Coming to America

One of the most underreported stories of the 1980’s was the steady increase in immigration to the United States—a trend that is likely to continue through the 1990’s, with enormous and unpredictable long-term consequences. At the same time, scholars in a variety of fields are reassessing the interaction of diverse racial and ethnic groups throughout American history. The time is ripe for a good overview.

Roger Daniels’ COMING TO AMERICA, billed on the dust-jacket as “the last word on the subject of American immigration, for the general reader, for many years to come,” is an ambitious attempt to fill that need. Daniels, whose scholarly reputation rests on several highly regarded studies of Asian Americans, treats his subject in three sections: “Colonial America,” “The Century of Immigration (1820-1924),” and “Modern Times.” He differs sharply with historians of immigration who exclude African Americans from consideration on the grounds that slaves were not true immigrants. Throughout, he documents the obstacles that immigrants have had to overcome—a task made much more difficult by nativism and other forms of prejudice.

While there is a wealth of valuable information in this survey, COMING TO AMERICA will not engage many general readers. Daniels lacks the ability to sustain an absorbing narrative even for the duration of a chapter, let alone book-length. Social science jargon creeps in too often.

Moreover, in his effort to debunk romantic notions of America the melting pot while at the same time showing that fears of immigration have repeatedly proven to be unfounded, Daniels ends up skewing the evidence to fit his thesis. The text is supplemented by tables, charts, and maps; black-and-white photographs; and notes, a bibliography, and an index.