country? [Dr Lee]
It’s really exciting, I think because the United States used to be a largely black/white
society and with immigration from Latin America and Asia, with increasing inter-marriage,
with a growing and visible multi-racial population, the face of America is changing. So we’re,
in about 2050 demographers estimate that about 20% of the American population could be multi-racial,
in 2100 about 1 in 3 Americans could be multi-racial, so it’s exciting to think about what Americans
might look like in the future, it’s exciting to think the kind of boundaries that have
long divided America could be breaking down as a result of increased diversity. [Rob Tate]
If a young person is planning on preparing for the more interconnected world of the future
and a more diverse world, there’s no better place to do that than on American campuses,
why should a young person watching this consider studying at the University of California,
Irvine? [Dr Lee]
That’s an excellent question, other than the fact that I’m there, I would say tat Irvine
is a really exciting place, one because it’s very young, it’s under 50 years old yet over
the past few years it has been ranked the number one university under 50 (years) so
it tells you something about dynamism of the faculty and the students, it’s a diverse student
body, it’s also a student body which about 40% of the students are first-generation college
students and it tells you something about the grit of those students and so given increasing
trends in globalisation and that given students are going to have to learn to work together
and learn from each other based on the diversity I think it’s a terrific place for a young
New Zealander to get an education [Rob Tate]
The theme of our 4th of July celebration that we had last night here in Wellington was the
power of sports to bring communities together and how sports can sort of be a mirror of
opportunity for the full spectrum of our societies and nowhere is that more clear than here in
New Zealand where Maori and Pacifika communities contribute to rugby most notably and perhaps
not the most diverse finals in rugby where two New Zealand teams are playing each other,
but just wondered whether you would talk a little about sports and diversity in America [Dr Lee]
You know I’m really glad you asked that question, because when Ambassador Gilbert spoke about
diversity in sports and how sports have allowed groups to come together on an equal playing
field and it has helped break down racial boundaries, I thought that was really apropos
and because it tells who we are as Americans, that we are willing to traverse boundaries
for a greater good and so it’s really exciting to be here in Wellington, almost on the eve
of the final actually of the rugby championships and I can’t help but say since I’m here in
Wellington I am rooting for the Hurricanes and I hope they win but I would be delighted
to see a terrific match. Thank you very much for hosting me and inviting me and I will
definitely be back, both for research and for fun and hopefully bring my husband who’s
jealous and envious as I send all the pictures back to him. [Rob Tate]
Excellent, thank you again