Race and Ethnic Conflict: Contending Views on Prejudice, Discrimination, and Ethnoviolence

By Fred L. Pincus; Howard J. Ehrlich | Go to book overview

PART 4
Immigration

There have been several relatively distinct phases in the history of American immigration. These historical distinctions involved differences in the ethnic and racial composition of the people moving, differences in the sociological factors that impelled their movement, differences in their motives for migration and where they settled, and differences in the responses made to them by the resident populations. The dominant imagery of this country welcoming the newcomer was vital to maintaining the ideals of egalitarianism and, to some extent, the myth of representative government (see the essay by Howard Zinn in Part Seven). This imagery, along with that of economic opportunity, also served to attract people. Nevertheless, the resident populations, despite their own immigrant origins, have always been ambivalent to immigration while accepting of individual migrants. This ambivalence on open immigration has always been a part of American life. It is manifest today in concerns over new immigrants taking jobs from residents, costing taxpayers more money in public assistance, in conflicts over the likelihood of newcomers shifting the balance of political power away from established interests, and in an ambivalence about the value of providing political, religious, and other forms of sanctuary to those desiring to enter this country. These concerns of today are the same concerns that were expressed in the early nineteenth century in response to immigration. As a result, at times a given immigrant group would be welcomed, and at later times rejected; at times new restrictions would be placed on those who could enter, and at other times specific entrants were encouraged.


BRIEF HISTORY OF AMERICAN IMMIGRATION

At the time of the Revolution, the white American population was mainly English and Protestant in background. There were small representations of other groups, including German nationals, as well as Catholics and Jews. Figure P4.1 is a pie chart reprinted from the first census in 1790. It was clearly a different time and place.

Indians were not counted and were generally treated as subhumans to be eliminated as the colonists began a westward expansion. Blacks, who were mainly slaves, made up close to 20 percent of the colonial population. Like the Indians,

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