Between Two Nations: The Political Predicament of Latinos in New York City

By Michael Jones-Correa | Go to book overview

4
Resistance from Outside: Machine Politics and the (Non) Incorporation of Immigrants

The United States has received immigrants throughout its history, and the long experience has created its own mythology. Part of the popular imagery has it that earlier in this century the ships bringing immigrants were met at the dock by the political boss, a basket of food or clothing draped over his arm, waiting to receive the newcomers and recruit them as part of the city's political machine.1 A New York politician recalled in an afterglow of nostalgia that when immigrants arrived, the party ward heeler "took them as fast as they came [and] flung them into his melting pot . . . he naturalized them, registered them and voted them for Tammany Hall" (quoted in Henderson, 1976: 10). The urban political machine is now mostly remembered as a quintessential Americanizing institution; immigration policy allowed immigrants entry, but the machine made them voting citizens.

This memory of the political machine, which emphasizes its role as an integrating mechanism into democratic politics, is acquiring renewed relevance today as the United States again becomes the destination for millions of immigrants from around the world. Over eight million immigrants arrived in this country in the last decade, more than at any other time since the last great wave of immigration from 1900 to 1910. The United States

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1
The boss's role did not end at the docks. Oscar Handlin writes that "under a variety of designations there was in every ward a place where a man could go and see the boss, or see someone who would in turn see the boss." He quotes an imaginary ward leader: "'I think that there's got to be in every ward a guy that any bloke can go to when he's in trouble and get help -- not justice and the law, but help, no matter what he's done'' ( 1951: 191). This rudimentary welfare safety net was repaid at election time by the votes of grateful recipients.

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