From the Other Side: Women, Gender, and Immigrant Life in the U.S., 1820-1990

From the Other Side: Women, Gender, and Immigrant Life in the U.S., 1820-1990

From the Other Side: Women, Gender, and Immigrant Life in the U.S., 1820-1990

From the Other Side: Women, Gender, and Immigrant Life in the U.S., 1820-1990


An impressive achievement by a scholar well-versed in the field. ¿Virginia Yans-McLaughlin"Sweeping in scope and prodigious in research, Gabaccia is able to make insightful comparisons between these female newcomers in both the past and the present and between the experiences of the foreign-born and other minorities in American society." ¿John BodnarThis long-needed study of women "from the other side" examines the experience of women immigrants as they came to the United Stated from all corners of the earth. Donna Gabaccia traces continuities that characterize women of both the nineteenth-century European and Asian migrations and the present-day Third World migrations. Foreign-born women, even more than men, experienced sharp tensions between communal, familial traditions and U.S. expectations of individualism and voluntarism. She also discovers strong parallels between the lives of foreign-born women and the women of America's native-born racial minorities.


'I am old-fashioned from the other side. . . . American women . . . they got different manners. . . . But the young Italian girls, my daughters, they're up to date, just as good, just as polite. . . .'

The speaker is Maria Zambello, an Italian immigrant living in the United States. This book explores the lives of foreign-born women who, like her, entered the United States from what many of them called "the other side." Where was the other side? And how did a person like Zambello know when she had crossed over the boundary between it and the United States? In thinking about her own life, Maria Zambello compared herself only to other women; she disparaged herself as "old-fashioned" and less "good" than American women, rather than merely as poor. For Zambello, polite "modern" behavior—not her nativity or ethnicity—excluded her from American womanhood. The younger girls she saw as up-to-date and "just as good" had—in her view, at least—crossed the boundary from the other side while remaining Italian. Her daughters, however, almost certainly thought of themselves as Italian Americans.

Zambello's comments remind us of the centrality of gender—in a world divided between powerful and less powerful regions, and in the lives of immigrants who had moved from one to the other by migrating to the United States. Zambello could not easily isolate gender from other dimensions of her life. Immigrant women like her carried with them not merely Italian or German or Japanese ways, but also the distinctive female traditions found within their native cultures. To become American, these women invented "ethnic" female identities. Most immigrant women—like most men—creatively blended old and new in doing so. Most women welcomed the challenges and economic opportunities of a dynamic American economy; yet, like men, they also exhibited some ambivalence about accepting unmodified the individualism and voluntarism they associated with American modernity.

In one very significant way, too, immigrant women's confrontation with American life differed sharply from men's. Both ethnic conservators and Americanizers who wanted to "go after the women" saw women's loyalties as central to cultural transformation. Associated symbolically with cultural identity—indeed, with the very "heart" of a culture—immigrant women and their daughters became markers of the line dividing Americans from outsiders; as a result, they found their lives subjected to intensive scrutiny both from other immigrants and from Americans.

While most histories of immigrants in the United States begin with the experiences of migratory men disguised as genderless humans, From the Other Side instead begins with the experiences of migratory women. But though centered on women, its analysis does not stop with them. Immigrant women cannot be studied apart from men of their own backgrounds, nor apart from American women. As mobile and culturally distinctive outsiders . . .

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