Mahler, Sarah J. 1959-

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Mahler, Sarah J. 1959-

PERSONAL: Born 1959. Education: Ph.D.

ADDRESSES: Office—Florida International University, 11200 S.W. 8th St., Miami, FL 33199. E-mail[email protected].

CAREER: University of Vermont, Burlington, VT, former member of anthropology faculty; Florida International University, Miami, FL, professor of sociology/anthropology and director of the Transnational & Comparative Studies Center.


American Dreaming: Immigrant Life on the Margins, Princeton University Press (Princeton, NJ), 1995.

Salvadorans in Suburbia: Symbiosis and Conflict, Allyn & Bacon (Boston, MA), 1995.

SIDELIGHTS: Anthropologist Sarah J. Mahler began her initial research for a her first book by setting out to understand competing behaviors among immigrants on Long Island. When she was done, however, she ended up with a much more thorough discussion of South American and Salvadoran immigrants to the United States titled American Dreaming: Immigrant Life on the Margins. Through extensive interviews with immigrants and analysis of government data, she comes up with a “vivid, analytically keen account of the sociopolitical shadowland inhabited by undocumented immigrants from the Americas,” according to Matthew Jacobson in the Journal of American Ethnic History. Mahler seeks to discover not only why immigrants from her chosen countries come to America, but also what happens when they arrive here, and why some who leave again often come back to the United States. Here she finds many disillusioned people who become frustrated by the high expense of living in America—even though their pay is higher than in their native lands—and immigration policies that make their lives more difficult because they are considered “illegal.” “Deepest of the immigrants’ disappointments, however,” related Jacobson, “is the perceived erosion of solidarity within the ethnic community.”

In her interviews, Mahler repeatedly found that immigrants were saddened by how their fellow countrymen’s attitudes changed for the worse, and the feeling of community they once had is lost. Alan Wolfe, writing for the New York Times Book Review, was impressed by how “Mahler’s narrative skills bring these people to life,” but put off by “her didactic intrusions and overweening political opinions.” Wolfe felt that the author’s goal is to make “Americans . . . feel guilty for the way they treat the immigrants in their midst. But one can also feel proud to belong to a country that offers immigrants a chance.” Many other reviewers, however, had high praise for American Dreaming. It “advances our understanding of intraethnic relations in the communities studied,” asserted Elizabeth J. Mueller in the International Migration Review, adding: “Most importantly, American Dreaming challenges us to rethink the prevalence of ‘ethnic solidarity.’” Richard M. Krieg concluded in the Social Service Review:American Dreaming contains multiple insights that will be valuable to practitioners who are interested in or who work with low-income immigrants.”



International Migration Review, spring, 1997, Elizabeth J. Mueller, review of American Dreaming: Immigrant Life on the Margins, p. 191.

Journal of American Ethnic History, fall, 1997, Matthew Jacobson, review of American Dreaming, p. 89; spring, 1998, Elliott Robert Barkan, “From the Field: Four Studies of New Americans,” review of Salvadorans in Suburbia: Symbiosis and Conflict,” p. 94.

New York Times Book Review, December 17, 1995, Alan Wolfe, “Displaced Persons,” review of American Dreaming.

Social Service Review, March, 1998, Richard M. Krieg, review of American Dreaming, p. 150.