American Immigration

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Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses, yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore, Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost, to me; I lift my lamp beside the golden door. —Emma Lazarus (inscription at the base of the Statue of Liberty)

On a small island in New York harbor stands a giant statue of a robed woman looking out to the sea with a hand holding a torch high in the air. That was the first sight seen by millions of immigrants coming to the United States. Statue of Liberty has become the preeminent symbol of immigration, symbol of a whole nation, symbol of freedom and a new life. People from all over the world created that new country with its unique spirit; melting pot, mosaic, hybrid as the United States are usually called. This country is said to be an impossible place to define, however one name will always be true- the country of immigrants, and as the social historian, Oscar Handlin, in one of his works on American immigration, The Uprooted, declared ‘Once I thought to write a history of immigrants in America. Then I discovered that the immigrants were American history’ (Handlin 1951:3).Therefore, I decided to write on American immigration, as I believe that it is the base and core layer of American national identity, culture and way of life that is not clearly European not clearly African or Amerindian, or Asian, or Latino, or Caribbean. In my essay, I would like to analyze the reasons for emigration, the obstacles that immigrants faced on coming to the New World, de-idealisation and crash of their dreams, assimilation in a new society or maintenance of their own traditions and individuality and, finally, creation a new nation.

There were several waves of immigration to the New World and the first one of European arrivals in North America was more concerned with survival than conquest and as the reports stated from 197 first settlers only 53 survived. Some of the early colonists were Pilgrims, Puritans, Quakers, and Catholics who braved the perilous voyage across the Atlantic so that they could practice their religious beliefs without interference from England’s Anglican Church. However, other immigrants were not fleeing religious persecution and many English, Welsh, and Scotch-Irish migrants were simply seeking a more independent and financially secure life than they could have in the British Empire. In England practically all land was owned by the wealthy nobility, and opportunities for economic growth were very low. To these migrants, staying in Europe meant a life of financial struggle and second-class citizenship. America, on the other hand, offered the ownership of large parcels of land that could be used for growing crops, raising livestock, producing timber. It is obvious that for many people the choice was easy. These early settlers laid the foundations for English to become the dominant language in America. As one of the settlers put in “ we took the British cultural traditions that we had grown up with and planted them in American soil ” (O’Callaghan, 2004:76). After these first settlers, new immigrants arrived in America and the community started to grow. However, even in those early years the tension between newcomers and those Europeans who had settled there earlier was arising. And each time a vessel anchored in the James River the veterans would ask in despair: “Who is to feed them? Who is to teach them to fight the Indians, or grow tobacco, or clear the marshy lands and build a home in the malaria-infested swamps? These immigrants certainly are a problem.” (K.Hillstrom, 1963:10) As we will see further, this attitude to the newcomers in America will maintain till the present day. In the 18th -19th century the population in Europe exploded, which was caused not...
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