|Gate-Crashing the Party: 500 Years of Immigration to America
Every American, except Native Americans, descends from folks who came ashore welcomed by hostility from previous arrivals. Our story is to look at why each major group came, what they faced, and what they contributed, from Spanish toeholds on “the Land of Flowers”, through aggressive English seeking profit, Africans driven here by whips, Germans seeking to be left alone, Irish escaping famine, Scots set adrift by the Clearances, Chinese lured by gold, Sicilians forced here by poverty, Jews by hatred, Vietnamese by war, Hispanics (and Latinos) by unemployment.
Each group carried fear in their baggage but also, except for the Africans, an elixir of hope. We'll deepen our understanding of the forces that made America, that America’s story is an immigration story. It’s a story with no ending, for America remains “the permanently unfinished country”.
Class 1 (ca. 20,000 BCE~1787) –European scramble to divide up the hemisphere. Spanish, French, and British and differing attitudes to colonialism. English, Scots, and Germans to build a society finally self-confident enough to become independent.
Class 2 (1787~1860) – Industrializing the Northeast, settling the Midwest, and forcibly displacing the native peoples. The United States builds an economy on the backs of enslaved Africans, Germans filling in the Ohio Valley and eastern prairies, and Irish filling the lowest rung in the cities. Rising anti-Catholic and anti-immigration sentiment. Spanish expansion into the southwest and Pacific coasts.
Class 3 (1860~80s) – Economic expansion, geographical expansion, corruption, and labor unrest. Booming industry and prairies opened up to Scandinavian and eastern European farmers fuel runaway rapacious capitalism. Western states drive anti-Asian legislation.
Class 4 (1880s~1918) – The Ellis Island years. Arrival of vast numbers of wretched, huddled, Socialist masses, mainly eastern European Jews and Southern Italians. They make America the world industrial leader, and are thanked for it by rising anti-immigrant attitudes.
Class 5 (1918~80s) – Years of paranoia: fear of socialists, fascists, and communists. Ellis Island closes, quotas are set, and immigration dries up. WWII creates a new category—refugee—with America as their dream. Cold War politics dominate immigration patterns, and the quota system is stretched to breaking. The unexpected new factor of Western Hemisphere immigrants.
Class 6 (1980s~2013) – Today Latin America and east and south Asia dominate the immigration numbers. The perception of a rising, uncontrolled tide polarizes the never-ending debate about how to define America: “the permanently unfinished country”.
Douglas Kenning (PhD, Edinburgh) has taught at universities in Tunisia, Japan, and Italy. Besides a university professor, he has been a biologist, actor, army officer, Manhattan taxi driver, academic administrator, and writer. He divides each year between the Bay Area, lecturing on Mediterranean histories and cultures, and Sicily, where he runs Sicily Tour, a small tour guide business.