Grant TypeDissertation Fieldwork Grant
Institutional AffiliationPennsylvania, U. of
Grant numberGr. 9928
Approve DateOctober 24, 2019
Project TitleSadeghsamimi, Nooshin (Pennsylvania, U. of) "Who Counts? The Politics of Race-Making in Iranian American Advocacy "
NOOSHIN SADEGH-SAMIMI, then a graduate student at University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, received funding in October 2018 to aid research on “Who Counts? The Politics of Race-Making in Iranian American Advocacy,” supervised by Dr. Deborah Thomas. Advocates of a MENA census category have proposed the inclusion of a distinct reporting category for the classification of Middle Eastern and North African (MENA) group in the racial designation section of the census. It’s been argued that whereas the MENA population are present in administrative records such as the American Community Survey (ACS), they remain mostly invisible in federal statistics and reports that inform political representation such as the decennial census. The proposed MENA census category, which is a distinct reporting category deployed as an ethnicity, has been hotly contested since it was included in 2015 census pilot instrument prompting respondents to self-identify their race, ethnicity, or national origin. A comprehensive geographic definition of the MENA category includes the population with origins in the Arab League (22 member states), non-Arab states (Turkey, Iran, and Israel), and trans-national communities (Armenians, Assyrians/Chaldeans, Kurds, and Berbers). Through immersive ethnographic research, in collaboration with social scientists, advocates, and activists closely affiliated with the Census Bureau, the grantee explored the creation of this census category as a case study of the broader phenomenon of political recognition for ethnic and racial immigrant minorities from the Middle East and North Africa in the United States. By asking whether the inclusion of a MENA box creates a new political identity, this project contributes to the anthropological studies of democracy by providing policy-relevant and in-depth analysis of narratives and claims of peoplehood. Further, this project explores the efficacy of frames such as political representation and recognition in relation to categorization of people of Middle Eastern and North African descent in the United States.