Assignment: Discussions of Immigration
Immigration and race thus played strangely symbiotic roles in shaping the founding mythology of America, evident in the fact that the two phenom- ena were often divorced from each other in treatments of the country’s his- tory (Glazer 1997). Well after the end of the Civil War, the country coped with the inconsistent and seemingly irreconcilable motifs arising from immi- gration and slavery (and, by extension, race) by compartmentalizing depic- tions of the immigrant and slave experiences, especially at an intellectual level. Many historians tended to embed discussions of immigration in nar- ratives about the frontier and industrialization, and others confined treat-
Immigration and the Color Line in America 7
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ments of slavery only to the history of the South (Davis 1998). Race might have been a historical problem, but scholars often seemed to view the issue as a regional matter confined to the southern states, not one that afflicted the country as a whole.
But in the early twentieth century the changing national origins of immi- grants began to undermine such convenient compartmentalizations. With the arrival of America’s third wave of newcomers from 1900 to 1914, from eastern and southern Europe, agitated natives started to advocate the “Americanization” of groups they viewed as non-Nordic and thus hopelessly unassimilable (Gerstle 1999; Ignatiev 1995; Jacobson 1998; Roediger 1991). The new arrivals scarcely resembled the western and northern European immigrants of the country’s past. Moreover, they were Catholic, not Protestant, and they largely settled in industrial cities outside the South. Thus, the tendency in this period for foreigners to be viewed in reductionist terms that conflated national origin and race (Zolberg 2006; Nightingale 2008) resulted in many non- Southerners having to confront and cope with persons of “races” different from their own, a dilemma previously faced to a lesser degree in the case of the Irish. The attendant tensions contributed to the rise of nativism and the passage of restrictive national-origins immigration legislation in 1921 (Higham 1963; Brown, Bean, and Bachmeier 2009). But denials that racism existed and that racial relations involving blacks were less than exemplary continued as national problems through the Great Depression and World War II.
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