Social Work Practice with Immigrants and Refugees

By Pallassana R. Balgopal | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 5
SOCIAL WORK PRACTICE
WITH EUROPEAN IMMIGRANTS
Howard Jacob Karger and Joanne Levine

Much of America's “melting pot” is made up of European immigrants, of which the majority are classified as Caucasian or white. Although American society is typically divided along the lines of “whites” and people of color, clumping all of white society into a single category is almost as misleading as ignoring the important cultural differences among people of color. For example, in 1850, it was relatively easy to describe white Americans because they probably had an Anglo-Saxon background and were Protestant. After the Civil War, however, immigrants began coming from southern and central Europe who were not Protestant and not Anglo-Saxon and whose language and culture were different from those people who preceded them. As a result, it is difficult in the 1990s to describe a white American, since about 200 million people can trace some of their ancestry back to the following groups (in descending order based on size): English, German, Irish, French, Italian, Scottish, Polish, Dutch, Swedish, Norwegian, Russian, Czech, Slovakian, Hungarian, Welsh, Danish, and Portuguese. In addition, the background of many white Americans is Hispanic. Although most of these groups have generally assimilated into American life, many continue to maintain some of the characteristics that have contributed to the uniqueness of American society (Bernardo 1981). To better understand European immigration, therefore, we will first examine the history of European immigration to the United States.


A BRIEF HISTORY OF EUROPEAN IMMIGRATION

Between 1800 and 1860, six million, mostly impoverished, European immigrants entered the United States. As early as 1796, officials of New York City's

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