How would immigrants affect American culture, politics, and community life? How would immigrants affect the virtue, character of the political community in early 20th Century?

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Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I think that an argument can be made that the mere presence of immigrant affects the virtue and character of the American political community in the early 20th Century.  The emergence of immigrants added greater diversity and heterogeneity to American culture, politics, and community life.  The presence of immigrants added more to the American political community.  The composition and understanding of the American community was transformed with the presence of immigrants.

The presence of immigrants helped to enhance the American cultural notion of the "melting pot."  The idea of the melting pot helped to define the American political community as a realm where national identity was advocated for all. When former President Roosevelt speaks with disdain towards the "hyphenated American," he captures a spirit of the political community that asserts the melting pot ideology:

There is no room in this country for hyphenated Americanism. When I refer to hyphenated Americans, I do not refer to naturalized Americans. Some of the very best Americans I have ever known were naturalized Americans, Americans born abroad. But a hyphenated American is not an American at all 

The immigrant was a vital part of this construction. The immigrant was forced to assimilate into a larger vision of American culture.  Community life was viewed in this assimilationist reality.  The immigrant was forced to "blend in" with this larger vision, something that was dictated by the larger cultural notion.

The immigrants' primary contribution to American culture, politics, and community life was to provide a reservoir of affirmation to the melting pot.  For the most part, immigrant communities were persuaded by the American Dream.  This helped to support their assimilation into the larger political and national community.  While they faced much in way of challenges and struggles in the early 20th Century, the immigrant did not find a voice ready and able to support their experiences.  They were forced to sacrifice and sometimes suffer without acknowledgement.  

Such a condition of sacrifice without reward could be seen in how immigrants were quickly appropriated into the urban political machine politics of the time period.  The urban political configuration where "the machine" controlled everything was quick to appropriate recently immigrants into its configuration. Immigrants played a vital role in the continuation of the machine, thereby playing a major role in the urban political community of the time period. Immigrants were used to deliver votes for the machine bosses.  When it became clear that a political advantage was evident, interests of immigrants were not validated.  It became clear that immigrants were used, affecting culture and politics of the time.  The political community became a significant benefactor from the presence of immigrants.

The virtue of the American political community was enhanced by immigrants. They participated in the pursuit of "the American Dream," a staple to the virtue of American political life.  Immigrants were critical in being able to speak to the contents of the American Dream.  Their willingness to embrace the American Dream and all that it entailed spoke to the virtue intrinsic to the newly- emerging American political identity of the time period.

mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

There is also a darker side to the contributions of immigrants, especially in the political arena. Tammany Hall in New York with its Irish Boss Tweed was a Democratic political machine that pretty well controlled New York City and even the state. It helped immigrants, mainly Irish, rise in American politics as it controlled elections. It started to loss much of its power in the 20th century, but made a resurgence in the 1950s. In Chicago, under the last of the big bosses, Mayor Richard J. Daley, the son of Irish immigrants, there was great control over the city and its voting. One slogan often heard in Chicago was "Vote Early and Vote Often." 

In both New York and Chicago, the Mafia has operated and done well. The infamous godfather Carlo Gambino, came from Palermo, Italy, as a stowaway into Charlotte, North Carolina. He never became a citizen and he never went to jail. But before he was forty years old, Gambino had made his first million selling stolen and counterfeit rations stamps during World War II. During Prohibition, organized crime, composed of many an immigrant made millions on illegally importing liquor from Canada.

Al Capone made a fortune after he came to Chicago from New York. For years he skirted the law because he had several important people "on his payroll." among them police chiefs, commisioners, and others.

Yojana_Thapa | Student

Endless stream of immigrants continued to pour in from the old “mother continent”. From 1850s through the 1870s, more than 2 million migrants had stepped onto American shores. Immigrants fled crop failure, land and job shortages, famine, raising taxes. They migrated to US because United States was known as the land of opportunities. Until the 1880s most immigrants were from British, Europe, Germany, Ireland, and China. Another massive migration was called “New Immigrants”, which came from the eastern and southern Europe. Among these were Jews, Italian, Slovaks, Croats, and Greeks. Social fabric is the social structure of any society. These new wave of immigrants played a major role in transforming the urban social fabric economically, and socially.

Furthermore, many immigrants made their way to America and transformed the urban social fabric economically. When Jews boarded in the Atlantic coast, NY many of them bought their urban skills of tailoring or shoe keeping to American cities. A large number of immigrants were mostly the ones that would work and receive money and go back to their own country.

In addition, immigrants who migrated affected the urban social fabric socially. Most struggled to preserve their traditional culture. However, many Greek restaurants, Polish parishes and clubs were established to keep their traditions alive. One middle class women who wanted to uplift the urban masses, Jane Addams established a Hull House, the first prominent American settlement house. There were many poor immigrant neighborhoods of Italians, Russians, and Germans so Hull house offered help to newcomers with American life. Urban life wasn’t that great with immigrants. Majority of the immigrants lived in tenements. “the dumbbell tenement” was extremely crowded and disease was widespread. However the new immigrants such as Irish were literate and possessed a little bit of wealth. Little cities were establishes such as “Chinatown”, “Greek Town”, and “Little Italy”. The urban society was extremely distinguished in classes.

Immigration not only created diversity but also inequality. As more immigrants began pouring in, that doesn’t mean that Americans were accepting them. Nativists tried to restrict the flow of immigrants. The Chinese immigrants were excluded according the Chinese Exclusion Act of 882. Congress put the literacy test as requirements to admissions.

In conclusion, as more immigrants poured in, it definitely created diversity. But it also created classes. The urban society was distinguished one the new wave of immigrants poured in. But the social injustice was also becoming clear as the population rose because many didn’t accept certain immigrant groups.