Little of Italy? Assumed Ethnicity in a New York City Neighborhood

Publication Date: 
February 2014
Ethnic and Racial Studies

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Utilizing the case study of Albanian Kosovars employed in the restaurant business in Little Italy, New York, this paper introduces the concept of assumed ethnicity. This concept describes one ethnic group strategically presenting itself as another ethnic group, neither assimilating into mainstream society ethnicity nor validating place of origin ethnicity. Such assumed ethnicity is outwardly expressed (assumed) by the ethnic group in question, as well as accepted (assumed to be true) in both mainstream encounters and understandings of self. Applying and building on Goffman’s theory of the front stage and back stage elucidates this phenomenon, where migrants instrumentally assume an ethnicity different from their own, in order to facilitate front-stage (mainstream) encounters. On the backstage, they expose their ‘true’ ethnicity, in the process drawing connections between Kosovo, Albania and Italy: ironically, authenticating assumed ethnicity by linking their front- and back-stage performances of everyday life.