Migrants are viewed as either disruptive and associated with upheaval or socially and economically beneficial to society. This contradiction constitutes a “migrant paradox” that must be resolved to form sustainable multicultural societies. Social and political scientists view contemporary cosmopolitan societies as successful multicultural organizations, but give little attention to the historical processes through which such societies form.
This essay takes a deep historical perspective on migration and resultant multicultural societies, often called coalescent societies by North American archaeologists. We examine four dimensions of migration (scale, organization, and pre-migration conditions in homeland and destination) and the resultant coalescent trajectories in two intensively studied cases from the late pre-contact U.S. Southwest. These are Kayenta migrations into southern Arizona and Mesa Verde migrations into the Northern Rio Grande Valley, which resulted in two different coalescent trajectories that resolved the migrant paradox with variable success. Lessons drawn from these cases have contemporary relevance for resolving and providing perspective on the current migration “crisis.”
One important finding is that migrant skill and identity persistence, and social distance between migrants and locals are at least as important as the scale of migration in predicting outcomes. Another lesson is that coalescence, especially among socially distant groups, is typically a multigenerational process. Migration crises are often short-term and more perceived than real when viewed from a deep historical perspective. A final lesson is that inclusive institutions and ideologies that foster interaction between migrants and locals with minimal hierarchy greatly facilitate the coalescence process. These institutions and ideologies may already exist within local sociopolitical organizations or may develop within the migrant community as a result of migrant-local interaction.