Dear Family


In the first three Modules of this course you read a lot about the influx of immigrants to the US in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. While immigration had been a central part of American society since its origins, the turn of the twentieth century was a high point of immigration in terms the percentage of the overall population that was foreign-born, reaching almost 15 percent in 1890. Immigrants came to the US for many reasons, including “push” factors that drove them out of their home nation (drought, famine, war, overpopulation), and “pull” factors that drove them toward the United States in general and to particular areas within the US (higher wages, educational opportunities, freedom from persecution, family reunification). Immigrants tended to arrive in “waves” due to push and pull factors, as well as US policies toward particular national groups. While nineteenth-century immigration was dominated by Western Europeans—Irish, British, and German—by the late nineteenth and early twentieth century Southern and Eastern Europeans—Italians, Russians, and a significant number of Eastern European Jews —arrived in much larger numbers until the Johnson-Reed Act (1924) severely limited their numbers by imposing a quota system. Meanwhile, Asian immigrants, particularly Chinese men, arrived in large numbers in California until the passage of the Chinese Exclusion Act in 1882. Unlike the relative welcome that European immigrants received on the eastern coast at Ellis Island, Asian immigrants on the west coast faced extended scrutiny and detention until their formal admission to the US. Mexicans crossed the border (or the border crossed them in the case of those living in the acquired territories after the Mexican-American War) providing the necessary labor to fuel economic growth in the US Southwest. Use this chart to examine the total number of immigrants in the US over time, and their percentage makeup of the total US population. Use this map to explore where different immigrant groups settled in the US over time. Each group that came to the United States brought its own unique culture. This usually influenced their actions once they arrived: where they lived, what kind of work they did, and how they socialized and practiced their religion. At the same time, native-born American perceptions about these groups also played a role in how these immigrants were received and their ability to integrate into American society. Immigration and the backlash against it from native-born Americans (xenophobia) drove many of the changes in American society and domestic and foreign policies you discussed in the first three modules, including Western growth and industrialization, Progressivism, American imperialism, scientific racism/eugenics, anti-German sentiment during World War One, and anti-Russian sentiment afterwards. In this assignment you will synthesize your reading about immigration in this era through the fictional case study of one immigrant which draws on real historical evidence. Instructions for the Essay: For this essay, write a short 3 page (about 750 word) essay describing the experiences of an ethnic group that came to the United States between 1870 and 1920. Your essay will take the form of a letter from one immigrant back home to family in the “old country.” In this letter, you will describe your fictional immigrant’s experiences over at least twenty years. Focus on your experiences in the US as well as how you were received by American society. The last part of your letter should start, “I think my experiences have compared/contrasted to other immigrant groups…” and then give examples. Your introductory paragraph should include references to who your letter writer is and what year the letter was written. Choose one of the following immigrant groups for your essay: Chinese, Irish, Italian, Mexican, or Eastern European Jewish immigrants (or consult your professor through Course Messaging if you wish to choose a different immigrant group). Some factors you may wish to consider in the paper are: reasons for coming to America “pull factors” and leaving the home country “push factors”; typical jobs for that immigrant group; living conditions and where they settled (urban, rural, etc.) and why; any relevant religious traditions; their success at integrating into the existing mainstream American culture (including Americanization attempts such as the Settlement House movement); any particular challenges they faced, including any applicable immigration restrictions and prejudice. You must include at least one outside primary or secondary source beyond the course readings. It can be either a scholarly secondary source from the Excelsior College Library or a primary source from the Excelsior College Library or from this list of pre-approved primary source websites in US History. You should NOT use non-scholarly websites such as Wikipedia. If you have questions about finding appropriate sources, please contact your instructor.

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