Professor Diane Britton
October 8, 2012
Alan M. Kraut’s Silent Travelers: Germs, genes, and the “Immigrant menace” traced American’s efforts to cope with immigrants whose labor was needed, but foreignness was feared. Nearly every ethnic group that has migrated to the United States, Kraut wrote, was greeted by hostility. During America’s peak immigration period between 1890 and the 1920’s , Americans have blamed the Irish for bringing cholera, the Italians for bringing polio, the Chinese for carrying bubonic plague, the Jews for spreading tuberculosis, and the Haitians for bringing AIDS. Kraut describes the relationship among disease, nativism, and those prejudices and polices that expressed resentment to the foreign- born.
Nativists and public health was most affected by the development of medical bacteriology by Louis Pasteur, Kraut explained. The germ theory and other advances helped physicians’ ability to test for pathogenic organisms, which increased medicine’s value in excluding infected newcomers (p. 4). However, medical improvements also provided groundwork of hope that with better health care and education, America could allow an equal opportunity for immigrants and natives to compete for political power and to culturally influence the society. Though, Americans broadcasted data that suggested certain diseases were more predominant in foreigners than natives, which added the doubt that immigrants could prove they were equal to the native-born (p. 5). Kraut stated that health education and preventative care could remake an outsider into an insider. Assimilation for newcomers was the ultimate goal. Not all believed medicine was a devise to help with foreign inclusion. As Kraut wrote, “Eugenicist, for example, argued that only exclusion and careful education in right choices of human breeding could dilute the potentially disastrous impact that the inferior nature of the foreign-born could have on the future of America physical and mental vitality” (p. 5). The quote demonstrated a problem for integration because most politics were eugenicist. Politicians seized on medicine as a justification to health policies towards newcomers. However, because America was in high demand of labor, there was a pressure to admit newcomers rather than to exclude. Public policies, which affected immigrant’s health and hygiene, required negotiation between the natives and newcomers (p.6). Immigrants did not abandon or negotiate their traditions of healing for American’s health care. For example, Kraut explained that Asian immigrants were turning to Asian herb shops rather than consulting a physician. Eventually, this turned into a federal event. Newcomers were hardly passive when it came to their choice of health care. Americans defined better health as changing traditions and other trusted therapies to create assimilation. Though, various ethnic groups turned to their own institution to maintain their cultural identity (p. 9). Not accepting American traditions created disagreement between natives and newcomers not only in the courts, but also, in hospitals, and the workforce. Kraut’s first chapter, “’The Breath of the Other People Kill Them’”: First Encounters”, argued the Columbian exchange. Many Native American tribes were endangered of extinction because of the contamination the newcomers brought. Once the interaction of natives and newcomers occurred, many tribes died from malaria and tuberculosis. An estimated 1,100,000 Indians were reduced to 10,000 by disease (p. 13). Horrendous mortality rates were also due to swine influenza. The hogs that were traded with the Columbus expedition appeared to have spread infection. Before Columbus, Native Americans were not exposed to domestic animals, thus, they were first exposed when Columbus landed with sheep,...