Immigration and American Popular Culture

An Introduction

302 pages

23 illustrations

December, 2006

ISBN: 9780814775530



Also available in



Part of the Nation of Nations series


Rachel Lee Rubin is Professor of American Studies at the University of Massachusetts Boston. She is author of Immigration and American Popular Culture (with Jeffrey Melnick, NYU Press) and Jewish Gangsters of Modern Literature, and co-editor of American Popular Music: New Approaches to the Twentieth Century and Radicalism in the South since Reconstruction.

All books by Rachel Lee Rubin

Jeffrey Melnick is Associate Professor of American Studies at Babson College. He is author of A Right to Sing the Blues: African Americans, Jews, and American Popular Song and Black-Jewish Relations on Trial: Leo Frank and Jim Conley in the New South.

All books by Jeffrey Melnick

How does a 'national' popular culture form and grow over time in a nation comprised of immigrants? How have immigrants used popular culture in America, and how has it used them?

Immigration and American Popular Culture looks at the relationship between American immigrants and the popular culture industry in the twentieth century. Through a series of case studies, Rachel Rubin and Jeffrey Melnick uncover how specific trends in popular culture—such as portrayals of European immigrants as gangsters in 1930s cinema, the zoot suits of the 1940s, the influence of Jamaican Americans on rap in the 1970s, and cyberpunk and Asian American zines in the1990s—have their roots in the complex socio-political nature of immigration in America.

Supplemented by a timeline of key events and extensive suggestions for further reading, Immigration and American Popular Culture offers at once a unique history of twentieth century U.S. immigration and an essential introduction to the major approaches to the study of popular culture. Melnick and Rubin go further to demonstrate how completely and complexly the processes of immigration and cultural production have been intertwined, and how we cannot understand one without the other.


  • “In this eminently readable and insightful overview of U.S. cultural history in the last century, Rachel Rubin and Jeffrey provide a view into the roiling production of American culture.”

    Journal of American Ethnic History

  • “A sprawling and uniquely synthetic account of the role immigrants have played as performers, entrepreneurs, and as the subjects of the mass culture industry. Brings a stunning, transnational array of immigrant cultural forms, immigration policies, and cohorts together in new and important ways.”

    —Rachel Ida Buff, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee

  • “This book’s account of the interaction of immigration, popular culture, and mainstream America is loaded with brief chronicles of different levels of histories—histories of American immigration, popular culture forms, immigration laws, American cultural imperialism, and mainstream representations of immigration.”

    African American Review

  • “Rachel Rubin and Jeff Melnick show us the skinny on pop's melting pot. The cauldron does not burn off immigrant character, creating American sameness, but intensifies its many tastes. Ladle after ladle of ethnic infusions go into the pot—Scarface to Gypsy Punks, pachuco zoot suiters to Ravi Shankar, Jimmy Cliff to West Side Story. They compound the terms of race and place until they reform the mainstream. And, suddenly, that old wasp canon has become just another ethnic style.”

    — W. T. Lhamon, Jr., author, most recently, of Jump Jim Crow: Lost Plays, Lyrics, and Street Prose of the First Atlantic Popular Culture

  • “A thought-provoking examination of immigration history.”


  • “Eloquently written.”

    Popular Music

  • "Immigration and Popular Culture: An Introduction is an excellent and very necessary contribution to American Studies and to the complex and important relationship between the two topics in its title."

    —Norma Coates, American Studies Journal