Introduction: The Nation of Immigrants
Every resident of the United States, with the possible exception of Native Americans, descends from an immigrant. (An immigrant is someone who travels to a country of which he or she is not a native with the intention of settling there as a permanent resident.) The United States celebrates that it is a nation of immigrants; it is part of the country's identity and is incorporated into the stories that Americans tell about themselves. In fact, immigration is the basis of the legendary American dream, the belief that people from any background and any nationality can find in the United States the opportunity to work at a secure job, live in a nice home, get an education, and raise their standard of living through their own efforts.
Melting pot and mosaic
In order to maintain the sense that citizens of the United States are uniquely American in character even while millions of people keep pouring into its borders from every corner of the world, some distinctively American ideas have developed about the process of assimilation—the way that someone who comes from a foreign land becomes absorbed into American culture and learns to blend into the ways of its main society. For years the United States has been described as a melting pot, in which people of all nationalities who immigrated blended together...
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Immigrants in Motion: Getting There and Getting Started
Moving to a new home in a faraway place in the early twenty-first century can be complex, difficult, and expensive. Like immigrants of the past, twenty-first-century families who are thinking about immigrating need to plan ahead. They have to take care of things like shipping their belongings, finding a new home in a suitable neighborhood, and finding schools and health care facilities. Anyone migrating to a different country has a mountain of paperwork to do. If they move to a country in which they do not already know the language, there is much more to think about.
The act of moving has evolved greatly over the years. Today's immigrants are following in the footsteps of the earlier immigrants who overcame obstacles that are difficult for us to imagine. The hardships they endured in the process of immigrating (traveling to a country of which one is not a native with the intention of settling there as a permanent resident), migrating (moving from one place to another, not necessarily across national borders), and settling into their new homes brought about rapid changes in the systems of transportation, governmental administration, and education. One of the remarkable and defining stories in the history of the United States is the process of hundreds of thousands of people—speaking different languages, practicing many religions, and offering a wide variety of skills and ideas—moving to...
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Pre-Columbian Migrations: The First American Immigrants
The earliest immigrants to the Americas arrived thousands of years ago. There are no written records of their migrations or of the migrations of the later generations that settled throughout the Americas. (Migration differs from immigration in that it can take place within one country, while immigration involves moving across national borders.) From the bone remains and the artifacts (products made by the people of earlier periods) that the earliest Americans left behind, some facts are known about them, but in many important ways, these early Americans remain a mystery. Science shows that human beings did not originate on the American continents—no remains of early forms of humans have ever been found there as they have been found in Africa, Europe, and Asia. Thus, according to most scientific studies, the first Americans were immigrants to the land who traveled to North and South America by boat or walked across long-vanished land bridges over the sea. Who these people were, where they came from, and when they came is still very much in question. In contrast, many Native Americans believe their ancestors originated on the American continents
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Spanish Colonization and Immigration
The European movement to colonize the New World was a response to a new age. In the fifteenth century Europe was just emerging from the Middle Ages (c. 500–c. 1500 C.E.). Most people of that age lived in a feudal system, in which a local lord who had received his land from the king owned all the land and ruled over the people in his area. The workers, or peasants, farmed the lord's land and worked for him in exchange for his protection. Over the centuries, the lords became more and more powerful while the power of the heads of state weakened. Because of the constant violence of wars, people tended to focus on religion and safety more than on learning or venturing out into unknown territory. It was not until the end of the Middle Ages that many heads of states in the countries of Western Europe began to bring their nations together, uniting under a central monarch or ruler. Then, in 1347 Europe was hit by an out-break of the deadly bubonic plague (a highly infectious and fatal disease) that killed an estimated twenty-five million people in just a few years.
An age of exploration and discovery
The horror of the "Black Plague," as this outbreak of the bubonic plague is commonly referred to, ushered in widespread change in the fifteenth century. Profitable trade increased and a...
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At the turn of the seventeenth century, few could have foreseen that England was going to be the great colonizer of North America. Wealthy Spain began colonizing in the New World almost immediately after explorer Christopher Columbus (1451–1506) set foot on the Caribbean islands. England was not rich enough to pay for colonizing expeditions (sending ships with settlers and supplies to establish a community ruled by, and part of, England) from its national treasury. England and Spain had been engaged in sea conflicts periodically during the second half of the sixteenth century and, as the weaker nation, England could not afford to exhaust its naval or military strength on colonizing. Nonetheless, the spirit of the age of exploration gripped the nation. Swift English sea vessels crossed the Atlantic regularly. Unable to mine for gold and silver themselves, as the Spanish had been doing since the early 1500s, the "sea dogs," or English pirates, looted the Spanish ships as they carted home their riches. Back home, the English people were drawn to the tales of adventure coming from the New World. Many looked to America as a key to a better future.
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Scots and Scotch-Irish Immigration
In the 2000 U.S. Census, 4,319,232 people claimed Scottish heritage and 4,890,581 people claimed Scotch-Irish heritage. The two groups represent just over 3 percent of the U.S. population. In their early history in America, a good number of Scottish and Scotch-Irish Americans preferred to be far away from interfering neighbors and governments. Already skilled at dealing with difficult conditions in their homelands of Scotland and Northern Ireland, the Scots and Scotch-Irish gained the reputation of being rugged frontiersmen. Although they were initially looked down upon by the English and German colonists, both Scots and Scotch-Irish assimilated (blended) into the American mainstream easily and did not retain separate social customs.
The Scottish belonged to two distinct groups, Highlanders and Lowlanders. Highlanders came from the north of Scotland, where the land is rugged and remote and the people were less influenced by England. Lowlanders came from southern Scotland, which had been much more influenced by English language and culture. The Highlanders wore tartan kilts (colorfully patterned knee-length skirts) and spoke the Gaelic language. Social and political life in the northern Highland area of Scotland was, from ancient times, organized around clans, communities of...
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French and Dutch Immigration
Like Spain and England, France and the Netherlands sought to expand their empires in the seventeenth century. Both nations established important colonies, and each stood a good chance of building an enduring empire in North America. But the competition was becoming fierce among the European nations. No nation could hold onto territorial claims in the New World without populating the land with its people. Populating the early colonies meant a tremendous commitment: tens of thousands of people, many of whom might die; long-term financial investment that was extremely risky; and well-planned government and security systems in the New World that could hold the new settlements together. Although their methods of colonizing and their situations in the homelands differed greatly, both France and the Netherlands failed in some or all of these commitments and ultimately lost their North American colonies.
French colonization in the New World
In the first century after European contact with the New World, a series of conflicts hindered France's ability to
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African American Immigration
One of the earliest groups of immigrants to colonial North America was the Africans, the majority of whom had no choice but to immigrate. Forcibly taken from their homelands and loaded into slave ships that crossed the Atlantic, the African captives were deprived of the most basic human rights. While willing immigrants came to the United States with hopes of new opportunities and increased freedom, these forced immigrants could only look forward to hard labor for someone else's profit.
The stories of the hundreds of thousands of people brought as slaves from the Old World (the areas of the world that were known to Europeans before they knew of the Americas) to the New World (the part of the world that includes North and South America) are varied. Their experiences depended on when they came and which part of the country they came to, on their slave owners and managers, and of course, on their own individual outlook. Africans brought a strong sense of their Old World cultural heritage to the New World. Through shared or private memories, prayers, song, and oral traditions (telling stories of earlier times), they
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In 2000, people of German descent comprised the largest nationality or ethnic group (group of people who are not from the majority culture in the country in which they live and who keep some part of their former culture, language, and institutions) in the United States. According to the 2000 U.S. Census, 46.5 million people, or 15.2 percent of the population, claimed German ancestry. About seven million Germans have immigrated to North America since the eighteenth century. Some left the Old World in response to the many historical events in Europe over the last two centuries. Most Germans came to the United States seeking economic opportunities or religious or political freedom. There were many different motivations behind the mass migrations (the movement of thousands, or even millions, of people from one country to another within a relatively short period of time) from Germany that took place between 1800 and 1920.
Diversity (difference) among the people called German Americans is great. When many of them left the Old World, there was no nation called Germany. They came from nation-states in the large German-speaking area of Western
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Irish Americans made up about 11 percent of the U.S. population in 2000, with a reported population of 30.5 million. They were the fourth largest ancestral group in the United States, after German Americans, Hispanic or Latino Americans, and African Americans. Irish Americans have spread throughout the United States and have long been assimilated (absorbed) in the mainstream culture. It is difficult, therefore, to imagine that 150 years ago, Irish Catholic immigrants faced severe discrimination (unfair treatment based on racism or other prejudices) when they arrived in the country. Many of the early immigrants suffered wretched living conditions and performed backbreaking work for low wages in the hope that their children would have a better life. Some historians have observed that the experience of the 4.5 million Irish immigrants in the nineteenth and twentieth century was typical of the American immigrant experience in general. The American Immigration Law Foundation, for example, asserts that "Irish immigration to America represented the first mass immigration to the United States and set the stage for all future immigrating ethnic minorities."
Historical background of Ireland
The story of Irish migration to the United States stems from Ireland's long-standing and bitter...
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Scandinavia is a region in northern Europe composed of the countries Sweden, Norway, and Denmark. Finland and Iceland are often included as part of the region as well, and immigration from these five countries will be discussed in this chapter. The Scandinavian Peninsula, on which Norway and Sweden are located, lies north of the Baltic Sea. Denmark is situated on the Jutland Peninsula, which is bordered on the south by Germany and by a group of islands in the Baltic Sea lying across a narrow strait from Sweden. To the west of Sweden and south of Norway lies Finland, which shares its eastern border with Russia. Iceland is an island nearly 600 miles west of Norway between the North Atlantic and the Arctic oceans. The northernmost portions of Norway, Sweden, and Finland are in the Arctic Circle. The Arctic Circle is a parallel of latitude at 66.5° north of the equator that marks the northern frigid zone.
In the 2000 U.S. Census, 10.5 million people claimed descent from one of the Scandinavian countries: approximately 4.5 million from Norway, 4 million from Sweden, 1.4 million from Denmark, 623,573 from Finland, and 42,716 from Iceland. Most of the emigration (leaving one's country to go to another country with the intention of living there) from the Scandinavian countries took place during the eighty-year period from 1840 to 1920. During that period of time, one-third of the total population...
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Westward Migration: 1783–1912
When the American Revolution (1775–83; a war fought between Great Britain and the American colonies in which the colonies won their independence) ended in 1783, Great Britain ceded (formally gave) to the new United States all the territory between the Atlantic Ocean and the Mississippi River except New Orleans and Spanish Florida. In theory, the new country stretched for more than a thousand miles in every direction. However, with the exception of outposts along navigable inland rivers, most Americans lived along a tiny ribbon of settlement along the Atlantic seaboard. In fact, at the time of the revolution, about 95 percent of the total U.S. population resided east of the Appalachian Mountains. Tens of thousands of Indians occupied their ancestral lands within U.S. territory. Many Native American tribes were friendly to newcomers—trading with them and guiding them to new lands. Other tribes, however, were prepared to fight the advances of European Americans onto their lands. The threat of Indian attack as well as the inaccessibility of the western lands presented enough of a threat to keep many people from heading west. Although many fortune seekers, farmers, and adventurers were eager to migrate to the open frontier, the expansion that was to come within the next century probably would have been unimaginable to even the most forward-thinking pioneers.
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Africans sold into slavery arrived in the New World by means of a forced immigration. Unlike the nation's other immigrants, they did not arrive on U.S. shores to seek opportunities or to start a new life; rather, they were shipped to the country against their will and deprived of their human rights for the benefit of slave owners. An immigrant is someone who travels to a country of which he or she is not a native with the intention of settling there as a permanent resident. Although Africans brought to the United States as slaves were certainly immigrants, their experiences differed widely from the experiences of people who chose to immigrate. (See chapter 8 for more information about the massive forced migration of Africans in the slavery era.)
Many of the lands the pioneers in the United States took over during the westward expansion already belonged to Native Americans who had lived on the continent for thousands of years. During the westward mass migration, thousands of people in eastern parts of the United States moved to the western frontier regions. The consequences of the mass migration for American Indians often were gruesome and horribly unfair. The experiences of each of the tribes upon the arrival of the white settlers to their lands differed. Most were shut out of their own lands. Many tribes, however, remained on their ancestral lands under the provisions of treaties (contracts...
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Chinese, Japanese, and Filipino Immigration
According to the U.S. Census, in 2000 there were about 11.9 million Asian Americans. Americans of Asian descent form a highly diverse group, coming from all parts of the vast continent of Asia. There are more than thirty different Asian ethnic groups in the United States, speaking a wide variety of languages, participating in many different traditions, and believing in a variety of religions and spiritual philosophies. This chapter will present an overview of three of the first groups that came to the United States in significant numbers: the Chinese, Japanese, and Filipinos. In 2000, there were more than 2.4 million Chinese Americans, making up about 24 percent of all Asian Americans; 800,000 Japanese Americans, making up about 10 percent; and about 1.8 million Filipinos, making up about 21 percent of Asian Americans. (Other groups of Asians, such as Indians, Vietnamese, Koreans, and Cambodians, will be considered in Chapter 20). Chinese Americans are the largest Asian American group and Filipino Americans are second. The many Asian American populations have been rapidly growing in the United States in the last four decades, with the exception of the Japanese American population, which has declined in recent years.
The three national groups discussed in this chapter are separate and distinct, each with its own unique immigration history. As the earliest Asians to arrive, they did share some...
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In 2000 there were 6,150,000 Jews in the United States, accounting for about 2 percent of the population. The Jews came to the United States from a variety of nations. They have a very long and unique history among the peoples of the world. Judaism is the oldest monotheistic religion (religion whose supporters believe in one god) in the history of modern human life. Throughout history the Jews were persecuted (abused and oppressed) and sent into exile (sent away from one's homeland). In all their worldwide migrations, they maintained their identity as Jews. In the words of historian Paul Johnson: "The Jews created a separate and specific identity earlier than almost any other people, an identity that still survives. They have maintained it, amid appalling adversities, right up to the present."
The biblical account of Jewish history starts in Canaan, which comprises present-day Israel and parts of Jordan. The Jews settled there thousands of years ago in two kingdoms, the kingdom of Israel in the north and the kingdom of Judah in the south. In 722 B.C.E. most of the northern tribes of Israel were expelled, but the tribes in Judah remained. The land, though, was dominated by other states and empires. Jews began to move to other cities, where they could study and carry on in...
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Italian and Greek Immigration
About thirty-five million people, mainly from southern and eastern Europe, arrived on U.S. shores between 1880 and 1920, changing forever the nature of American civilization. In southern Europe, the rise of the modern world made life difficult for some, particularly for the struggling farmers and workers. Two southern European countries responsible for a significant portion of the mass migration were Italy and Greece.
Between 1880 and 1920, an estimated four million people left Italy for the United States, making Italians the single largest European national group to move to America in the era when people throughout eastern and central Europe were making a similar voyage. The Italians were not simply pursuing dreams of economic prosperity; they were also bringing with them a culture and traditions that became a central part of American culture and tradition. Establishing outposts called Little Italy in cities like New York City; Providence, Rhode Island; and Boston, Massachusetts, it often seemed that Italian immigrants were not leaving Italy so much as bringing Italy with them to America in their search for a better life.
Most Greek Americans today are descended from immigrants who came to the United States during the migration of 1880 through 1920. The majority of Greek immigrants were young men from the southern peninsula of Greece, known as the Peloponnesus...
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Eastern European Immigration
In just two decades between 1891 and 1910, about 12.5 million people immigrated to the United States. The majority of these immigrants came from the countries and states that composed Eastern Europe, among them Austria-Hungary, Poland, and Russia. But the people leaving these countries did not necessarily claim ancestry in them. The borders of nations during the nineteenth century in Eastern Europe changed so frequently that immigration from eastern and central Europe cannot be accurately divided up into nationality counts. As Russia and Austria-Hungary expanded their empires, taking over many smaller countries, countries like Poland that had existed for centuries disappeared as sovereign (self-ruling) nations. Many ethnic groups besides the Poles found themselves without a state: the Lithuanians, the Czechs and Slovaks, the Croatians, and the Slovenians were all displaced (involuntarily removed from their home) at one time or another. In the twentieth century, the Russian Revolution (1917–21), World War I (1914–18), and World War II (1939–45) changed the national borders drastically again, displacing millions of Eastern Europeans. Like other immigrants, the Eastern European immigrants arrived in the United States to escape oppression, violence, or political upheaval, but also to try to improve their economic circumstances or to earn some money for their family in the old country. Because of the turmoil, some...
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By 1890 the United States had expanded from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific. With growing populations in the Great Plains and the West, the frontier was considered closed. But the nation was far from settled. The turn of the century would be a time of great movement from the farmlands to the cities of America owing to the jobs and demand for labor caused by industrialization. African Americans in the South were drawn to the cities of the North by the promise of work and improved circumstances. They also desired to escape from racism in the post–Civil War South, which had fought in favor of slavery and was bitter about losing the war and the right to own slaves. By 1915 they were heading to the industrial cities by the thousands, beginning the historic African American Great Migration.
All the migrations that occurred during the United States from its founding had pushed Native Americans into smaller and less accommodating reservations as the country continued to take the lands that had once sustained them. Some moved to the cities to look for work or opportunity. In the 1950s the U.S. government passed a series of acts intended to remove the Native Americans from reservations and relocate them to the cities, where, it was determined, they would assimilate into (blend into) U.S. society. The goal of this governmental act was to "terminate" the tribes and eliminate the reservations....
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Arab World Immigration
The 2000 U.S. Census reported 1.2 million people who claimed ancestry in the Arab world. This figure has doubled since 1980, when the census reported 610,000 Arab Americans. In 1990 it reported 860,000. According to the census, Arab Americans represented 4.2 percent of the U.S. population in 2000, but many researchers believe the count is inaccurate and has missed a significant number of Arab Americans. Some researchers and experts place the population at more than 3.5 million. The dramatic rise in population of the Arab Americans is due mainly to high rates of immigration over the last three decades.
The Arab world refers to twenty-one Arab countries. These countries cover vast territories extending from the African shores of the Atlantic Ocean to the Arab-Persian Gulf in Asia. The Arab countries are members of the League of Arab States, also known as the Arab League, which was founded in 1945 to strengthen relationships and mediate conflicts among its members. The Arab world is the home of 260 million people. Arabic is the native language of the over-whelming majority (92 percent). In addition to the Arabic language, Arabs have a shared history and cultural heritage that has given rise to their collective cultural, ethnic, and national Arab identity.
Yet, the Arab world is a diverse area with numerous religious and ethnic groups. The majority of Arabs are Muslims,...
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Asian Indian, Korean, and Southeast Asian Immigration
In 2000 the census reported a population of 11.9 million people of Asian descent (either one Asian group alone or in combination with any other groups) in the United States, making up 4.2 percent of the total U.S. population. The change had been dramatic in the last four decades of the twentieth century. In 1960 the Asian American population was only 878,000, making up less than 1 percent of the total U.S. population. The national backgrounds had changed dramatically as well. In 1960, 99 percent of Asian Americans were from three national backgrounds: 52 percent were Japanese, 27 percent were Chinese, and 20 percent were Filipino. (See chapter 14 for more information on these three groups.) The two largest Asian American groups in 2000 were Chinese Americans and Filipino Americans. They were followed by Asian Indians, Koreans, and Vietnamese, with Japanese as the sixth largest. During the last three decades of the twentieth century, Asian Indians, Koreans, and Vietnamese all developed very large populations. Those three populations together totaled 4.35 million, or 36 percent of the Asian American population. Other Southeast Asian groups, such as Cambodian, Hmong, Laotian, and Thai Americans, as well as Pakistani and Taiwanese Americans, also have developed significant populations. The growth of the Asian American population is due largely to recent immigration. Sixty-six percent of Asian Americans in 2000 were...
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According to the U.S. Census, there were 20.6 million Mexican Americans in 2000. They made up 7.3 percent of the total U.S. population of 281 million people and 58.5 percent of the total Hispanic American population of 35.3 million. Mexican Americans are the fastest growing ethnic group in the nation. They have a high birth rate compared with other U.S. ethnic groups, causing a rapid population increase. But recent immigration has also greatly increased the population of Mexican Americans. There were about 7.9 million foreign-born Mexican Americans in 2000, and Mexico is the country of origin of the largest number of recent immigrants, contributing 27.7 percent of the total number of foreign-born residents of the United States in 2000. Hispanic Americans are considered the second largest ancestry group in the nation (after German Americans). If Latino groups are considered individually, however, Mexican Americans form the fifth largest ancestry group in the nation, after German, African American, Irish, and English Americans.
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Latino and Caribbean Migration and Immigration
One of the fastest growing populations at the end of the twentieth century was Latino and Caribbean Americans. Three major groups have traditionally dominated among U.S. Hispanics. Mexican Americans numbered 20.6 million in the 2000 Census and comprised about 58.5 percent of the Hispanic population of the United States. (For more information about Mexican Americans, see Chapter 21.) Puerto Ricans numbered 3.4 million in the United States and 3.8 million in Puerto Rico and comprised about 9.6 percent of the population. (Puerto Ricans are citizens of the United States. Those who have migrated from Puerto Rico to the mainland should not be considered immigrants.) Cuban Americans numbered 1.2 million and made up about 3.5 percent of the Hispanic population. In 2000 other Hispanic and Caribbean groups were rapidly catching up to the top three and some were, in fact, growing at a faster rate. The Dominicans were the fourth largest Hispanic group, at 765,000 people, followed closely by the Salvadorans. Central Americans numbered 1.7 million and South Americans numbered 1.4 million.
Other, non-Hispanic Caribbean countries are beginning to have significant populations in the United States, particularly Jamaica and Haiti. These countries are not considered Hispanic because other European powers introduced different languages and customs after Spain's initial explorations and settlement. According to a...
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