What is Mark Wyman's argument in his book Round-Trip to America: The Immigrants Return to Europe, 1880–1930?

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In this book, published in 1993, Mark Wyman delves into a little discussed fact about European immigration to the United States between 1880 and 1930, namely that approximately one third (roughly four million) of these immigrants returned to their native countries. In elucidating this, Professor Wyman uses the techniques of...

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In this book, published in 1993, Mark Wyman delves into a little discussed fact about European immigration to the United States between 1880 and 1930, namely that approximately one third (roughly four million) of these immigrants returned to their native countries. In elucidating this, Professor Wyman uses the techniques of the historian to paint a broad survey of European immigration, but he also humanizes the canvas with individual examples.

One reason why some immigrants returned to their homeland was because they never planned to stay permanently in the United States to begin with. They came in order to learn new skills and to send money home, and once they fulfilled their objectives, they returned to their place of origin.

A second reason is that America, thought to be the “land of opportunity” where the “streets were paved with gold,” did not live up to the hopes of the newly arrived immigrants. Many people found themselves living in overcrowded conditions, facing prejudice and discrimination, and working long hours for bosses who saw them only as cogs in the wheels of production. Many immigrants were from small towns and villages, surrounded by family and friends, and were used to a slower and more sociable type of life. They did not like having to punch a time clock and meet ever-expanding work quotas. They were not used to local politics, unions, or the post–World War I attitudes in the United States.

A further tipping point for some of the immigrants was the loss of their native cultures. They missed their relatives and friends back home, and they were upset about the Americanization of their children taking place in schools.

However, a cross-cultural seeding took place when these immigrants returned to Europe. Since time immemorial, when cultures meet, they each change to some extent. These immigrants brought back with them some of the ideas and methods of of the American industrialized economy, as well as cultural ideas about education, food, dress, entertainment, and so on.

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Mark Wyman argues that immigrants from Europe to America returned to Europe at the end of the nineteenth century and beginning of the twentieth century for reasons like unhappy workplace conditions, the fulfillment of their goals, and the increasing ease and safety of travel.

Work conditions weren't everything that European immigrants felt they could be. Things were very industrialized and regimented. At home, work conditions were preferable to people from Europe. This encouraged them to return home and get jobs there.

Many immigrants fulfilled their goals. They got experience in the world and earned enough money to help their families. At the same time, the world became more open. They could go home and spend time with other people who had traveled rather than going home to a populace that had never left. It made going home a more appealing prospect. Since they did what they came to do, there was no reason to stay.

One thing that held immigrants back from returning home to Europe were the dangers and difficulties of travel. By the 1880s, however, there were railroads that went across America. Steamships were safer and quicker than ever. This made it easier for people to go back to Europe.

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Mark Wyman's book Round-Trip to America: The Immigrants Return to Europe takes a look at an idea that is overlooked by most history books--that about 1/3 of European immigrants to the United States in the beginning of the 1900's chose to "go back home" after getting here.  That certainly goes against the popular idea of America being the land of opportunity that the Statue of Liberty promised.

The book focuses on the reasons why Wyman believes these people chose to leave.  Here are a few examples:

  • They didn't like the strict "monochromatic" use of time in America, which was dictated at work by whistles and time clocks.
  • They didn't like the prejudices the faced, depending on their country or origin,
  • They missed there families back home,
  • They didn't enjoy the process of giving up their "home" culture to become Americanized.
  • They didn't like organized labor and their standing in that system.

The most interesting one, in my opinion, is the fact that many of the immigrants didn't have any real intention of staying in the first place.  Many people came to earn money to go back home with, or to have experiences and learn skills that they could then utilize in their home countries. 

I am attaching a link that may help...it's not about the book specifically, but it does talk about the forces at work in the immigration process.

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