Wednesday, May 20, 2020

The Glory of War? (1861-1865)

I created this reading assignment for students because I didn’t want them to ever imagine warfare was anything but terrible.

If you want a copy, send me an email at

By the way, I found it was easy to get veterans to come into my classroom and talk (check this link); and I tried to make sure they gave students the real picture.

(This reading is a little more ragged than I like; but I retired in 2008; so I may get around sometime and fix it up.)

The Glory of War?

Too often we have a fool’s understanding of war. We think of waving flags, flashing swords, medals, and acts of bravery. For this reason, young men (and now young women) are sometimes anxious to get involved when fighting erupts. This was the case at the start of the Civil War, when Pearl Harbor was bombed in 1941, on up to modern times. Phillip Caputo, a Vietnam veteran, once noted sadly, “War is always attractive to young men who know nothing about it.”

This mindset is a result of limited knowledge. Those who have experienced combat are normally reluctant to discuss it. Books cannot capture the taste and smell of war. Nor can TV or movies—even the “bloodiest” films made today. They cannot measure fear. They cannot quantify adrenaline. Too often, we get a romanticized version of what combat is truly like. Movie battles combine a certain excitement and glory. War seems an adventure. The star rarely dies. The “good guys” shoot with incredible accuracy. The “bad guys” can’t hit an elephant at trunk’s length.

If a hero does die, his or her death is usually quick and tidy. Good guys get to say a few last words to a friend or loved one in the movies. Most end “happily ever after” and the returning soldier wins the heart of the girl he left behind.

Or guy.

As a veteran of the Civil War, however, General William T. Sherman came much closer to the truth. When asked to describe what it is like when humans kill humans, he replied simply: “War is hell.”  

There has never been much glamour in the business. We should never forget that. Most of the time military life can be dull. There are long periods without any fighting at all. In fact, many soldiers never see combat at all. Some serve their entire time in the military as clerks or cooks.[1] For those who do march into battle, and serve in the field, discomforts are the rule. In 1861, for instance, what would be the glamour in lugging a heavy rifle and pack around, under a blazing sun, and being shot at for a bonus? The Civil War was full of marching men by the thousands, on dirt roads, kicking up “suffocating clouds of dust.” Soldiers rushing to reach the scene of battle at Gettysburg were pushed to march thirty miles or more in one day—an exhausting challenge. That battle, like many others, was fought in blistering heat. The troops suffered tremendously from thirst. During the fight (July 1-3, 1863), one man solved the problem by spooning water out of a muddy hoofprint to make coffee. At other times, the rains poured down on both armies. Then “General Mud” took command, as the troops like to joke. Boots grew heavy with sticky mud and wagons sank to their axels and had to be dragged out by tired animals and men. Soggy clothing, damp blankets, dripping tents and cold food were the rule in camp.

It could be a miserable life. Men in both Northern and Southern armies went days without a decent meal or change of clothing.[2] One cavalryman complained that he had not had more than one meal a day for three weeks. I “have slept on the ground every night, generally without blankets, and [have] been in the saddle constantly,” he noted. Southern soldiers, part of an army that often lacked supplies, might march barefoot after shoes fell apart. Even one Yankee general complained of the poor conditions. Jokingly, he wrote his wife, he could only dream of being “within a few miles” of his toothbrush someday.

Waving the flag may look glorious; but this regiment, the First Tennessee,
was cut to ribbons during the war.
Sam Watkins, a veteran of four years of blooding combat,
 tells the story in another reading you might like.


Worse than muddy coffee or unbrushed teeth, death was a constant visitor of both armies—of all armies, in all times. And where is the glory in that? What would be “exciting” about a bullet that smashed a man’s kneecap to splinters? Did General Gabriel Paul, who was struck by a bullet in the side of his face, a shot which destroyed both eyes, experience the “glamour?” What about Bayard Wilkeson, a young officer, who had his leg nearly ripped off by a cannonball? He looked down to see it dangling by a few shreds of flesh and had to cut it off with his pocketknife.

            How about the soldier described below who was hit three times in quick succession during the Battle of the Wilderness?

During the day’s fighting [said one witness] I saw a youth of about 20 years skip and yell, stung by a bullet through the thigh. He turned to limp to the rear. After a few steps he stopped, then kicked out his leg once or twice to see the wound. He looked at it attentively for an instant, then turned and took his place in the ranks and resumed firing.

In a minute or two the wounded soldier dropped his rifle, and clasping his left arm, exclaimed: “I am hit again.” He sat down behind the battle ranks and tore off the sleeve of his shirt. The wound was very slight—not much more than skin deep. He tied his handkerchief around it, picked up his rifle, and took position alongside of me.

I said: “You are fighting in bad luck today. You had better get away from here.” He turned his head to answer me. His head jerked, he staggered, then fell, then regained his feet. A tiny fountain of blood and teeth and bone and bits of tongue burst out of his mouth. He had been shot through the jaws; the lower one was broken and hung down. I looked directly into his open mouth, which was ragged and bloody and tongue-less. He cast his rifle furiously on the ground and staggered off.

Never forget. War is the organization of large bodies of human beings for one purpose. That is: to kill and maim the greatest number of enemies possible. It is the business of reducing other men and women to something that might pass as roadkill.

Killed in action on April 2, 1865.
Asks students what they think it would be like to die on the last day of a war.


The Civil War has been called the first “modern war.” What this means is that new and better weapons made killing more efficient [easier; faster]. The concentration of rifle fire at the Battle of Spotsylvania was so great that trees two feet in diameter were shot in half. “In the tornado of fire and iron,” one survivor recalled, “no living man nor thing could stand.” The slaughter at Gettysburg was typical. A total of 160,000 men took part. In only three days more than 38,000 were captured, wounded or killed.[3]

Considering the size of the armies involved, this was a war of incredible bloodshed. One Southern family sent twelve sons to the fighting. Only three survived. Another woman lost five brothers and her fiancé. In some battles entire units were destroyed. The 1st Minnesota, a northern regiment at Gettysburg, entered the fight with 262 men. Only 47 remained unhurt at the end. Co F , of the 26th North Carolina, began the fight with 90 men. All were killed, wounded, or captured over the course of three days. Another officer reported that eleven different men carried his unit’s flag at the Battle of Antietam. (The flag or “colors” was the focus of heavy fire in those days.) The first ten soldiers were all swept away by enemy bullets.

Often men died bravely, but achieved absolutely nothing. At the Battle of Fredericksburg, Union troops charged Rebel forces protected behind stone walls and in a sunken roadway. Those who survived remembered rushing ahead, only to meet an “avalanche of artillery” fire. “We were almost blown off our feet,” recalled one survivor. The storm of fire pressed them back like “a mighty wind.” A second charge was ordered and made, with no better result. Only 20 or 30 minutes had passed. Yet, over half of the thousands of soldiers involved were mowed down. Afterward the battlefield was covered with a thick carpet of blue bodies.

Those men had made two brave attacks. Yet courage brought no reward. No soldiers, no matter how courageous, could have broken that Rebel line by head-on attack. Instead, the assault resulted only in senseless slaughter and ended in heaped corpses. The charge was stupid. The bravery wasted. “This is war—‘glorious war,’” one survivor remarked bitterly. “If we could see it in its true colors it is the most horrible curse that God could inflict upon mankind.”

Perhaps the Rebel general, D. H. Hill, said it best, after another equally hopeless charge. At Malvern Hill it had been his soldiers who had to attack, in the face of dozens of Yankee cannon. By the hundreds, his men had died. Hill could only choke out the words, “It was not war, it was murder.”

The Civil War, like all wars, brought death in all its forms. Thirty thousand prisoners died from disease and starvation in squalid Confederate prison camps. Another 25,000 met a similar fate in equally bad Northern jails. Men died when wagons they were driving tipped over and crushed them. They died from accidental gunshot wounds, while cleaning weapons they thought were not loaded. They were killed when warships sank in storms, when railroad bridges they were crossing in trains collapsed. They were killed when horses they were caring for kicked them in their heads.  Death came for them in many different ways. General Stonewall Jackson and his men won fame as the “Foot Cavalry,” for the speed with which they reached the battlefield. But on the way to the fight at Cedar Mountain, eight of his soldiers died from sunstroke and heat exhaustion. Wounded troops at Fort Donelson froze to death after being shot down on the wintery battleground. At Chancellorsville, gunfire set thick forest ablaze. Men too badly injured to move were burned alive. On another occasion, a 16-year-old Rebel was hit by a shot that broke his thigh. By chance he fell in a nest of wasps. The bullet and stinging wasps cost him his life. Tens of thousands of men in both armies and both navies died from pneumonia, flu, or that hero’s disease: severe diarrhea.

No glory there.

The true story of this war, or any other, is a tale of shattered human beings, suffering and immense sorrow. Jeb Stewart was one of the most famous horsemen of the Civil War. He was handsome, dashing and brave—a general at age 28—the type of man women might faint for. He was a corpse by age 31, killed by enemy fire at the Battle of Yellow Tavern in 1864. General John Hood lost a leg from one wound. Then he had an arm torn apart from wrist to biceps in another battle. Henry Kyd Douglas was hit six times by enemy fire in the course of three years.

For the wounded, war could be a horror story, in what one historian has called an “Age of Amputation.” Following each battle, hospitals looked the same. General George Armstrong Custer walked into one where doctors had a waist-high pile of arms and legs. Another visitor at a different site described “a heap of human fingers, feet, legs and arms” near the door. “I shall not soon forget the bare-armed surgeons, with bloody instruments,” he added. The rasping sound of saws on bone quickly drove him from the area.[4] 

Blurry picture; but that's a bone saw at top.

Not all soldiers are heroes, either.
This picture by Winslow Homer captures a soldier "playing sick."

There was, of course, great courage and bravery displayed during the Civil War. There was even a certain amount of glory and excitement. For the most part, however, this war was like all other wars. It was an exercise in the creation of death. It meant suffering multiplied beyond imagination. We should not ignore that fact. The war meant suffering and loss for thousands of soldiers, sailors and families.

And someone had to explain every death to loved ones left behind. What could the mother of a sailor on the U.S.S. Cumberland say on hearing the news, that the vessel had been sunk in battle and her precious son lost? Who could comfort Hetty Carey? She had been engaged to an officer for three years. Finally, she married him—only to end up back in the same church, three weeks later, for his funeral. Eliza Hoffman received the news that her boyfriend had been killed. She spent the next year in her room, speaking to no one, with meals left at the door.

What did it mean—what could it feel like—for the Northern wife who received this letter?

Dear Mary,

            We’re going into action soon, and I send my love. Kiss the baby, and if I am not killed I will write to you after the fight.


Loving Daniel never wrote again—for he was killed a few hours later. By war’s end, 600,000 Americans on both sides had met the same fate.

Your Work:

Pick some soldier in this reading and write a paragraph about how they felt about their experiences in war. You can be a ghost if you like, or a loved one, back home, who receives bad news. 

One Young Man Goes to War

            When Fort Sumter was fired upon S. H. M. Byers was a 22-year-old Iowa farm boy. News of the war made him anxious to serve his country. Like most young men he little realized what horrors awaited. “And so I enlisted,” he noted, “in a regiment that was to be wiped out of existence before the war was over.”

            Byers join the army with the “hope of tremendous adventure.”  Before his first fight, he remembered being “anxious to participate in a red-hot battle.” He and his fellow soldiers marched into combat, “as light-footed and as light-hearted that September morning as if we were going to a wedding.” “The fact is,” he added, “no one thought himself in severe danger. Some of us would be killed, we knew, but each thought it would be the ‘other fellow.’”

            In the beautiful fall weather of 1862, Byers and the rest sang as they approached the battlefield. “We saw the poetry of war,” then, Byers remarked with grim humor years later. Yet sundown of the same day would see five of Byers’s friends “and forty-two of my regiment dead in a ditch.” Two hundred and seventeen men (of 482 in his unit) were killed or wounded “within an hour” fighting that day.

Even after he had fought in several battles, Byers almost wished he would be wounded (“I hoped for this little honor”). But he never felt he might die. Bill Bodley, one of Byers’s  friends, saw his own brother killed, and it made him sick. Another time, Byers watched cannon fire “poured into their faces” when a brave Rebel unit charged. “It seemed,” he remembered, “to be the destruction of humanity, not a battle.” And that same night Byers stood guard beneath an oak tree, with the unburied dead around him, including two more old friends from school.

This was his experience in the “adventure” of warfare. 

Another charge that went for naught: the 54th Massachusetts at Fort Fisher, 1864.

[1] I enlisted in the Marines in 1968, and volunteered twice to go to Vietnam. But I ended up, by luck, not going. Instead, I spent my time in the Corps doing paperwork as a supply clerk. As I used to tell my students, “I defended the country with a staple gun.”
[2] The author once had a Vietnam veteran talk to his classes. He told students he went 63 days, while out in the jungle, without a change of clothing. The class groaned. He added, “You really didn’t notice after the first week.”
[3] We know at least one female took part in Pickett’s Charge; and several women, disguised as men, served in combat during these years.
[4] Students should not be left to imagine that warfare is glamorous—but a discussion of duty and patriotism might also be important.
            As for the reality: I used to have veterans come to my class and talk. One Vietnam veteran broke down in tears trying to talk about seeing his friend killed. Several vets told students they suffered from PTSD, even World War II vets, who had never heard the term when they were young. Joe Whitt, who survived the attack on Pearl Harbor and several other naval battles, told student he had the same dream every night for years. His ship exploded and he went flying into the air. As he was coming down, he put his feet together and braced his arms at his sides. And every night, when he hit the water, he woke up.
            Joe had seen a U.S. warship hit by enemy fire and break in half at the Battle of Savo Island. Almost the entire crew, several hundred men, was lost.

Thursday, April 30, 2020

War of Nerves: Racism in the 1950s

Equal Rights in America?

This story appeared in Time magazine, October 7, 1957. It was an era when African Americans were just beginning to demand equal rights. (During the same week President Dwight D. Eisenhower ordered 3,000 U.S. Army paratroopers into action. Their job: protect nine black students who wished to attend the all-white high school in Little Rock, Arkansas.)

         Three concepts will be introduced below. The Confederacy was the nation formed by eleven states which broke away from the U.S. in 1861. They fought the Civil War to protect and keep slavery. The “stars and bars” was a flag they carried during the fight. The KKK is the Ku Klux Klan, whose basic beliefs hold that whites should rule America and the races should remain separated.

War of Nerves

     In the ranch-house suburb of Levittown, Pennsylvania (population 60,000), the empty house at 30 Darkleaf Lane came alive last week. From one roof peak flew an American flag, and from another—lighted by a spotlight at night—flew the stars and bars of the Confederacy. Each evening the house was now crowded with members of a new club, who worked hard at a strict bad-neighbor policy. With windows wide open they talked loudly over coffee, turned up their record players, sang songs, and directed all this racket at the house next door. The reason: William E. Myers, Jr. and his three small children had moved in. The Myerses are Negroes, the first to buy a home in the five- year-old Levittown community.

    Myers, a 34-year-old, $4800-a-year[1] refrigeration-equipment tester, moved into his pink, three-bedroom ranch house in August because his family had outgrown a two-bedroom cottage in a mostly-Negro area a mile away. But his coming to Levittown caused fears, anger, and rumors that he was the leader of a Negro invasion. For days ugly crowds grumbled outside his house, and finally threw stones through his picture window. Local police were reinforced by tough state troopers at the direction of Pennsylvania’s Governor George M. Leader. (“I am ashamed,” said Leader, “that this has happened in Pennsylvania.”)

    After a cop was hit by a rock, state police drove off the crowd with swinging nightsticks. Further meetings by more than three people in the area around Myers’ house were banned. But since the crackdown, trouble-makers have come up with new methods of tormenting [harassing, bothering] Myers. They have taken turns each evening slamming a heavy mailbox door near his house, or stop their cars to yell and blow bugles.

     Not everyone in Levittown is against Myers. More than 1,000 people in the town signed a “Declaration of Conscience” to show how shocked they were by the violence and misbehavior of those who were trying to scare off Myers. Some people came by to mow Myers’ lawn, leave gifts or say hello. But even a few of these have paid the price for their friendliness. Next-door neighbor Lewis Wechsler has been openly friendly since Myers moved in; since then a cross has been burned during the night on Wechsler’s lawn and a painted “KKK” was splattered across one wall of his home. One woman who lives half a block away stopped one evening to chat with Myers. When she got home she found a sign on her lawn: NIGGER LOVER it said.

   Last week the police cracked down on the noisy neighbors. The owner of the home, William A. Hughes, who lives about 1 1/2 miles away, was taken to court. The judge ordered Hughes to bounce the loud “club” members from his house or face a fine. So Hughes agreed. The members finished their coffee, turned off the records and disappeared. At week’s end householder Myers waited nervously to see what would happen next. Said he: “I want to be the same as any other American; I want to be treated like anyone else. This is a war of nerves. But I’m not going to move.”

Your work:

(Answer on your own paper.  Write short paragraphs for #1 and #4.)

1. Why do you think some of William Myers’ neighbors were so afraid of ONE black family living in Levittown?

2. In what ways did people who hated Myers attempt to scare him?

3. In what ways, if any, do you feel the following people showed courage? Answer for each of the choices below: 
A) William Myers, Jr.  
B) The white “club” members.
C) Neighbors who showed friendship toward Myers.

4. What do you think would happen in your neighborhood if a person of a different race moved in? Would it make any difference?

Burned cross, farm field north of Cincinnati.
The author of this blog has NO idea who would have stuck that campaign sign there.

[1] This would be good pay in 1957.

Tuesday, April 14, 2020


Friedrich Trump, grandfather of President Donald J. Trump, leaves Bavaria, in part to avoid mandatory military service, and travels to America. According to his grandson, on arrival he knew almost no English.

All his life he spoke German primarily.


Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn, on which he first began work in 1876, is published in the United States.

As Ernest Hemingway later explains, “All modern American literature comes from one book by Mark Twain called Huckleberry Finn.”

For the next hundred years, it seems the first half of Twain’s handwritten manuscript is lost irrevocably. Finally, in 1990, it turns up in an attic trunk. The second half had been sent to the Buffalo and Erie County Library in the 1880s. Fraser Gluck, a library benefactor, had  asked Twain for the manuscript from Life on the Mississippi. That was unavailable. So Twain offered Huck.

Twain came to believe that the first half had been destroyed at the printer’s office; but he located it in 1887 and sent it to Gluck. His granddaughter found it in the fall of 1990 in an old trunk.

(At the time, it was estimated the find might be worth $1.5 million; the library claimed ownership; a court battle followed, and Barbara Testa, who found the manuscript and her sister eventually reached an undisclosed settlement. The two halves were “reunited” in 1995.)

Scholars were most excited to examine any differences in the original handwritten and published versions of the novel, not least because printers had been known to “correct” passages Twain had written in dialect.

As the Associated Press explained, “Twain was infuriated by changes that were commonly made by printers in his time. On one occasion he said his publisher had written “that the printers proof-reader was improving my punctuation for me, and I telegraphed orders to have him shot without giving him time to pray.

In 2001, a new library edition of Huck was issued, complete with three new scenes and notes on the original pen drawings by E. W. Kemble that illustrated the first printing of the classic. Two, related to the slave Jim, indicated once again, how deeply sympathetic the author was to the slave’s plight.

Kemble’s drawing of Huck and Jim’s first encounter shows Jim on his one knee, hat in hand. Far from a demeaning depiction of the runaway slave, the sketch is almost identical to a widely known graphic symbol of the campaign to end slavery.
Another sketch in the book of Jim’s “coat of arms” - a slave figure toting a knapsack over one shoulder and running - is virtually the same as the image commonly used in newspaper notices about runaway slaves.

(Blogger’s note: anyone who doubt’s where Twain’s heart truly lay should read Pudd’nhead Wilson, published in 1893, or Twain’s defense of “Chinamen,” who were the victims of all kinds of abuse out West, found in Roughing It, published in 1872.)


Twain would later say that Huck was modeled on his friend from childhood, Tom Blankenship. “In Huckleberry Finn I have drawn Tom Blankenship exactly as he was,” Twain  wrote in Autobiography of Mark Twain: The Complete and Authoritative Edition. “He was ignorant, unwashed, insufficiently fed; but he had as good a heart as ever any boy had."

Twain first set to work on the story in 1876, and quickly finished 400 pages, but told a friend he liked his story, “only tolerably well, as far as I have got, and may possibly pigeonhole or burn.”

He took a steamboat ride down the Mississippi in 1882 and may have been prompted to return to his work.

“I have written eight or nine hundred manuscript pages in such a brief space of time that I mustn’t name the number of days,” Twain wrote to a friend in August 1883. “I shouldn’t believe it myself, and of course couldn’t expect you to.” The book was published in 1884, in England.

Twain grew up in a slave state, and an uncle owned twenty slaves. “I vividly remember seeing a dozen black men and women chained to one another, once,” he said, “and lying in a group on the pavement, awaiting shipment to the Southern slave market. Those were the saddest faces I have ever seen.” If Twain ever accepted slavery as normal, his attitudes must have changed and he married into an abolitionist family. His father-in-law, Jervis Langdon, was a “conductor” on the Underground Railroad and helped Frederick Douglass escape from slavery.

Nuts, I may be quoting part of this, as in the above paragraph, without attribution. Heck with it. I’m too busy to go back and check all the websites I consulted right now. Besides, I’m only putting this out for teachers’ use.

I’m all but certain the next paragraphs are direct quotes:

The moral climax of the novel is when Huck debates whether to send Jim’s owner a letter detailing Jim’s whereabouts. Finally, Huck says, "All right, then, I'll go to hell,” and tears the letter up.

Huckleberry Finn was first banned in Concord, Massachusetts in 1885 (“trash and suitable only for the slums”) and continues to be one of the most-challenged books. 

The n-word appears 200 times.

            Definitely quoting:

In 1905, the Brooklyn Public Library removed Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer from the shelves because, as a librarian wrote to Twain, Huck is “a deceitful boy who said ‘sweat’ when he should have said ‘perspiration.’”

It turns out disaster was narrowly averted with the first printing. Quoting again:

Twain, who ran his own printing press, hired 23-year-old E. W. Kemble to illustrate the first edition of Huckleberry Finn. Right as the book went to press, someone—it was never discovered who—added a penis to the illustration of Uncle Silas. The engraving shows Uncle Silas talking to Huck and Aunt Sally while a crude penis bulges from his pants.

According to Twain’s business manager Charles Webster, 250 books were sent out before the mistake was caught. They were recalled and publication was postponed for a reprint. If the full run had been sent out, Webster said, Twain’s “credit for decency and morality would have been destroyed.”

Finn never did like school much.

It’s always interesting when people find historical treasures, be it the wreck of the Atocha, the Spanish treasure ship, or the lucky find made by Michael Sparks, in a Nashville, Tennessee thrift shop. In 2007, he unrolled an old document, and took a liking to a copy of the Declaration of Independence.

How much?

The clerk said $2.48.

Sparks made the buy, took his copy home, did a little online sleuthing, and found he had one of 200 “original” copies of the Declaration of Independence, commissioned by John Quincy Adams in 1820.

Estimated value at auction: $250,000.

(It sold soon after for $477,650.)

In 1989, an even better discovery was made. At a flea market in Pennsylvania, a shopper saw an ornate old picture frame he liked and paid $4. When he took it home and removed  the picture, he found an old copy of the Declaration of Independence, folded into the size of an envelope. The frame proved unsalvageable and he had to throw it away, meaning he was out his $4. He kept the document, however, as something of “a curiosity.” It was fortunate that he did, for his copy turned out to be one from the original “Dunlap” run, 200 copies printed hastily on the evening of July 4, 1776, and sent to all parts of the Thirteen Colonies for public reading.

One, for example, is said to have been sent to George Washington, to be read to the troops during the winter at Valley Forge. Another, now in the possession of the National Park Service and housed in Philadelphia is believed to have been read to the people of that city by Colonel John Nixon, sheriff, on July 8, 1776.

Having been covered up by a picture for unknown decades (perhaps), meant the flea market Declaration was an “unspeakably fresh copy,” according to experts at Sotheby’s. And it was instantly one of only three known copies in private hands.

Only 24 (at least at that time) were known to exist.

Estimated value in 1991: between $800,000 and $1,000,000.

(Sold at auction: $2.42 million.)

Wednesday, April 1, 2020

How Immigration Made America

I RETIRED FROM TEACHING in 2008; but I’ve been gathering up materials on immigration and thought they might be of use to educators today. (The topic is certainly timely.)

I just learned, for example, that the #1 chess player in the U.S. today is Leinier Domínguez, born in Cuba, a U.S. citizen since 2018.

I hope you can find some useful materials for your classes.

Below, you will read about the Somalia-born marathoner representing the U.S. in the 2020 Olympics—about Jacob Riis, who left Denmark and came to the U.S. because a girl broke his heart—and Pfc. Diego Rincon, a native of Colombia, who gave up his life fighting under an adopted flag in 2013. You will read about the immigrant who became rich and went on to own a thousand slaves and the immigrant who thought Oreos were a luxury item. If you want nativism and racism, you have it here, and if you’ve never read The Old World in the New by Edward A. Ross, lambasting immigrants and their “pigsty way of life,” you are in for a vomit-inducing experience. You have Rocky Aoki, the Japanese immigrant, starting as a driver of an ice cream truck and rising in the restaurant business to found Benihana. You have the novelist Saul Bellow, describing the money he inherited from his father and used to buy his first house as “Papa’s savings, representing forty years of misery” in his adopted country.

It’s all here—the pageantry of immigration, as best I can see it. You have Calvin Coolidge and Woodrow Wilson making it clear: They see the “wrong kind” of immigrants as a threat to the nation. You have the social worker who complains that an Italian family isn’t “Americanized” because they’re still eating spaghetti and the British writer who refers to the Irish as “human chimpanzees.” You have the Iraqi refugee who remembers the kind I.N.S. officer who let her mother pass through inspection on Christmas Eve in 1979, even when he shouldn’t have. There’s the immigrant who comes to America—rather, flees Switzerland—after being caught in bed with a farmer’s daughter. You have the immigrant coming ashore on D-Day with his camera, and recording forever, those terrible scenes. You have the young man from India who has never tried to eat celery, the Syrian mother who cooks her first Thanksgiving turkey, and Gimel Aguina, 16, dying of cancer, who tells the Make-a-Wish Foundation his dream is to become a U.S. citizen.

As Sen. Lindsey Graham once put it, “America is an idea.”

I like that idea, myself.


            I’ll keep adding to this entry as new material comes to hand. And I’m still looking for a list I once used to start a discussion of immigration with students. It included famous individuals from many nations.

I’d ask students, as part of a game, to see how many they could identify in a set time. I’ll update here when I find it.

Examples that I used on that list, or would now include:

Madeline Albright (Germany)
Gino Auriemma (Italy)
Alexander Graham Bell (Scotland)
Irving Berlin (Russia)
Victor D. Brenner (Lithuania)
Sergey Brin (Russia)
Andrew Carnegie (Scotland)
Raúl H. Castro (Mexico)
Chang and Eng (Siam; now Thailand)
Louis Chevrolet (Switzerland)
Guillermo Del Toro (Mexico)
Albert Einstein (Germany)
Emanuel Goldenberg (Romania)
Harry Houdini (Hungary)
Bob Marley (Jamaica)**
Rupert Murdoch (Australia)
James Naismith (Canada)
Martina Navratilova (Czechoslovakia)
Akeem Olajuwon (Nigeria)
John Oliver (Great Britain)
Joseph Pulitzer (Hungary)
Helena Rubinstein (Poland)
Eero Saarinen (Finland)
Levi Strauss (Bavaria)
Arnold Schwarzenegger (Austria)
Nikola Tesla (Serbia)
Charlize Theron (South Africa)

…and I always included the Gogolak brothers, Pete and Charlie (Hungary), who changed  pro football forever.

            I’ll find that stupid list, if it kills me. I had a bunch of beer makers bunched together, German immigrants all: Schlitz, Pabst, Anheuser-Busch, Christian Moerlein, and others.

Here’s another good list you might use.

**I can’t find any mention of Bob Marley becoming a U.S. citizen; but he’s on several lists of famous immigrants.

            In the meantime, here’s what I’ve got. I had two great reading assignments for students, but both are out of date. I’ll update those, too, soon. But I’m retired. So I might just take a nap.

            Just today, I read an interesting article from The New York Times about Raúl H. Castro. He was born in poverty in rural Mexico in 1916, came here as a child, and rose in Arizona politics to become the first and only Latino governor of that state. And, speaking of racism, in this story you meet “Preacher Jack,” who believed a race war was imminent and planned to lead his followers in a fight to wipe out Jews and immigrants. At age 96, on his birthday, Mr. Castro was being driven across the Sonoran Desert by a friend. They were stopped by Border Patrol officers under a new “show me your papers” law and detained. The same article includes the story of rancher Robert Krentz Jr., who often left water out for those crossing the border illegally, making their way across his land. His murder, never solved, led to a wave of hysteria, which students might also understand.

The story of Gong Lum was another one I had never heard till I ran across it in an article in The New Yorker last year:

Gong Lum came to the United States from China in 1904. After being smuggled across the Canadian border by human traffickers, he made his way to the Mississippi Delta, where a relative ran a grocery store. In 1913 he married another Chinese immigrant, and they opened their own store.

They had three children and gave them American names.

In 1923, the family moved to Rosedale, Mississippi, and Martha, then eight years old, entered the local public school. According to Adrienne Berard, who tells the Lums’ story in Water Tossing Boulders, nothing seemed amiss for the first year, but when Martha returned to school after the summer the principal relayed the news that the school board had ordered her to be expelled [emphasis added]. Public schools in Mississippi had been racially segregated by law since 1890, and her school educated only whites. The board had decided that Martha was not white and, consequently, she could not study there.

     The Lums engaged a lawyer, who managed to get a writ of mandamus—an order that a legal duty be carried out—served on the school board. The board, which must have been very surprised, contested the writ, and the case went to the Supreme Court of Mississippi, which ruled that the board had the right to expel Martha Lum on racial grounds. That part was not so surprising.

The court acknowledged that there was no statutory definition of the “colored race” in Mississippi. But it argued that the term should be construed in the broadest sense [emphasis added], and cited a case it had decided eight years earlier, upholding the right of a school board to expel from an all-white school two children whose great-aunts were rumored to have married nonwhites.

That decision, the court said, showed that the term “colored” was not restricted to “persons having negro blood in their veins”—apparently since the children involved were in fact white. Martha Lum did not have “negro blood,” either, but she was not white. She could attend a “colored” school. Mississippi’s separate-schools law, the court explained, was enacted “to prevent race amalgamation.” Then why place an Asian-American child in a school with African-American children? Because, according to the court, the law was intended to serve “the broad dominant purpose of preserving the purity and integrity of the white race.”

The Lums appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court. At issue was the Fourteenth Amendment, which had been ratified in 1868. The first clause of that amendment is the most radically democratic clause in the entire Constitution, much of which was designed to limit what the Founders considered the dangers of too much democracy….

The U.S. Supreme Court decision in the case, Lum v. Rice, was handed down in 1927, three years after Congress passed the Johnson-Reed immigration act, which barred all Asians from entering the United States. Was Martha Lum a citizen? The Supreme Court said she was. Was she being denied the equal protection of the laws? The Court said that she was not, and cited a series of precedents in which courts had upheld the constitutionality of school segregation.

It was true, the Court conceded, that most of those cases had involved African-American children. But it couldn’t see that “pupils of the yellow races” were any different, and the decision to expel such pupils was, it held, “within the discretion of the state in regulating its public schools, and does not conflict with the Fourteenth Amendment.” Even though the Mississippi court had stated that the purpose of the school-segregation law was to preserve “the purity and integrity of the white race,” it was not a denial of equal protection to nonwhites. The Lums, of course, knew from firsthand observation what it meant to be classified as “colored” in Mississippi, and they did what a lot of African-American Mississippians were also doing—they left the state.

The decision was unanimous. The opinion of the Court was delivered by the Chief Justice, William Howard Taft. Among the Justices who heard the case were Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., and Louis Brandeis.

One of the precedents the Court quoted prominently in support of its decision was a case it had decided thirty-one years earlier—Plessy v. Ferguson.


Next, are parts of two readings that I used in my classes (mentioned above). Our curriculum changed in the early 90s, however, and I didn’t teach immigration again. So these don’t include some of the more recent immigrant waves. Here, however, are portions that still work.

I always found students were interested in the topic of immigration—interested, really, in where they and their families were from.

Select passages that still apply:

     The central force of U.S. history has been what Carl Wittke called “mankind in motion [emphasis added throughout, to help you find interesting details].” In all the history of the world, no greater flood of population has ever moved in one direction. Wave after wave of immigrants has broken over our shores, changing, shaping and creating the United States.

The next paragraph is dated—but some totals, Norway for one, are impressive. I read in 2013 that 34.5 million Americans claimed Irish ancestry, seven times the current population of Ireland.  

     Since the Declaration of Independence (1776), over fifty million human beings have packed up and headed for these shores. By 1900, as many as 15,000 were arriving daily. The totals from some countries are staggering. Between 1820 and 1920 over 4,500,000 Irish landed here….In 1900 Sweden had a population of five million, having lost 1,250,000 to America. Norway’s population stood at 2,000,000, with 850,000 more Norwegians living in the U.S. Seven million Germans came, 5.3 million Italians, 4.1 million Canadians and 3.5 million Russians. Even today, as many as a million Mexicans enter this country, many illegally, every year.

     So great was the “magnetic pull” of America that it seemed everyone in Europe wanted to come. By 1900 the mayor of one Italian village could not resist joking with a visitor. “I welcome you,” in the name of the people of the village, he said, “three thousand of whom are in America, and the other five thousand preparing to follow them.”

I always liked this example. The definition of “pogrom” was included for the benefit of my students:

In the 1880s millions of Russian Jews followed the same path. In their homeland they faced vicious pogroms [large-scale attacks aimed at Jews], and many were killed before they could escape. Young Israel Baline remembered seeing a mob burn down his father’s home. And when he came to America he rejoiced to be safe and free at last. He changed his name to Irving Berlin and became famous writing songs like “White Christmas” and “God Bless America.”

It is tradition: this coming to America to be free. Irving Berlin did. So, too, Max Thorek, a Jew from Hungary, who saw a mob beat his brother to death. Add Reverend Henry Scholte, who left the Netherlands (bringing 800 members of his church) after he had been arrested for his religious ideas. Add Voldemar Vee Dam, who fled Estonia in 1945—crammed with fifteen others on a boat built for four! A man willing to risk four months at sea—to travel 8,000 miles—to reach our shores.

Count up the Polish rebels who left their land in 1830 after failing to rid themselves of a king. Add in the Germans who came during the 1840s, after a failed revolution. Put down Carl Schurz: a man who had to crawl through a sewer to escape hanging after efforts to topple the German government failed. Then consider one last man, a German who came about that time. “Why are you going?” to America, he was asked. “Kein König da,” was his reply. “No King there!”

America was the “second chance.” It was a place where you could begin over, a land of hopes, dreams and opportunity. Emanuel Goldenberg may have said it best. For when he arrived in 1900, he said simply, “I was born again at Ellis Island.”

Even now, hoping to be “born again,” the wash of peoples over our shores continues. Thousands of Vietnamese came here when Communists took over their country in 1975. Many Iranians came to the United States after 1979, to get away from a strict religious government that ruled their native land. Over a million Cubans (out of that island’s population of ten million) have settled in Florida and other states in the last fifty years. In 1982 two Chinese dancers touring the U.S. refused to return home. A year later a Chinese tennis star chose to stay. In 1989 two representatives of China’s government made the same decision. For all, America meant freedom.

…During the American Revolution Hessian (German) soldiers fought for England for pay—and 1,100 were captured. When released from jail at the end of the war only 300 chose to go home! Even from inside a prison most recognized that America offered a bright future.

In recent years, a flood of Cuban athletes has defected. The story of the Iranian family arriving on Christmas Eve, and crossing paths with a kind Immigration and Naturalization Service agent, which follows later in this post, I’d include in any new reading for students.

I need to get busy on the writing. My old reading assignment includes this:

In the 1840s, the flood of Irish began. Most Irish farmers owned less than three acres, and the main crop was potatoes. In 1845 a deadly potato blight [disease] destroyed most of the harvest. When the blight struck again in 1846 over a million Irish starved. Hundreds of thousands desperately sought escape from gnawing hunger. And they looked and they saw hope across the Atlantic. Elise Isely never forgot the day her father received a letter from her uncle, with money to pay their way over. Mr. Isely had been sweeping the small, rented hut which was all they could afford. “Let the next tenant [renter] sweep…we are going to America!” he shouted with joy. America! It was, for the Irish, a place of survival—for Mr. Isely and others, “the second chance.”

To most of the world ours seemed to be a nation with land for the taking, jobs, and a chance to grow wealthy. These were the “magnets,” the “colors” that caught the eye of the immigrant. Sweden, for one, suffered from overcrowding and poor soil. From 1850 on, Swedes poured out of that nation to settle in Minnesota and the Dakotas. Soon Swedish settlers owned more farmland here than was under the plow in all their native land. Janos Kovac, a Hungarian worker, was also clear when asked why he came. At home he could “earn only enough for bread and water.” Then, echoing the thoughts of others, he added, “There was but one hope, America.”

So they came: the 500,000 Puerto Ricans who made homes in New York City in the 1950s—leaving their poor island behind. There were the thousands of Italians, leaving a land more crowded (by size) than China. Greeks came, and people from Egypt, Algeria, Armenia and Lebanon, from all the corners of the earth. And one man, who arrived in 1964, probably summed it up best. He came, he said, because he “saw the good life in the United States as heaven.”


          In my reading for students, I included a footnote which read: “For many years, immigrants coming from Europe and from the east were required to land at Ellis Island, in the harbor of New York City. There they were examined before they were admitted. Individuals who were diseased, those mentally disabled and others were turned back.”

If I was still teaching today, I’d ask students what kind of anguish they thought those moments of not knowing would have caused.)

I did ask students to answer the following questions from the reading:

1.     Name the six nations which sent us over 1,000,000 immigrants and give the total number each sent.

2.     How many million immigrants, total, have come to the United States since the Declaration of Independence?

3.     Why was Israel Baline (Irving Berlin) glad to be in America?

4.     What did one German say was his reason for coming here in 1848?

5.     In the 1840s why did so many Irish come to America? After 1850 why did the Swedes come?

6.     What did the poor Hungarian, Janos Kovacs, say about America?

7.     Look at the picture on page one. Pick one person on the boat and write a paragraph about them. Describe how they feel as they approach America for the first time.

8.     Look at the cartoons on page four. What has happened to the Irishman after he came to the United States? What will he say about America when he returns to Ireland for a visit?

9.     Look at the picture to the right. What do you think this mother wants in America?

Question #7.

Question #8.

Question #8.

Question #9.

I had a second reading, also in need of updating; but many parts should still be of use to teachers today.

The first line, now, would have to read more like 75,000,000. This assignment for students began:

     Think of this number—and think of it clearly: over 50,000,000. F-I-F-T-Y M-I-L-L-I-O-N. That’s how many immigrants have come to America; and no sign it’s letting up. They came—and they come now—with hopes of a better life, and the dreams of all the world packed away with their luggage. But what really happened? What did they face in their new home? How did America change them, even as it was changed by them? Did they find what they longed for? Or were they doomed to disappointment?

     There was a tale popular among immigrants around 1900, which provides our first hint. Told in many versions, it goes like this. After landing in the U.S. a newcomer is walking down the street. He sees a $10 bill on the ground, and bends to pick it up. Then he stops, straightens up, and keeps walking. “My first day in America,” he reminds himself confidently. “Why should I work?”

     …Hardships or not, hundreds of thousands of immigrants headed for these shores each year. Many were convinced by advertisements, or read newspaper stories about this great “America.” In the 1820s Gottfried Duden (a German immigrant) wrote a book praising the United States. Others read in letters that America was too good to be true! “The poorest families adorn [cover] the table three times a day like a wedding dinner,” one Englishman reported, “[with] tea, coffee, beef, fowls, pies, eggs, pickles, [and] bread.” Then he posed a question similar to one being asked around the world. “Say, is it so in England?”

     For millions the answer was “no.” O. E. Rolvaag found life in Norway so poor that in winter he ate salt herring and potatoes three times a day, every day. Sadie Frowne and her mother lived simply, after her father died. They expected little in Poland. She later wrote that even “soup, black bread and onions” were sometimes unaffordable.

     Stoyan Christowe lived in a poor village in the mountains of Bulgaria. One day a letter came from Michael Gurkin, who had gone to the United States. This “Christopher Columbus” of the village claimed that he had seen “rooms” that moved up and down inside taller buildings. He bragged that he made more money in one day than he had in Bulgaria in a month. And most importantly, he sent cash home to his family to prove it! Stoyan remembered that Gurkin’s letter “struck the village like a comet!” Soon, people all over the valley prepared to follow.

     In Sweden they sang this song about the United States:

Ducks and chickens rain right down,
A roast goose flies in,
And on the table lands one more
With knife and fork stuck in!

     The dreamers and adventurers could not resist going. Sometimes the desperate had no choice. Many were disappointed with what they found here. Germans who had read Duden’s book were surprised by the problems they encountered. Angrily, they labeled the author “Der Lugenhund:” the lying dog. One immigrant found many earlier arrivals had exaggerated their success. “We often find,” he said, “that he who relates [tells] he owns a sawmill only owns a saw and saw-buck [sawhorse]…He who describes the beautiful carriage he owns is the owner of a wheelbarrow.”

     The immigrants began their journey with high hope. Most faced hardship along the way. Many travelers found ships crowded and unhealthy. In early years the situation was so bad Pennsylvania had to pass protective laws. One required that each passenger over age 14 have a certain amount of space. That “space,” however, was only 6' x 1' x 3' 9". Yet, this was an improvement over the packing in some ships! In 1711, 859 of 3,086 people who headed for Philadelphia died at sea. As late as 1847, Lark sailed from Ireland with 440 people aboard. Disease took the lives of 158. “Swimming coffins” one newspaper called such ships. For many they were the only affordable way to reach our shores.

     Once they arrived the immigrants had much to learn and fresh problems to face. “Hundreds of pickpockets were on the lookout,” George Moore noticed when he landed. They and others like them were ready to rob and cheat the newcomers. There were crooks who sold fake “railroad tickets” or offered special “land sales” and a hundred “cheats and money-suckers.” Another angry immigrant said dishonest Americans swarmed everywhere. They would “cheat a fellow out of his eye-teeth” if he opened his mouth to get a chew of tobacco.

     Naturally, the immigrants were unsure about American customs. Hikozo Hamada, from Japan, had never seen a telegraph before. “How could a message run a wire faster than a bird could fly,” he wondered. Then he decided the man telling him about it was making a joke! Stoyan Christowe, the Bulgarian, saw the Statue of Liberty as he approached New York. He thought it must be a statue of some saint, some religious figure. Another immigrant corrected him. Sounding as if he considered Stoyan a very great idiot, he explained that, of course, the statue was a monument to honor Christopher Columbus.

     The foods, the clothes, even the weather could be a shock. Michael Pupin, who landed in 1874, found one unexpected difference. At home he had seen pictures of half-dressed American Indians, and assumed the U.S. had a warm climate. Only when he arrived in New York in March did he realize his mistake. He had sold his coat in order to get money to buy a ticket over. Another man spoke of a sense of confusion. “I felt,” he said, “like a man deposited by a rocket on the moon.”

     The greatest problem was language. Some spoke no English, or so little they could barely ask a simple question. One Italian showed an American official a piece of paper with the word “Pringvillamas” on it, and asked how to get there. Only after much thought did the official realize he meant Springfield, Massachusetts. A Hungarian hoped to find a relative at “Szekenvno, Pillsburs” (Second Avenue in Pittsburgh). A third spent his last pennies on a train ticket, thinking meals were included. On the three-day trip he was forced to go hungry because he knew not a word of English. An immigrant woman wrote that Americans wanted to help but the language barrier was often impossible to overcome. “It’s like standing outside, with the door locked on both the inside and the outside,” she explained. “You cannot go in and they cannot let you in.”

     Nor did most newcomers find the living conditions pleasant. Most poured into the cities and the slums and ghettos grew. In 1890 Jacob Riis, the famous reporter, found twenty people living in one 12 x 12 room, with two beds. Another American described one crowded city block. “The architecture seems to sweat humanity at every door and window,” he said. Beyond the cities, living conditions could be just as primitive. Augustine Haidusek farmed and lived in a lean-to for the first six months. Stoyan Christowe spent five winters in a railroad car rigged with bunks. Mareah Scholte left a good home in Europe to follow her husband to Iowa. When she saw the poor log cabin which was to be her home, she sobbed, “I can’t! I can’t live here!”

In a note, I explain that Riis, himself, was from Denmark. Later he wrote a book, How the Other Half Lives, about life in the slums of New York City. I turned his book into a reading for students, too.

            The old reading also included:

     Most immigrants lacked skills or training and took whatever jobs they could find. As a boy, Andrew Carnegie made $1.20 per week, in a cotton mill. Michael Pupin arrived with five cents in his pocket, and began work in a cracker factory. Irving Berlin took a job as a singing waiter. In 1910, young immigrant girls worked sixty hours per week, sewing shirts for as little as $2.00.

     Even now it is much the same. Some immigrants are professionals: doctors, scientists and math computer geniuses. Far more common are immigrants who start in jobs Americans don’t want. Rocky Aoki came from Japan. At first, he drove an ice cream truck in one of the worst neighborhoods in New York City. Other arrivals, like Narciso Cardoza, work as dishwashers or busboys for $3.50 an hour. Out West it is immigrant labor that harvests most crops, because the work is back-breaking and the pay poor.

     Even these jobs are usually an improvement over what the immigrant left behind. Cardoza, for one, left a poor existence in El Salvador in 1981. Now he marvels at American tennis courts where everybody can play—about apples, strawberries and peaches—all so good and cheap! One Mexican girl remembered picking apricots for eleven hours a day. It was hard, until her family got their first check. Then it seemed a miracle. For in that single check was enough money for clothes, a used car, and a couch that made a bed. “Oh, I tell you all was happy that night!” she reported with excitement.

I’d include more examples of the struggles for immigrants, now, if I rewrote this story for students.

     Finally, the immigrant often had to overcome the prejudice of the natives. When the Irish arrived, Americans were horrified by their “un-American” Catholic religion. In 1834, a Catholic convent and school were burned by a Massachusetts mob. Ten years later natives in Philadelphia destroyed two churches. When soldiers arrived to protect the buildings, rioters turned a cannon on them. Several hours of fighting left dozens killed and injured.

     Many Americans, at different times in history….predicted the newcomers would ruin the country. “Can one throw mud in clear water and not disturb its clearness?” asked one worried native. Letting in such people was “like the oozing leak of a sewer pipe into crystal water of a well,” said another. Some claimed the problem was the Irish and their religion. Later, some Americans felt it was Italian “criminals.” E. A. Ross wrote in 1924 that it was people from Southeast Europe, whom we should fear. They brought a “pigsty mode of life” and “their brawls and their animal pleasures” to our shores. Today some say the problem is Mexico, whose poor stream across the border searching for work.

     In the 1840s papers ran job advertisements warning: “NO IRISH NEED APPLY.” Prejudice against the Chinese was particularly ugly in the West. They were buried in separate graveyards, and in some states could not testify in court against a white person. In 1885, a mob in Rock Springs, Wyoming smashed up a Chinese neighborhood and left 28 dead. Japanese children in San Francisco also ran into problems after 1906, and had to attend separate schools.

     In spite of such problems, men, women and children from around the globe continued to pour in. Some were broken in spirit by the hard conditions they faced, to be sure. For the most part they were happy with their new home and they adjusted and learned to fit in.

     Irish, Italians and Poles helped make the Catholic religion the largest in the United States. Russian and German Jews spread their ideas. Hard-working Germans helped settle Pennsylvania and flooded the streets of Cincinnati and Milwaukee. Swedish immigrants left 400 place names on the map and a lasting mark on life in Minnesota. Irish workers sweated to build America’s canals. Chinese labor made up 90% of the work on the first railroad to cross the United States in 1869. Czechs, Hungarians and Welsh workers poured into American factories and coal mines. And immigrants helped turn the U.S. into an industrial giant.

Here, you could do so much more: Honduran immigrants, working construction and digging tunnels in Washington D.C. in 2018. One out of every seven workers in Texas is an immigrant today. I’d throw in immigrants working at Donald J. Trump’s private golf resorts in 2020, too.

(See examples provided below.)

My old reading for students continued:

     Others showed their love for their adopted land by serving in times of trouble. One Revolutionary War officer remarked that countless Irish were enlisted in Pennsylvania’s ranks [or line]. They “might as well be called the ‘line of Ireland.’” Thousands of Irish also fought in the Civil War. Some carried an American flag in battle, and a green flag with shamrock, symbol of their old country. Another 175,000 Germans signed up to fight with the Northern armies. Japanese Americans (who suffered much unfair treatment during World War II) also did their part. Suspected of being loyal to Japan, these “new” Americans joined the U.S. armed forces in large numbers. They fought bravely for the American flag and won hundreds of medals for bravery.

     Immigrants changed this nation in every way you might imagine. Dutch settlers taught us the tradition of Santa Claus, while the Irish gave us St. Patrick’s Day. German settlers introduced kindergarten classes and physical education in school. Foods like bagels (Jewish), lasagna (Italian), sauerkraut (German), tacos and “Chinese food” became popular. Even “Cracker Jack” was invented by a pair of Germans.

     These people contributed in a thousand ways. Jewish immigrants gave us words like “klutz” and “chutzpah.” A “paddy wagon” is a police vehicle. It was named after the Irish, or “Paddies,” at a time when many police officers had been born in that land. The Swedes gave us the idea of the smorgasbord. Two Frenchmen brought dentistry to the U.S. in 1784. Others helped make soccer popular. They have been leaders in business, science, sports, education and in all areas of American life.

All of those paragraphs need to be updated to represent the contributions of immigrants in the last 25 years. When I sit down to rewrite my readings for students, I’ll throw in the Gogolak brothers, for fun, since they introduced soccer-style place kicking in pro football. That’s an old example, too. But you could include Cuban baseball stars, Kenya-born marathoners and Coach Gino Auriemma, who has led the University of Connecticut’s women’s basketball team (last time I checked) to a record of 1,088 wins and only 142 losses.

My old reading for students ended with this:

     It is difficult to say what an “American” really is. For we are an odd mix. Long ago one writer said Americans were a new, different breed of people. Here, “individuals of all nations are melted into a new race of men.”

     Today some disagree. They say America isn’t a “melting pot” at all—that different, distinct groups still exist. They compare our nation to “an orchestra of mankind,” or a “rainbow,” or even a “salad.” Each element plays a part in creating the overall sound, look or taste of “America.”

     Over the centuries, immigrants have made and remade new Americas. Our nation’s history is one of “new beginnings” for people from around the globe.

A Few Who Made Good

     If immigrants found life hard at first, there were numerous stories of success to fuel their hopes. Andrew Carnegie arrived from Scotland in 1848. As you read, he started work in a cotton mill, for low pay. Later he became a messenger for a telegraph company and “went hoping up the golden ladder [of success] rung by rung.” First, he made himself the best messenger by memorizing street names in his area. He moved on to start a business building bridges. Then he bought a steel company. By 1890 he was the king of the industry, and later sold his holdings for nearly $400,000,000.

     Nor is Carnegie a great exception. Michael Pupin arrived here with five cents to his name, and took a poor job, too. One day he began to read articles about Thomas Edison, the great inventor. Pupin’s life-long interest in science was born—and he was to become the inventor of the X-ray machine. Max Thorek left Hungary and came to Chicago, “unknown, alone, friendless [and] penniless.” He wished to be a doctor, but it seemed at first he “might just as well hope for the moon.” He had to sweat and suffer before he won a scholarship—yet, he reached his goals.

If I get around to reworking this reading, I’ll probably cut Mr. Aoki, below. In 1999 he got sent to prison for insider trading.

His story up until then was pretty cool:

     Rocky Aoki might serve as our last example. He earned his way through college selling ice cream. After graduation, using borrowed money, he started a restaurant by the name of Benihana. In the first year he feared he would go broke. He worked hard, and by age 30 had made his restaurant go. He turned it into an entire chain and became a multi-millionaire. Today Mr. Aoki owns a dozen homes around the world, 2,000 automobiles—and considers himself one lucky American! “When I see my face in the mirror, I know I’m Japanese,” he says. “But I feel very American. More American than Americans.”

I could replace him with Hamdi Ulukaya: He was born in Turkey, but of Kurdish descent. He came to this country in the 90s as a student. In 2002 he started selling feta cheese, from a family recipe. His product was popular, and he expanded into yogurt. By 2016, his company, Chobani, had 2,000 employees and $1.5 billion in annual sales.

I had students do the following questions after completing the reading above:

1.     What types of information did the immigrants have which made them want to come to America?

2.     When Michael Gurkin wrote back that he had seen a “room” that moved up and down, what do you think he was talking about? What did Gurkin send home that convinced people in the mountains of Bulgaria to come here?

3.     What did Christowe Stoyan think the Statue of Liberty might be?

4.     What are five problems immigrants would run into either on the trip over to America, or after they arrived? What was the biggest problem they had to overcome?

5.     What mistake did Michael Pupin make?

6.     Why did native Americans dislike the Irish when they came?

(I’d throw in the same kind of question to cover Muslim immigrants today.)

7.     Name three groups of immigrants who met prejudice in this country (besides the Irish). Tell how each suffered.

8.     Imagine that no immigrants had ever come, except the original English settlers. What are ten “American” foods, words, inventions, ideas or custom that we would not have today?

9.     In what ways did Andrew Carnegie and Rocky Aoki both go on to success in the United States?

10. Ask any two adults (other than your own relatives) what nations their ancestors came from. Give the adult’s names and the countries.

If possible, find out where your own family came from.


I have a few notes here, that I made more recently. When I bicycled across the U.S.A. in 2011, I met an impressive young man in Clinton, Iowa. He got his start in the restaurant business, washing dishes at a place owned by (if I remember correctly, a cousin). He worked hard, moved up, learned to make a restaurant work.

In my blog for the trip I wrote:

…in Clinton, Iowa I had the best meal of my trip at a Mexican restaurant called La Feria (I think that’s spelled right). The owner is named Caesar Lopez, and he came to the United States with his family when he was a young boy. The meal his place put down in front of me was so huge, and so good, I felt almost guilty paying such a minimal price—and even thought of ordering a beer just to improve the tab. I asked the waiter if the owner was around, and Caesar came out to see me. He’s probably only 35, but already has three places, and says, “I love what I’m doing, I don’t see myself ever doing anything else.” He just loves to make the customers “feel good,” “to put the best food possible” on the table.

I asked him what a “bad” day was in his place. He said when they served 500. “What’s a good day?” I asked in astonishment.

We serve 2,000.”


I’d work this story in, as well, from an article I wrote about education and individual drive:

The story of Hoang Nhu Tran was entered in evidence. Hoang’s parents fled the communist takeover of South Vietnam in 1975 and brought him to the U.S. when he was nine. Resources were slim and they lived in a trailer park. As soon as they saved enough for a small house they moved to be closer to the best junior high in Fort Collins, Colorado. When Hoang reached ninth grade they moved again, closer to the best high school. Hoang ended up as valedictorian, attended the United States Air Force Academy and was later awarded a Rhodes scholarship.

Asked to explain how this was possible, his father replied: “You have to bend the bamboo when it is young.”


I’d throw in the N---- family, whose daughters I had in class, and two brilliant young ladies they were. Both parents were doctors; but the fled Afghanistan when the Taliban took over. I’d introduce the concept of the “brain drain,” to students. That is: the idea that many talented professionals leave poorer countries and come to the United States. Certainly, in Cincinnati, any check of listings for doctors will turn up plenty of “foreign” names.


Starting in 1607, indentured servants were often considered a problem. Some were incorrigible children combed from London streets. Others were “cut-purses,” petty thieves and women of ill repute. Many were poor and a risky trip to America was better than starving in Edinburgh or Southampton. “Many of the Poor who had been useless in England were inclined to be useless likewise in Georgia,” colonial authorities complained. As for the criminal element, Ben Franklin said the English might just as well have dumped loads of rattlesnakes on colonial shores.

Quakers were feared for their pacifism and for protesting against slavery. They thought the Native Americans should be paid for their land; and they would not follow the Bible in the way the Puritans demanded. The Puritans also feared Baptists and Catholics. Quakers were whipped at the cart tail, branded and in the famous case of Mary Dyer, executed.

The Germans arrived in ships riven with disease, often referred to as “swimming coffins.” In the eyes of the English colonists, they brought strange customs, strange foods and talked funny.


George Washington once promised, “The bosom of America is open to receive not only the opulent and respectable stranger, but the oppressed and persecuted of all Nations and Religions.”

I might use that quote today, if I was teaching, and ask students, “Do Washington’s words still hold true?”


One immigrant who prospered was John Burnside, who made enough as a merchant in New Orleans to be able to buy up 6,000 acres of good Louisiana land, which he worked with the help of 1,000 slaves, becoming the richest sugar planter in the state. On the eve of the Civil War, his slaves, alone, were said to be worth $2 million. (A History of the Old South by Clement Eaton, pp. 392-393)

The website for his fabulous home, Houmas, which still stands, offers a sanitized take on slavery, but explains:

John Burnside was born in Tyrone County, Ireland around 1810 of a poor family. At the age of twelve or thirteen, he somehow managed to obtain passage to America, with only a few pennies in his pocket. He began his young career in the grocery house of Talbot Jones in Baltimore. After a year or so, he traveled south and found employment as a storekeeper in Fincastle, Virginia, and eventually joined the staff of Andrew Beirne, a fellow Irishman who had come to America thirty years earlier to make his fortune.

Burnside rose to junior partner in the firm, became friends with Bierne’s son, Oliver, and with him opened a dry goods store in New Orleans in 1837. On the death of his father, Oliver returned to Virginia to run the business there. The name of the New Orleans business was changed to J. Burnside and Company, which he sold in 1858 for $2,000,000. That same year he decided to “enter the sugar business” and bought the Houmas Plantation for $1,000,000.

Then 48 years old, Burnside,

immediately began enlarging his holdings and purchasing other sugar plantations along the Mississippi River. In a very short time he was dubbed “The Sugar Prince,” by attaining the largest sugar empire in the South. Along with his properties on the Mississippi, Burnside also purchased the largest estate in the City of New Orleans, then known as the Robb Mansion. He collected great furnishings and great works of art to appoint both his city estate, later named “Burnside Place”, and his country estate, “The Houmas.” He shared his time between the two grand properties and entertained lavishly.

No mention of what his slaves thought about all the great furnishings and great works of art and the lavish entertaining.

In any case, Burnside died at age 71, in 1881, and “left one of the largest estates in America to his boyhood friend, Oliver Beirne.”

We assume his former slaves received next to nothing for their toils.


In 1829 two twin brothers, Chang and Eng, were brought to the United States from Siam, what is now Thailand.

Born in 1811, the were congenitally joined at the waist. “A short cartilaginous tubular structure allowed for shared liver and hepatic circulation.” According to Britannica (I think; this is from a loose copy), “They supported themselves in various ways after their father’s death and were engaged in a duck and egg business when they were discovered” and brought to the U.S. “and displayed to the public, ostensibly as an educational exhibit.”

They were exhibited widely, billed as the “Siamese twins,” from which we get the term. They eventually settled in North Carolina, became citizens, and adopted the last name “Bunker.” They married sisters in 1843, and between them had 19 children. “In later years they quarreled often and Chang took to drink. The loss of their slaves and much of their property after the Civil War forced them out of retirement for a time.” They died, age 62, on January 16-17, 1874, Chang first, Eng three or four hours later.


In 1836, a New Yorker warned, “All Europe is coming across the ocean, all that part at least who cannot make a living at home; and what shall we do with them? They eat our taxes, eat our bread, and encumber our streets, and not one in twenty is competent to keep himself.”


In the 1840s, the first great waves of Irish came, arriving on “damned plague ships and swimming coffins.” It was said they would never be loyal to America, but only to the Pope. Catholic schools, it was said, would ruin democracy. The Irish were usually low-skilled workers, poor, supposedly all drunks, and would end up on “alms.” One nativist said of the Irish, “He never knew an hour of civilized society…Breaking heads for opinion’s sake is his practice…pushed straight to hell by that abomination the Catholic religion…The Irish fill our prisons, our poor houses…Scratch a convict or a pauper, and the chances are that you tickle the skin of an Irish Catholic.”

In 1844, Samuel Elliot Morse warned that the new immigrants are “the ignorant and vicious…the outcast tenants of the poorhouses and prisons of Europe.” They were exported by their governments, “to our loss and their gain.”

The Irishman Thomas Reilly, writing home in 1848, said, “I am very sad, very lonely, very poor now indeed…Perhaps I will return to Ireland with the green flag flying over me. I care not if it becomes my shroud. I have no regard for life while I am in exile.” Another Irishman remembered the loneliness. “Had I fallen from the clouds amongst this people,” he said, “I could not feel more isolated, more bewildered.”


In the fall of 1848, another young immigrant, Augustus Saint-Gaudens, arrived in America, age six months. His father was an “itinerant cobbler” from France, his mother, Mary McGuiness, from Bally Mahon, County Longford, in Ireland.

Augustus would later describe himself as “red-headed, whopper-jawed, and hopeful,” growing up in New York City. As a young man, he saw his father’s business thrive, and helped sell shoes to prominent New York families. But he was “unusually morose,” he said, later.

In an article by Ruth Mehrtens Galvin (I can’t remember the publication), she writes that the young man “had constant fights with rival neighborhood gangs and got frequent lickings for such rowdiness as biting a classmate’s finger or smearing blackboard chalk all over his face.” He had to work from age 13, but after “a customer admired his drawings of the workmen in his father’s shop, he was allowed to follow his artistic bent and was apprenticed to a cameo-maker.”  From his first boss he learned how to carve cameos and sing while he worked. “The boy also went to the free evening art classes at Cooper Union, returning home to draw far into the night,” Galvin writes.

Saint-Gaudens was soon fired for leaving crumbs on the floor and found another cameo-maker who taught him to work in clay.

He eventually traveled to Paris to study, but left at the outbreak of the Franco-Prussian War. By then he had set his mind on producing a statue of Hiawatha. But according to Galvin, he fell into a pattern which would trouble him much of his life. He overestimated his receipts—and often lost money on his work. But he also found others to bail him out. While abroad he met “a handsome, partially deaf young woman named Augusta Homer, a sometime artist (and first cousin of Winslow Homer.) He was working in Rome on several projects; but workmen ruined one while he was out walking; and he fell off a scaffold and hurt his back. He was still broke—and on return to the United States, his works were attached for debt, and it took the intervention of a friend to allow Saint-Gaudens to get his projects back. He entered a contest to create a statue of Charles Sumner, lost, and vowed never to enter such a contest again.

He didn’t.

Through the kindness of an older rival, the young sculptor won a commission for a statue of Admiral Farragut, Saint-Gaudens later saying he got the job “by the skin of the teeth.” With that commission lined up, he finally married, and returned to Paris to continue his work. He and his wife returned to the U.S. in July 1880, and Augusta gave birth to a son in September.

     On May 26, 1881, before tens of thousands of New Yorkers, Saint-Gaudens’s Farragut was unveiled in Madison Square Park. One hand holding a field glass, the admiral stood at the center of the Stanford White pedestal as on the bridge of a ship, the skirt of his uniform coat lifting in the wind. Below the bronze statue, in relief, Saint-Gaudens had modeled, in the stone base, figures of “Courage” and “Loyalty,” resting in a fluent sweep of waves. The crowd cheered, and the reporter from the New York Herald wrote that the monument at once “took its place in the very front rank of the few fine ones in the country.”

In 1884 he won the job to create a statue honoring Col. Robert Gould Shaw and the 54th Massachusetts Infantry. He expected to complete the work in two years; but he would not finish until 1897.

Another famous work was to produce a sculpture of Marian Hooper Adams, known as “Clover,” the wife of Henry Adams, who had committed suicide. Adams gave only general instructions. “The whole meaning and feeling of the figure is in its universality and anonymity,” Adams suggested. “With the understanding that there shall be no such attempt at making it intelligible to the average mind, and no hint at ownership or personal relation.” The sculptor asked Adams to look at the face he was molding in clay. Adams refused. His work is a haunting classic.

Saint-Gaudens also cast a number of small models of Diana with her bow, and then a 13-foot version, which became the weathervane atop Stanford White’s Madison Square Garden.

Meanwhile, his interest in the statue of Col. Shaw grew and, as Galvin says, “the black soldiers took on more and more importance.”

The statue was finally unveiled on Memorial Day in 1897, and surviving veterans of the 54th marched past, to the tune of “John Brown’s Body.” “The impression of those old soldiers passing the very spot where they left for war so many years before, thrills me even as I write these words,” Saint-Gaudens wrote years later.

He then returned to Paris and remained until 1901. His statue of General William Tecumseh Sherman, accompanied by the figure of “Victory,” won acclaim; and for once even the sculptor was almost satisfied with his work. “I have got a swelled head for the first time in my life,” he wrote to a son. “I have become a harmless, drooling, gibbering idiot, sitting all day long looking at the statue. Occasionally I fall on my knees and adore it.”

            He designed a new penny and new ten- and twenty-dollar gold pieces, at the request of President Teddy Roosevelt. Sickness—including an intestinal tumor—marred his final years. But his son remembered him turning every kind of problem into a “jest.” Saint-Gaudens entitled his memoirs Reminiscences of an Idiot, but never finished them, dying at age 59, in 1907.

He once explained his approach to life this way:

It seems as if we are all in one open boat on the ocean, abandoned and drifting, no one knows to where, and while doing all we can to get somewhere, it is better to be cheerful than to be melancholy; the latter does not help the situation, and the former cheers up one’s comrades…Love and courage are the greatest things….The thing to do is to try and do good, and any serious and earnest effort seems to me to be, to our limited vision, a drop in the ocean of evolution to something better.

            Not a bad career for an immigrant boy.

(Like most human beings, Saint-Gaudens had his flaws. He had a son by one of his models. When his wife learned of this years later, Augustus wrote her an adoring letter, which “apparently, after some estrangement, placated her.”)

Detail from statue honoring Col. Shaw and the 54th Massachusetts.

Gauden's sculpture of "The Puritan." Note the large Bible in his left hand.

Gauden's bust of Lincoln.




Charles Kingsley, British historian, speaking of the Irish, is quoted in How the Irish Saved Civilization, p. 6:

I am daunted by the human chimpanzees I saw along that hundred miles of horrible country. I don’t believe they are our fault. I believe that they are happier, better and more comfortably fed and lodged under our rule than they ever were. But to see white chimpanzees is dreadful; if they were black, one would not feel it so much, but their skins, except where tanned by exposure are as white as ours.”


During the Know Nothing era,

Anti-Catholic speakers were guarded in the streets by young toughs, called “Wide Awakes,” who hoped to goad the Irish into attacking them. Parson Brownlow, fueled the fury with his anti-Catholic writings. In 1856, for example, he claimed Catholics had murdered 68 million people for the crime of being Protestant, in the process shedding 272 million gallons of blood, “enough to overflow the banks of the Mississippi and destroy all the cotton and sugar plantations in Mississippi and Louisiana.” (Freedom’s Ferment, p. 387)

Banner of the Know Nothing Party, 1854.


I failed to note the sources for these examples:

“There were riots all over the country, especially on election days but often begun by some street quarrel. Stones were thrown through the windows of a Catholic church in Boston, a Turnverein hall in Cincinnati was attacked, a Catholic church was blown up in Massachusetts. Catholic church services were rotten-egged in Maine, and a priest was tarred and feathered.”


Many of the Irish considered their decision to leave more as exile, not emigration. “Dob eigean dom imeacth to Meirice,” said one.

I had to go to America.”


“Starving peasants died along the roads, with mouths stained green by grass they’d eaten.”

“A man might brag he was a banker, who only swept out the offices of the bank.”

“It is a well-established fact that the average length of life of the emigrant after landing here is six years, and many insist it is much less,” remarked one new American. But 150,000 fought bravely for the Union in 1861, many others for the Rebel cause. Indeed, William Murphy’s first job in America was to serve in the U. S. Navy during the war. Of a brother, James, he wrote home to relatives, “He like thousands more tried to find a fortune and instead he found a grave.”

As one modern writer observed, they “discovered to their sorrow that the streets of America were not paved with gold, but rather that the Irish immigrants were expected to pave the streets themselves.”

America was “a land of sweat,” they wrote. Patrick Walsh, called a life working on the canals and railroads, “despicable, humiliating, and slavish.”

1850: one in ten of foreign birth, population 23 million; in next decade 2.8 million more immigrants.

The Potato Famine left many Irish with no other choice than to emigrate.


A Catholic priest warned c. 1870, “that the present system of public schools, ignoring all supernatural authority and making knowledge the first and God the last thing to be learned, is a curse to our country, and a floodgate of atheism, of sensuality, and of civil, social, and national corruption.” (A Distant Magnet, p. 223).


In 1849, Herman Melville sounded a more hopeful note, predicting,

We are the heirs of all time, and with all nations we divide our inheritance. On this Western Hemisphere all tribes and peoples are forming into one federated whole; and there is a future which shall see the estranged children of Adam restore as to the old hearthstone in [an American Eden]…The seed is sown, and the harvest must come.


One immigrant who did well was Levi Strauss, from Bavaria. In 1850 he made his first tough pants, complete with copper rivets, for the miners scrambling over every hill and panning every stream in California.


The Know-Nothing Party slogan was, “Americans must rule America.” And the Church of Rome was described as “dripping with the cruelties of millions of murders, and haggard with the debaucheries of a thousand years, always ambitious, always sanguinary, and always false.”


In the book Sod and Stubble author John Ise described his parents’ experience as immigrants to the United States (p. 10-11):

“Henry Eisenmenger…had come from Wurttemberg, Germany, in eighteen fifty-seven, had worked on a farm in Illinois for several years, joined the Union Army at the outbreak of the Civil War, helped guard the Mississippi, fought around Chattanooga, marched with Sherman to the sea, and at the close of the war returned to Illinois with a new name, ‘Ise,’—because his captain could not remember his full name.” He moved out to Kansas, farmed, met Rosie, 17, “and promptly fell in love with her.”

Rosie Haag’s parents came from Germany and she was born in Wisconsin, then the family moved to Kansas.

There, for a few years, they endured the most desperate poverty. Rosie’s father fell ill with typhoid fever a week after they came, never to recover his health fully. The first summer a terrible drought blasted all the crops completely. They borrowed money for food, and a team of oxen, but the oxen died. The next year they borrowed money again to buy milk cows, but the cows died of blackleg. Several years later, the mother and all her nine children, except Rosie, were stricken with typhoid fever; but Rosie, only thirteen years of age, finally nursed them all back to health. Deeper in debt every year, their situation seemed almost hopeless; but with true German tenacity they persevered, and within a few years had paid their debts, bought hours and cows and implements, and were now in comfortable circumstances. Rosie had prospered moderately herself, and had bought three cows with her savings…


Immigrants came to America for all kinds of reasons. Frank Buchser left Switzerland after being caught in bed with a girl by her father.  (Robert E. Lee by Emory M. Thomas; p. 403).


The 1840 census found that there were only four Chinese living in the United States, in a population of 17 million. An influx began during the Gold Rush; and later many Chinese helped build the Union Pacific. (NYT 5/29/18)


Dislike of Chinese immigrants took hold after 1849. They were reputed to frequent “opium dens.” Their customs were “strange,” and it was believed they would defile the white race if they inter-married. They were seen as good only as servants, doing laundry. Like many immigrant groups, they did have a tendency to undercut pay for American workers, as when employed building the railroads. The Page Act of 1875 banned females from China—on the grounds they were all prostitutes—and this soon became a ban on Chinese women in all but name. The Chinese Exclusion Act, seven years later, banned all Chinese laborers. An attack on Chinese workers in Rock Springs, Wyoming, in 1885, left 28 dead and a hundred injured.


A review of the film, The Chinese Exclusion Actincludes this:

The film isn’t only concerned with politics and legislation. There is plenty of social history, of life in Chinatowns and the profound dislocations forced on Chinese-American families, as well as an account of the horrific wave of violence (including mass lynchings) and ethnic purges that struck around 300 cities and towns in the western United States in the years after 1882.

A section on the Page Act of 1875, a forerunner to the Exclusion Act, reveals how a ban on immigration by Asian prostitutes — which led to grueling, humiliating interviews — effectively barred Chinese women from America while greatly contributing to the sexual stereotyping of all Asian women.

There are also heroes in the story, like the American-born Wong Kim Ark, whose victory in the Supreme Court in 1898 established the birthright to citizenship that we’ve taken for granted until recently.

The volume and tenaciousness of legal challenges to the Exclusion Act, and the eloquence of Chinese immigrants who spoke out and editorialized against it, feed a recurring if not very convincing theme in the film that the Chinese were particularly attracted to the democratic values of the founding fathers.

The act was originally scheduled to remain in place for ten years, but it was not repealed until 1943.

Prejudice against the Chinese was pronounced.


            In Westward by Rail, William Fraser Rae makes racism directed at the Chinese clear. Rae, who traveled west in 1869, writes on pages 201-202, “The aversion to the Chinamen is very general on the Pacific slope of the continent.”

            In Nevada, he notes, “Turning from the advertising to the leader columns of the Elko Independent, I find that the Democratic Party is honored with its support, and that the Chinese are the objects of its aversion.”

            He adds,

One or two Chinamen entered the train here. Among them was a merchant who had amassed a fortune, who spoke English fluently, and who conversed intelligently on most subjects. He was not allowed a seat in the best cars, but was condemned to occupy a place in the emigrants’ cars. All his money could not conquer the prejudice against his tribe.

When he visits San Francisco soon after, he notes the “gaming hells” in the Chinese quarter of the city. Lotteries are popular among the immigrants. “The highest prize is a thousand dollars.”

He continues,

Near the Chinese quarter, and in the streets leading from it, are streets wherein more danger is to be feared than among the Chinese themselves. Nearly every house is tenanted by women who, scantily dressed in gaudy apparel, stand on the doorsteps or at the open windows, proclaiming their profession by look and gesture. (302)

            The importance of immigrant labor to other Californians is clear:

At present, Chinese labor is as much necessary of their existence as the clothes they wear. In private houses, John—all Chinamen being called John—is a far better servant than Biddy [or an Irish domestic]. He takes lower wages; he is temperate, honest, and respectful; he does his work with extreme care, whether it consists in washing dishes or nursing babies, scrubbing floors or waiting at table. Manufactories would have to be closed, vineyards suffered to run wild, and many railways would continue to be projects, were there no Chinamen to watch the spindles, tend the vines, cut the sleepers, build bridges, and lay the rails. Chinamen, however, are chargeable with the unpardonable fault of being Chinamen.

            But the legal disabilities remain:

…Nay even their virtues …are all regarded as disabilities unfitting them for being treated as rational human beings. It is considered dangerous to stand on the platform of a street-car, and passengers are prohibited from standing there. Yet Chinamen and Chinawomen are compelled by a regulation of the company to stand on this platform, and are forbidden to sit inside. (303-04)

 “In the courts of law,” he notes on page 305, “the evidence of Chinamen has been proclaimed inadmissible. They might be wholly in the right, and yet be adjudged as wrongdoers.”

Ah Hund, a Chinese immigrant, was defendant in a case in San Francisco. The author was happy to learn, that

…if not permitted to testify, [he] would have been robbed of his property, [and] was placed in the witness box, in accordance with the judge’s ruling that the Fourteenth Constitutional Amendment, while extending equality to the negro, likewise entitled the Chinaman to sue for justice and ensure that he would not sue in vain. That the Supreme Court of the United States will confirm this decision if appealed against is regarded as certain. In any case, however, the Fifteenth Constitutional Amendment will be an effectual bar to the repetition of iniquitous proceedings like those in question. How far the efforts made by the Democrats, who are now the majority here, to persecute and expel the Chinese will prove successful remains to be seen. The Alta California …has made a bold and firm stand in favor of justice to the Chinaman. (305-06)



Janos Kovacs, a Hungarian who immigrated c. 1880, had a family to support, and only a six-acre farm, under mortgage, to his name. He said, evocatively: “There is only one hope, America. 


A wave of Russian Jews came in the 1880s, often penniless, speaking Russian or Yiddish, and congregated in city slums. May found work in sweatshops, including children. But following generations went into banking, business and law. Harvard set a quota for Jewish students; in New York City, 90% of white collar jobs were off limits to Jewish applicants. One who came out of this milieu was Irving Berlin. He would later go on to write classic “American” songs like God Bless AmericaWhite ChristmasCheek to CheekEaster ParadeAlways and Heat Wave.

According to an article in Esquire (January 1990), Berlin “had always lacked an innate sense of worth, and that gnawing sense of inadequacy had been the thorn in his side driving him to feats of greatness.”

His marriage was difficult. “His wife, Ellin, meanwhile, lived a separate existence on the lower floors of their cavernous house, spending her time on charity work and writing a memoir of her grandmother. Berlin’s three daughters and many grandchildren rarely paid a visit.” (p. 60; loose item in my files)


The New Colossus by Emma Lazarus

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

(When I was teaching, I had students memorize this poem, starting with the fourth line, “A mighty woman…” I felt the poem said a great deal about America—and the “American Dream.”)


Friedrich Trump, grandfather of President Donald J. Trump, leaves Bavaria in 1885, in part to avoid mandatory military service, and travels to America. According to his grandson on arrival he knew almost no English.

All his life he spoke German primarily.


By 1890, more than half of the nation’s coal miners are foreign born. Italians are arriving in increasing numbers. Many natives consider them non-white, “swarthy,” prone to crime, likely to join gangs and the Mafia.  

Immigrants filled the cities and rural America viewed the cities as decadent. Nativism took deep root. In 1902, a college president, Woodrow Wilson, wrote in History of the American People,

But now there came multitudes of men of the lowest class from the south of Italy and men of the meaner sort from Hungary and Poland, men out of the ranks where there was neither skill nor energy nor any initiative of quick intelligence; and they came in numbers which increased from year to year, as if the countries of the south of Europe were disburdening themselves of the more sordid and hapless elements of their population….The people of the Pacific coast had clamored for many years against the admission of immigrants out of China…and yet the Chinese are more to be desired, as workmen if not citizens, than most of the coarse crew that came crowding in every year at the eastern ports.   

Prescott F. Hall, head of the Immigration Restriction League, would sound similar warning in 1910. Do we want America, he asked, “To be peopled by British, German and Scandinavian stock, historically free, energetic, progressive, or by Slav, Latin and Asiatic races, historically downtrodden, atavistic and stagnant?”

One seventh of the population of the United States that year was foreign-born, including 31% of the people in Massachusetts and 30% in New York. Two-thirds of workers in iron mining were foreign-born.

A social worker, visiting an Italian immigrant family, noted sourly, “Not Americanized; still eating spaghetti.”

Something like 40% of Italians came but returned home, 50% of Poles, and 60% of Hungarians. Such immigrants were known as “birds of passage.”

Quota laws dramatically reduced immigration in the 1920s.


Stephen Miller’s great grandfather, a Jew fleeing pogroms and abuse in Russia, and speaking Yiddish arrives in America.

He would have been barred from entry under immigration policies crafted by his great grandson, under the Trump administration. Sam Glosser was the immigrant’s name. He passed beneath Lady Liberty’s torch around 1903. Most East European Jews went straight to work in the sweatshops of the New York City garment industry—low-skilled workers, earning low pay.

Virulent anti-Semitism was still common in America at the time. A New York newspaper referred to people like Glosser as “slime” being “siphoned upon us from the Continental mud tanks.”

(Miller is a leading architect of Trump administration immigration policy.)


In Victorian times a popular game was “Magic Square,” where given words could be arranged two ways:

F O  U R
 R G E
R  E E  D

Arthur Wynne, an immigrant from Liverpool, working for the New York World, is given the task of devising a new puzzle. He blacks out certain squares and crisscrosses the squares.

On December 21, 1913, the first “crossword puzzle” is published.


In 1914, Edward A. Ross blasted the new immigrants in his book, The Old World in the New. He spoke of immigrants from Southeast Europe and their “pigsty way of life,” “their brawls and their animal pleasures.” He described them as “hirsute, low-browed, big-faced persons of obviously low mentality. Not that they suggest evil. They simply look out of place in black clothes and stiff collar, since clearly they belong in skins, in wattled huts at the close of the Great Ice Age.”

Or, as one lawmaker had put it in the 1880s, “I believe in a pedigree, not only in the animal, but in the human race.” 


Madison Grant, a conservative lawyer, in The Passing of the Great Race (1916), sees grave danger in the arrival of Italians, Greeks, Serbs and other “lesser types.” These arrivals did not impress him. 

They were:

a large and increasing number of the weak, the broken and the mentally crippled of all races drawn from the lowest stratum of the Mediterranean basin and the Balkans, together with hordes of the wretched, submerged populations of the Polish ghettoes. Our jails, insane asylums and almshouses are filled with this human flotsam and the whole tone of American life, social, moral and political has been lowered and vulgarized by them.

You can get a whole raft of disgusting quotes from the book:

In the Europe of today the amount of Nordic blood in each nation is a very fair measure of its strength in war and standing in civilization. The proportion of men of pure type of each constituent race to the mixed type is also a powerful factor.

     We Americans must realize that the altruistic ideals which have controlled our social development during the past century and the maudlin sentimentalism that has made America “an asylum for the oppressed,” are sweeping the nation toward a racial abyss. If the Melting Pot is allowed to boil without control and we continue to follow our national motto and deliberately blind ourselves to all “distinction of race, creed or color,” the type of native American of Colonial descent will become as extinct as the Athenian of the age of Pericles, and the Vikings of the days of Rollo.

Races must be kept apart by artificial devices of this sort or they ultimately amalgamate and in the offspring the more generalized or lower type prevails.

Situated on the eastern marches of Europe, the Slavs were submerged during long periods in the Middle Ages by Mongolian hordes and were checked in development and warped in culture. Definite traces remain of the blood of the Mongols both in isolated and compact groups in south Russia and also scattered throughout the whole country as far west as the German boundary.

Denmark, Norway and Sweden are purely Nordic and yearly contribute swarms of a splendid type of immigrants to America and are now, as they have been for thousands of years, the chief nursery and brood land of the master race.

Where two distinct species are located side by side, history and biology teach that but one of the two things can happen; either one race drives the other out, as the Americans exterminated the Indians and as the Negroes are now replacing the whites in various parts of the South; or else they amalgamate and form a population of race bastards in which the lower type ultimately preponderates.

It is scarcely necessary to cite the universal distrust, often contempt, that the half-breed between two sharply contrasted races inspires the world over. Belonging physically and spiritually to the lower race, but aspiring to recognition as one of the higher race, the unfortunate mongrel, in addition to a disharmonic physique, often inherits from one parent an unstable brain which is stimulated and at times over excited by flashes of brilliancy from the other. The result is a total lack of continuity of purpose, an intermittent intellect goaded into spasmodic outbursts of energy. 


When the United States joined the war in 1917, fear of German immigrants took hold. They were suspected of disloyalty, considered likely to commit sabotage. There were rumors that German American Red Cross volunteers were putting glass in bandages. There were hundreds of German weekly newspapers and 53 dailies in 1914. All were now deemed “suspicious.”

There were numerous arrests for exercising free speech. Beatings of suspected “disloyal citizens” were common.

Hamburger was renamed “Salisbury steak,” sauerkraut became “Liberty cabbage.” But it still tasted like sauerkraut.

The Cincinnati City Council shut down pool rooms operated by aliens, on grounds customers were not learning the American way of life.

The governor of Iowa ruled that only English might be spoken in schools, churches and in telephone conversations.

The disloyal German immigrant.

Two decades earlier, Sen. Henry Cabot Lodge had tried to extend the list of “excluded immigrants” to include not only “paupers, convicts and diseased persons” but all “Italians, Russians, Poles, Hungarians, Greeks and Asiatics” who arrived on our shores and failed a literacy test. What he wanted was to limit immigration to “original race stocks of the 13 colonies.” These others, he said, were “slum dwellers, criminals and juvenile delinquents.”

Terms like “yid, mick, dago, greaser, bohunk, polack, and uke were tossed around as casually as baseballs well into the late 20th century.” (Geoffrey Wawro says). Teddy Roosevelt popularized suspicion of “hyphenated Americans.” Woodrow Wilson picked it up, saying, “any man who carries a hyphen about him carries a dagger that he is ready to plunge into the vitals of the Republic.”

Wilson feared sending “All-American” boys to die in Europe, while “foreign slackers on American soil” would take jobs and remain safe. “Birds of passage” would be safe. “Real Americans” would die.

Roosevelt said: “The military tent will rank next to the public school among the great agents of democratization.”

Germans officers who interrogated American prisoners despaired: “These half-Americans express without hesitation purely native sentiments. Their quality is remarkable. They brim with naïve confidence.”

Lodge warned about the “unguarded gates of American citizenship,” but men like Ottavio Fiscalini, Aleksandr Shazkows and Olaf Knutson died for this country. Wawro notes that the army of doughboys spoke 49 different languages. NYT (9/12/18)


In the 1920s, laws are passed demanding that English be the sole language taught in public schools. Henry Ford and his Dearborn Independent paper rail against Jews. The Imperial Wizard of the KKK warns against Catholics and immigrants. “We have taken unto ourselves a Trojan horse crowded with ignorance, illiteracy and envy, he warns.”

Kenneth L. Roberts, author of Why Europe leaves Home, writes:

The American nation was founded and developed by the Nordic race, but if a few more millions of members of the Alpine, Mediterranean and Semitic races are poured among us, the result must inevitably be a hybrid race of people as worthless and futile as the good-for-nothing mongrels of Central America and Southwestern Europe.

The “National Origins Act” was passed by Congress and signed into law in 1924. Under the new system, total legal immigration from Europe was capped at 150,000 persons per year. Provisions of the act had the effect of reserving 80% of all slots from Europe to British, German and other early arrivals to American shores. All non-white immigrants from Asia and Africa were barred. These restrictive quotas cut Italian immigration from 222,000 in 1921 to 18,000 in 1928, Polish immigration from 98,000 to 9,000, and reduce the influx from other central and southern European areas from 151,000 to 11,000. Asian immigration slows to a trickle, dropping from 25,000 to 3,000.

In the next twenty-five years, fewer immigrants arrive than had arrived in 1907 alone.

One critic of immigration suggested that a bond of $1000 or $5000 be posted by each immigrant coming to the United States. 


When Saul Bellow was nine, in 1924, his family (his parents were Jews from what is now Lithuania, who emigrated to Canada in 1913), moved to the United States and settled in Chicago. He grew up there and turned to writing. He would later be awarded both a Pulitzer Prize and the Nobel Prize for Literature.

In his novel, Herzog, we capture a sense of what life for many immigrants was really like. In one scene, the main character, Herzog, explains that, “Papa’s savings, representing forty years of misery in America” went so he, the son, could buy a house (p. 120)

Herzog’s father’s story is very powerful:

     As for my late unlucky father, J. Herzog, he was not a big man, one of the small-boned Herzog’s, finely made, round-headed, keen, nervous, handsome. In his frequent bursts of temper he slapped his son swiftly with both hands. He did everything quickly, neatly, with skillful Eastern European flourishes: combing his hair, buttoning his shirt, stropping his bone-handled razors, sharpening pencils on the ball of his thumb, holding a loaf of bread to his breast and slicing toward himself, tying parcels with tight little knots, jotting like an artist in his account book. Their each cancelled page was covered with a carefully drawn X. The 1s and 7s carried bars and streamers . They were like pennants in the wind of failure. First Father Herzog failed in Petersburg, where he went through two dowries in one year. He had been importing onions from Egypt.

The police caught him and charged his for illegal residence.

“He was convicted and sentenced,” the author explains. “The account of the trial was published in a Russian Journal printed on thick green paper. Father Herzog sometimes unfolded it and read aloud to the entire family, translating” as he went. “He never served his sentence. He got away. Because he was nervy, hasty, obstinate, rebellious. He came to Canada, where his sister Zipporah Yaffe was living.”

In 1913 he bought a piece of land [near Valleyfield, Québec], and failed as a farmer. Then he came into town and failed as a baker; failed in the dry-goods business; failed as a jobber; failed as a sack manufacturer in the War, when no one else failed. He failed as a junk dealer. Then he became a marriage broker and failed—too short tempered and blunt.

He tried bootlegging next, but failed once more. As his son tells the tale, “He lacked the cheating imagination of a successful businessman.”

Grandfather Herzog was still alive, then....Later he predicted that the Revolution would fail and tried to acquire Czarist currency, to become a millionaire under the restored Romanoffs. The Herzog’s received packets of worthless rubles, and Willie and Moses played with great sums. You held the glorious bills to the light and you saw Peter the Great and Catherine in the watermarked rainbow paper. Grandfather Herzog [back in Russia] was in his eighties but still strong. His mind was powerful and his Hebrew calligraphy elegant. The letters were read aloud in Montreal by Father Herzog—accounts of cold, lice, famine, epidemics, the dead. The old man wrote, “Shall I ever see the faces of my children? And who will bury me?” Father Herzog approached the next phrase two or three times, but could not find his full voice. Only a whisper came out. The tears were in his eyes and he suddenly put his hand over his mustached mouth and hurried from the room. Mother Herzog, large-eyed, sat with the children in the primitive kitchen which the sun never entered . It was like a cave with the ancient black stove, the iron sink, the green cupboards, the gas ring.

Mother Herzog had a way of meeting the present with a partly averted face. She encountered it on the left but sometimes seemed to avoid it on the right. On this withdrawn side she often had a dreaming look, melancholy, and seemed to be seeing the Old World—her father the famous misnagid, her tragic mother, her bothers living and dead, her sister, and her linens and servants in Petersburg, the dacha in Finland (all founded on Egyptian onions). Now she was cook, washerwoman, seamstress on Napoleon Street in the slum. Her hair turned gray, and she lost her teeth, her very fingernails wrinkled. Her hands smelled of the sink.

Herzog was thinking however, how she found the strength to spoil her children. She certainly spoiled me. Once, at nightfall, she was pulling me on the sled, over crusty ice, the tiny glitter of snow, perhaps four o’clock of a short day in January. Near the grocery we met an old baba in a shawl who said, “Why are you pulling him, daughter!” Mama, dark under the eyes. Her slender cold face. She was breathing hard. She wore the torn seal coat and a red pointed wool cap and thin button boots. Clusters of dry fish hung in the shop, a rancid sugar smell, cheese, soap—a terrible dust of nutrition came from the open door. The bell on a coil of wire was bobbing, ringing. “Daughter, don’t sacrifice your strength to children,” said the shawled crone in the freezing dusk of the street. I wouldn’t get off the sled. I pretended not to understand…

Mama’s brother Mikhail died of typhus in Moscow. I took the letter from the postman and brought it upstairs—the long latchstring ran through loops under the banister. It was wash day. The copper boiler steamed the window. She was rinsing and ringing in a tub. When she read the news she gave a cry and fainted. Her lips turned white. Her arm lay in the water, sleeve and all. We two were alone in the house. I was terrified when she lay like that, legs spread, her long hair undone, lids brown, mouth bloodless, deathlike. But then she got up and went to lie down. She wept all day. But in the morning she cooked the oatmeal nevertheless. We were up early.

My ancient times. Remoter than Egypt. No dawn, the foggy winters. In darkness, the bulb was lit. The stove was cold. Papa shook the grates, and raised an ashen dust. The grates grumbled and squealed. The puny shovel clinked underneath. The Caporals [a cigarette brand] gave Papa a bad cough. The chimneys in their helmets sucked in the wind. The milkman came in his sleigh. The snow was spoiled and rotten with manure and litter, dead rats, dogs. The milkman in his sheepskin gave the bell a twist. It was brass, like the winding-key of a clock. Helen pulled the latch and went down with the pitcher for the milk. And then Ravitch, hungover, came from his room, in his heavy sweater, suspenders over the wool to keep it tighter into the body, the bowler on his head, red in the face, his look guilty. He wanted to be asked to sit.

The morning light could not free itself from the gloom and frost. Up and down the street, the brick recessed windows were dark, filled with darkness, and school girls by twos in their black skirts marched toward the convent. And wagons, sledges, drays, the horses shuddering, the air drowned in leaden green, the dung stained ice, trails ashes. Moses and his brothers put on their caps and prayed together.

“Ma tovu ohaleha Yaakov…”
“How goodly are thy tents, O Israel.”

Napoleon Street, rotten, toylike, crazy and filthy, riddled, flogged with harsh weather—the bootlegger’s boys reciting ancient prayers. To this Moses’ heart was attached with great power . Here was a wider range of human feelings than he had ever again been able to find. The children of the race, by a never failing miracle, open their eyes on one strange world after another, age after age, and uttered the same prayer in each, eagerly loving what they found. What was wrong with Napoleon Street? thought Herzog. All he ever wanted was there. His mother did the wash, and mourned. His father was desperate and frightened, but obstinately fighting. His brother Shura with startling, disingenuous eyes, was plotting to master the world, to become a millionaire. His brother Willie struggled with asthmatic fits. Trying to breathe he gripped the table and rose on his toes like a cock about to crow. His sister Helen had long white gloves which she washed in thick suds. She wore them to her lessons at the conservatory, carrying a leather music role. Her diploma hung in a frame….His soft prim sister who played the piano

…Oh, the music! thought Herzog. He fought the insidious blight of nostalgia… Helen played. She wore a middy and a pleated skirt, and her pointed shoes cramped down on the pedals, a proper, vain girl. She frowned while she played—her father’s crease appeared between her eyes. Frowning as though she performed a dangerous action. The music rang into the street.  

Aunt Zipporah was critical of this music business. Helen was not a genuine musician. She played to move the family. Perhaps to attract a husband. What Aunt  Zipporah opposed was Mama’s ambition for her children, because she wanted them to be lawyers, gentlemen, rabbis, or performers. All branches of the family had the cast madness of yichus. No life so barren and subordinate that it didn’t have imaginary dignities, honors to come, freedom to advance.

Yichus means, basically, to descend from good stock.

Moses Herzog faults himself, “To haunt the past like this—to love the dead!” Still, his mind travels back to 1923, with Aunt Zipporah in the kitchen, asking her father, what happened to Mikhail?

“We don’t know,” said Papa. “Who can imagine what a black year they’re making back home. (It was always in  der heim, Herzog remind himself.) “A mob broke into his house. Cut open everything, looking for valuta. Afterwards, he caught typhus, or God knows what.”

Aunt Zipporah tells Father Herzog, he’s not cut out to be a bootlegger. These other men, they are. “They don’t have skins, teeth, fingers like you but hides come fangs, claws.” Moses remembers that his mother seemed to agree. “Can you even shoot a man?” his aunt wonders. “Could you even hit a man on the head? Come. Think it over.”

He remembers his mother as a woman of the Old World. Her “mind was archaic, filled with old legends, with angels and demons.”

His father,

…wanted to run bootleg whiskey to the border, and get into the big time. He and Voplonsky borrowed from moneylenders, and loaded a truck with cases. But they never reach Rouses Point. They were hijacked, beaten up, and left in a ditch. Father Herzog took the worst beating because he resisted. The hijackers tore his clothes, knocked out one of his teeth, and trampled him.

He and Voplonsky the blacksmith returned to Montreal on foot. He stopped at Voplonsky’s shop to clean up, but there was not much he could do about his swollen bloody eye. He had a gap in his teeth. His coat was torn and his shirt and undergarment were blood-stained.

That was how we entered the dark kitchen on Napoleon Street. We were all there.  It was gloomy March, and anyway the lights seldom reached that room. It was like a cavern. We were like cave dwellers. “Sarah!” he said. “Children!” He showed his cut face. He spread his arms so we could see his taters, and the white of his body under them. Then he turned his pockets inside out—empty. As he did this, he began to cry, and the children standing about him all cried. It was more than I could bear that anyone should lay violent hands on him—a father, a sacred being, a king. Yes, he was a king to us. My heart was suffocated by this horror. I thought I would die of it. Whom did I ever love as I loved them?

Moses remembers his mother remonstrating with his father. He must give up his plan of being a bootlegger.

He began to tell the story of his life, from childhood to this day. He wept as he told it. Put out at four years old to study, away from the home. Eaten by lice. Half-starved in the Yeshiva as a boy. He shaved, became a modern European. He worked in Kremenchug for his aunt as a young man. He had a fool’s paradise in Petersburg for ten years, on forged papers. Then he sat in prison with common criminals. Escaped to America. Starved. Cleaned stables. Begged. Lived in fear. A baal-chov—always a debtor. Shadowed by the police. Taking in drunken borders. His wife a servant. And this was what he brought home to his children. This was what he could show them—his rags, his bruises.

“So,” the character Moses Herzog explains, “we had a great schooling in grief.”


              This item appeared in Time magazine, in the Science section, under the title “Photomaton.”

     “The average inventor has a hard life and it is a rare instance for him to reap the rewards of his invention as I have done.” So said one Anatol Josepho of New York last week, a few moments after pocketing a slip of paper upon which were written the idyllic figures $1,000,000. His invention was a quarter in the slot machine. Out of it comes, not gum or hairpins, but a strip of eight sepia photographs, each 2 in. by 1 ½ in., showing the quarter-dropper in whatever eight poses it has pleased him to strike. The pictures are photographs direct upon sensitized paper. To make a strip of eight pictures requires only eight minutes.

Josepho was a Jewish immigrant from Russia, and patented his invention in 1925, selling it to a syndicate of investors smart enough to “know a real gold brick” when they saw one.

Josepho, in photos at right; unknown mother and child, left.

Like an artist’s “self-portrait” in earlier times, and the “selfies” of today, human beings seem to have a need to see what they look like.


Fidel Ybarra’ parents brought him from Mexico to Texas in 1927, when he was a year old. His Mexican family moved to Kansas a few years later, where he grew up. His father worked for the railroad, as Fidel did later.

Fidel married; he and his wife had seven children, who grew up knowing “only the rudiments of the Spanish language.”

He tells his story to Least Heat-Moon, in PrairyErth (pp. 230-236):

Those houses at Gladstone were made of one-by-twelves, and the gaps between the boards were covered with thin wood strips. Tarpaper over the roof. No insulation except my mother’s wallpaper. We had two rooms, about fourteen by twenty. That was the whole house. After the kids come along there was twelve of us in there. No electricity, no running water. There was six other shanties, some just one room, and all we had was one outhouse with two doors, a men’s and a women’s, and just one seat in them: thirty people and two seats. We had a pump for water. But Santa Fe [the railroad] didn’t charge us nothing to live there, and in the winter the company sent in a car of old track ties and pieces of depots and boxcars, and we’d unloaded and chop the wood up for our stove, but the place was still cold.

His wife calls in from the next room, “Oh yeahhh. If we went to Emporia to visit overnight, when we came home everything was frozen.”

Fidel remembers refrigerator cars coming through on the railroad. In the summer the trains would stop and throw off “the old ice on the siding, we broke it up and put it in our icebox. And one day thirty-six reefers of potatoes derailed in Gladstone.”

Did he like living in those houses, the author asked?

“I didn’t mind. A lot of farmers around us didn’t have no plumbing neither,” Fidel says.

            Heat-Moon points out that those white farmers had more than two rooms.
Fidel responds,

When my kids complain, I tell them, “You should have lived when I lived back then.” After the war we still just had kerosene lanterns, so I went to a company boss and told him if the houses were fit to live in they were fit to have electricity, and after a while we got it. And in 1950 I went and asked for propane stoves, and later we got them too. If I’d thought about it, I should have got Santa Fe to put an electric pump in the well.

He adds later, “We knew we were Mexican but we didn’t call ourselves poor because we had jobs.

What did he mean, “You knew you were Mexicans?” the author asked.

In the Cottonwood or Emporea, Topeka too, we couldn’t get served in restaurants, but in some places you could take food out around to the back to the kitchen. We couldn’t get no haircuts neither. Then one day when I was in high school in Cottonwood, I guess in 1941, I was walking down the street past the old bank and the barber come out of the basement where his shop was, Jim Venard was his name, and he starts talking to me, he says, “Who gives you your haircuts young man?” And I said, “My dad—nobody here will cut it,” and he says, “You come to me. I’ll cut it. Bring anybody else.” That was a breakthrough. During the war things changed, especially afterwards: guys figured if they were good enough to fight for the country, they were good enough to eat in a cafe instead of in the alley. But we never had it as bad as the colored people. Whites let us in earlier.

I couldn’t enlist because of my blind eye, so I worked on the track then: seven days a week, ten hours a day, sixty cents an hour.


            Knute Rockne dies in a plane crash in 1931. At the time, his Notre Dame football team is on a 19-game winning streak. He has already had three undefeated teams, including the 1924 squad, famous for the Four Horsemen. His record on the day he dies is 105-12-5.

Not bad for an immigrant from Norway.

Born Knut Larsen Rokne in 1888, his family immigrated in 1893, when he was five and made a new home in Chicago. After high school he worked for four years, saved enough money to go to Notre Dame, and excelled in football, winning All-American honors in 1913. In a game on November 1, 1913, against the team from Army, Notre Dame used long forward passes, with Rockne catching most of the throws, the first time a college team had ever used the pass to any great extent. The final score was 35-13, with the Fighting Irish catching the Cadets by surprise.


Between 1933 and 1945 European Jews fleeing Hitler and the Nazi regime turned to the United States. Not all gained admittance; but we did take in 12 Nobel Prize winners, including Albert Einstein, and other refugees who helped us win the race to develop an atomic bomb. 


               In 1939, when she was a little girl, Trixie Tugendhat’s father, an industrialist, rushed them out of Austria, shortly before the Germans invaded Poland. The family went first to Brazil, then on to the United States. She later married Allen Gardner, and they formed the team that taught Washoe, the chimp, to use sign language.

            Roger Fouts tells this amusing story. Washoe was like a spoiled child, well aware of her special status:

…Once I told Trixie that Washoe had tried to bite me, and Trixie gave Washoe a rare scolding. That very night at dinner, Trixie was cooking at the stove. Washoe was in her high chair, at the head of the table, acting like a little angel. I didn’t believe this act for a minute, so I was sitting as far from her as I could get.

COME ROGER, Washoe signed. PLEASE COME. I shook my head no. There was no way I was getting near her.

PLEASE PLASE COME ROGER, she tried again. I signed an emphatic NO. At that moment Trixie turned around and saw Washoe making these very sweet and perfect signs.

ROGER, Trixie implored me, WASHOE WANTS YOU! I was trapped.

I began edging around the table, ever so slowly. Trixie went back to her cooking. I kept sliding over one inch at a time. Finally, Washoe couldn’t contain herself any longer. She lunged out of her high chair and grabbed me around the neck with both hands. I yanked backward with all my might and broke loose.

            “Quite often,” Fouts wrote, “I had to remind myself this little chimpanzee girl was not a human being. But after a while I realized this distinction had become meaningless to me.”


            Work on Mt. Rushmore is completed in October 1941, at a final cost of $990,000. The sculptor in charge is Gutzon Borglum, son of Danish immigrants. About 360 men worked on the carving, starting in 1927.

     “Those were the Depression years,” says Berg, 73, a retired metalsmith, who lives in Yuba City, California, about 45 miles North of Sacramento. Berg worked on Rushmore from August 1936 through 1940. He was 17 and still in high school when he was hired for 55 cents an hour as a “call boy.” He sat on the heads of the faces and relayed messages from the drillers hanging in bosun chairs on the mountain below to the winch operator above who moved the drillers up and down.

     …Lack of funds and weather problems spread 6 ½ years of work over 14 years. Problems with rock conditions—some rock could not be carved—forced Borglum to change his model of the presidents nine times. Each time an alteration was made, the 5-foot tall models used in the studio to block out the figures on the mountain (1 inch on the studio models represented 1 foot in the mountain) had to be recomposed.

     “One my first jobs was to go down on the Washington head and turn it a little,” says Bill Tallman, 85, who worked on Mount Rushmore from 1929 until 1935 and who, some say, was the project supervisor longer than anyone except Lincoln Borglum, the sculptor’s son.

            Orville Worman remembers being hired because he was a good baseball player, and could play shortstop. “I was drilling on road construction,” he says now, “and Mr. Borglum and his son, Lincoln, wanted a ball team. We had 12 men on the ball club, and won second place in the state in 1939.” (Cincinnati Enquirer, 4/28/1991.)


The great war photographer, Robert Capa, was Hungarian, and became a U.S. citizen in 1946.

D-Day: June 6, 1944. Capa was there.

Young German German manpower began to fail.
American killed by enemy sniper.

There appears to be a good cache of pictures from D-Day at a French internet site; I didn’t have time to check them out.


              A penniless Jewish refugee from Hungary named Laszlo N. Tauber arrived in the United States in 1947. A doctor, he was just happy to be alive, but soon found work as a surgeon. At age 76 (when I clipped an article about him), he was still practicing medicine and still charging his original patients $5 an office visit.

            Dr. Tauber didn’t need to worry about money. He remained devoted to helping the sick; but he had invested wisely in real estate, and built an empire worth an estimated $500 million. (This article is probably from 1991). It was when first looking for a place to set up an office that he became interested in how real estate was handled in this country.

“Sometimes I remember too much,” he says of his past in a war-torn Europe. “There are a lot of bad memories.”


            Here in Cincinnati, the following story is often found on tables at Skyline restaurants:

History of Skyline Chili

By Lambert, James, Christie, William and John Lambrinides

     As a boy in Greece, our father Nicholas Lambrinides dreamed of coming to America and someday opening his own successful restaurant. He had cultivated his love for food preparation in the kitchens of his mother and grandmother in the village of Kastoria.

     In 1949, the time appeared right for the family to pool resources into father’s long-held dream. His recipe had been honed to perfection.

     The first Skyline Chili was at 3822 Glenway Avenue in suburban Price Hill. The name Skyline was originated because of the view of downtown Cincinnati from the restaurant’s kitchen window.

     There, we serve father’s own recipe of chili. We bought only top-grade beef, and carefully trimmed all bone and fat, ground up the beef, combined it with father’s own blend of spices—a unique assortment that gave his dish a distinctive and inimitable flavor.

     The restaurant prospered and the family decided to open a second location in the downtown area. Over the years, others became franchisees, opening their own stores in over 30 locations by 1983.

Father died in 1962, mother in 1979.

(When I checked in February 2020, the chain had grown to include close to 200 locations, including several in Florida.)

In 1952 the McCarren-Walter Act was enacted; the ban against Chinese, Japanese and other Asian immigrants becoming citizens was finally lifted.


In 1959 Fidel Castro took control of Cuba and instituted a communist government. Roughly one tenth of the population of the island fled to the United States in years to come. 

Marco Rubio tells his story (quoted, Rolling Stone, 4-7-16):

“This is not just a country I was born in. America is the country that changed, literally, the history of my family.” His parents: “a bartender and a maid from Cuba,” who came here in 1956 and built a new life. “That’s not just my story. That’s our story as a people. And I know that because we are all just a generation or two removed from someone who made our future the purpose of their lives.” 


In the 1960s more Mexicans began to arrive, filling jobs on farms and working as maids, etc. Sometimes called “Greasers,” they were said to be “lazy” and “ignorant.” Another insulting term would be “Spics.” These people were often denied service in restaurants, like African Americans.

            The subtle racism of the song Manana, sung by Peggy Lee, and released in 1947, seems clear today:

The faucet she is dripping and the fence she’s fallin’ down
My pocket needs some money, so I can’t go into town
My brother isn’t working and my sister doesn’t care
The car she needs a motor so I can’t go anywhere
My mother’s always working, she’s working very hard
But every time she looks for me I’m sleeping in the yard
My mother thinks I’m lazy and maybe she is right
I’ll go to work maãana but I gotta sleep tonight
(maãana, maãana, maãana is soon enough for me)
Oh, once I had some money but I gave it to my friend
He said he’d pay me double, it was only for a lend
But he said a little later that the horse she was so slow
Why he give the horse my money is something I don’t know
(maãana, maãana, maãana is soon enough for me)
Maãana, maãana, maãana is soon enough for me)
My brother took a suitcase and he went away to school
My father said he only learned to be a silly fool
My father said that I should learn to make a chile pot
But then I burned the house down, the chile was too hot
The window she is broken and the rain is comin’ in
If someone doesn’t fix it I’ll be soaking to my skin
But if we wait a day or two the rain may go away
And we don’t need a window on such a sunny day
Oba! Oba!

(Maãana, maãana, maãana is soon enough for me) Oba! Oba!

            Scenes from West Side Story would also work to stir a little discussion about the prejudice directed toward Puerto Ricans, although they are not technically immigrants. The Jets, in the movie, have noticeable ethnic roots.

            That story, which debuted in 1957 on Broadway, has one of the Puerto Ricans responding to their foes, the Jets:

ANITA: You’re father’s a Pole,
Your mother’s a Swede,
But you were born here,
So that’s all you need!

The song, “America,” from the movie, should work to stir discussion.


            In 1963, Hamid Abdulla came to the U.S. to study engineering at Akron University. He probably weighed no more than 120 pounds when he arrived. In the end, he never returned to India, part of what was then called the “brain drain.” His brother eventually came. He married an Indian woman and they had too beautiful daughters, who went on to professional careers.

            At dinner one night, Hamid bit down on a piece of celery, letting out the usual crunch. My father told him, “You’re supposed to eat that without making any noise.” Hamid did his best.

            It was a rare joke by my Dad; and one without any intent to embarrass. Hamid became a great family friend.


The St. Louis Arch was designed by an immigrant from Finland, Eero Saarinen, and work began in 1963. It was finished in October 1965, and stands 630 feet tall, higher than the Washington Monument (555 feet) or the Statue of Liberty (302 feet). 


In 1975 the fall of Vietnam sparked a flood of Vietnamese immigrants. Many settled in Louisiana and started fishing for shrimp. Native shrimp boat captains reacted with anger and violence resulted.

Cambodians also followed.

(Scenes from Gran Torino, which features Cambodian gangs, might work.)


From a story in the Times, 4-26-15, “Our Vietnam War Never Ended,” by Viet Thanh Nguyen—he mentions 4,000,000 Vietnamese in the diaspora.

The author came here at age four and grew up in a Vietnamese enclave in San Jose, where he ate Vietnamese food, attended a Vietnamese church, studied the Vietnamese language and “heard Vietnamese stories, which were always about loss and pain.”

His older sister, “a beautiful girl,” in the picture he studied as a boy, was left behind. His own parents fled south in 1954, as teens. His father never saw his mother again, didn’t see his father for forty years. His parents owned a grocery store, here in the States, for a time. Both were both shot and wounded in a Christmas Eve robbery. The author was ten at the time; and when his older brother took the call and told him, he couldn’t cry. His brother yelled at him for not caring.

Like all immigrants, he adapted. He speaks of “the English language that I had decided was mine at some unspoken, unconscious level.”

“I knew that in the American imagination I was the Other, the Gook, the foreigner, no matter how perfect my English, how American my behavior.” In high school he and a handful of other Asian students sat at one lunch table, calling themselves the Yellow Peril, as a joke.
He says today, people ignore the war story of the Vietnamese and focus on the immigration story. He adds that it would be “hard to find a more patriotic bunch than us.” Still, he wishes Vietnamese names were on the Memorial in Washington D.C. The Vietnamese have built their own memorial in Orange County, California, including statues of an American and Vietnamese soldier standing side-by-side.

His brother became a doctor; he became a professor and novelist; another Vietnamese immigrant helped draft the Patriot Act, a fourth helped develop bunker busting bombs for use in Iraq.


In another story in The New York Times (11/14/17) Viet Thanh Nguyen worries about how his son will fit in at nursery school. Already, at age 3, classmates are pulling their eyes into slants. His son’s school was teaching him the myth of the Pilgrims and Indians. “Do you know what Thanksgiving means?” dad asks.

            “Yes,” the boy responds. “Genocide.”

Nguyen came to this country in 1975; he was a small boy and spent time in a refugee camp. He went on to teach English, American studies and ethnicity, and comparative literature at USC. He remembers, “my parents worked 12 to 14 hours almost every day of the year, running a Vietnamese grocery store in San Jose, California.” Often his parents’ efforts to fit in struck him as odd, particularly because “my father never ceased reminding me, in my youth, that I was ‘one hundred percent Vietnamese.’” Twice in the mid-90s, his parents returned to Vietnam. After returning from the second trip, his father remarked, “We are Americans now.”

They never returned to Vietnam again.

Today, Nguyen says he likes cranberries at Thanksgiving more than most of his white in-laws. The adults at family holiday gatherings like the Vietnamese food more, “but we do our best with the turkey. My nephews and niece, middle-school to college age, seem to prefer the American food but will nibble on the Vietnamese food.” His son, for whom he is grateful, likes to play with his “Batman” and “Star Wars” Legos. “Our Americanization is nearly complete,” Nguyen explains.


Fear of Japanese immigrants grew after 1900. Like the Chinese, they were part of “The Yellow Peril.” These Asian people were considered “inscrutable,” or “sneaky.” In 1905, the San Francisco Chronicle ran a series of stories headlined, JAPANESE A MENACE TO AMERICAN WOMEN, CRIME AND POVERTY GO HAND IN HAND WITH ASIATIC LABOR and BROWN ASIATICS STEAL BRAINS OF WHITES.

In the fall of 1906, the San Francisco Board of Education ordered all Japanese students to attend segregated schools.

In 1928, Stanford University admitted that it was almost impossible to place Chinese or Japanese graduates in professional jobs. “Many firms have general regulations against hiring them; others object to them on the grounds that the other men employed by the firms do not care to work with them.”

Ironically, Japanese immigrants looked down on Korean immigrants.

After 1942, the situation took a turn for the worse. After Pearl Harbor was bombed suspicion turned to all Japanese and Japanese Americans living in the United States. Sabotage was feared. Even the absence of sabotage proved how “sneaky” these people were. “It is a sign,” Walter Lippmann wrote, “that the blow is well organized and that it is held back until it can be struck with maximum effect.”

Gov. Chase Clark of Idaho made his feelings clear when he said, “The Japs live like rats, breed like rats and act like rats. We don’t want them buying or leasing land or becoming permanently located in our state.”

The US government locked up 110,000 people in camps, including 77,000 Japanese American citizens.

Later, the all-Japanese American 442nd Regimental Combat Team served in Europe, winning more decorations for bravery than any other unit in the U.S. Army.

In the 1980s, American students of Japanese ancestry would score much higher on the SAT than white, black and red peers. They would become known as the “model minority.”


Chinese immigration increased dramatically after 1980. By 2020, there were five million Americans of Chinese ancestry living in the United States.

Andrew Yang knew he had made a success of his life when he became the first Asian American to join the cast of Saturday Night Live. Yang is a member of two minorities, including being gay.


In 1979 the fall of the Shah and other dislocations in Iran lead to an influx of Iranians fleeing persecution.

Tali Farhadian Weinstein remembers her arrival on Christmas Eve in 1979, after her family had decided to leave Iran. As Jews, they had felt unsafe, and fled first to Israel and then came on to the United States. She was only three years old when she arrived, but went on to become a lawyer and later serve as the general counsel of the Brooklyn district attorney’s office and teach criminal justice reform at New York University School of Law.

She writes:

My parents and grandparents had watched, from the windows of the house we shared, as Tehran University was overrun by protesters. Rumors swirled that anyone who had a connection to Israel—where both my parents had gone to college —could be charged with Zionism, apparently a crime. As Jews, my parents and grandparents became afraid to go to work and even to leave the house. One day our next-door neighbors disappeared.

In February 1979, when the Ayatollah Khomeini returned to Iran from exile, intent on establishing an Islamic theocracy, my parents decided it was too dangerous to stay any longer. 

Her father soon put his wife, Tali, and a younger brother on a plane and promised he’d join them once he arranged his parents’ affairs. Instead, her father decided to try his luck in America.

He entered the United States with a tourist visa and got a job in Maryland as a dishwasher. He made his way to New York City and secured work as a hydraulic engineer, his field in Iran, and eventually, an apartment for us in Rego Park, Queens. A few months later, my mother followed—a 26-year-old woman with two children and a suitcase stuffed with pots and pans, a few items of clothing for each season, photo albums and a couple of toys.

The three of us arrived at J.F.K. Airport on Dec. 24, 1979. The tourist visas that we had in our Iranian passports were almost certainly fake; my mother had bought them at an exorbitant price from a travel agency that sold them to us in combination with our one-way tickets. And even if they had been real, we didn’t look like tourists. How many tourists take their rice cooker on vacation?

When it was their turn for inspection, the immigration officer “very reasonably—challenged my mother’s claim that we had come for a short visit.” Her mother didn’t know enough to say she wanted asylum, “that we had a well-founded fear of persecution in our country of origin.” She didn’t know “that those words had the power to keep us in America, that anyone on American soil had a right to be heard on that claim.” She had grown up in Iran, where such protections did not exist.

The I.N.S. officer made a fateful decision that night.

Before him stood a young mother traveling alone with her babies, visibly in need of refuge. She told him that the children wanted to see their father, that they had spent months apart. And he granted us “deferred inspection”—meaning that we had permission but not authorization to enter the country—and told us to come back to the airport right after the holiday for deportation.

I have thought a lot about that night in the years since. As a child, I attributed my freedom in this country to a small miracle—the accident of having arrived on Dec. 24, a holy day for a vast majority of my new countrymen and women. Maybe that was why the officer exercised the law with mercy and compassion.

Weinstein, who has made a career in law, then argues that the I.N.S. officer made the right choice by not enforcing the law.

In a democracy, anyone who has the power to enforce the law also has the power—and the duty—to enforce it with discretion. Not every crime should lead to punishment. Not every punishment should be meted out at the maximum. Law enforcement requires us to exercise our humanity and sense of justice, always mindful of the demands of safety, in individual cases. Discretion in law enforcement can be abused, of course, but the alternative—the letter of the law without the spirit of the law—is worse.

She says her family was lucky. They had a few days of freedom—and quickly reunited with her father. Her mother managed to call an American she knew, a rabbi, who told her about the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society. The day after Christmas, her family walked into the society’s office and applied for asylum.

The Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society continued to represent us, pro bono, for nearly a decade while my parents made their asylum case. Life during that time was not always easy. I remember coming home from school one afternoon to find my mother, who had found work as a schoolteacher, crying in the kitchen after a colleague had threatened to have her deported. I remember long days spent at the I.N.S. building in Newark, periodic reminders that even as our life in America took root, our situation was precarious.

Our uncertainty ended in 1986, when President Ronald Reagan signed a law making any immigrant who entered the country before 1982 eligible for amnesty. There has not been another large-scale amnesty program since.

“As a child, I was shown that the law could be enforced with goodness and humanity,” she writes, forty years later. “For my family’s first Christmas, America gave us safety, kept us together and offered us a chance at a new life. I wish the parents and children at our borders could expect the same gifts today.”

(If I was still teaching, I would use this story with a couple of questions: Did the I.N.S. officer make the right decision in 1979, or not? And what if every officer made the same decision every time?)


In old but still interesting news, The New York Times offers up the tale of yet another rich businessman who went about screwing his workers in an unwavering effort to fatten his bank account. First, he hired undocumented workers for a job that had to be done. He wanted to knock down an old building so he could put up a mixed-use 58-story skyscraper in downtown New York City.

Second, he conspired to pay those workers less than half what union workers would have demanded.

Third, the businessman required the undocumented to put in 12-hour shifts—but didn’t pay overtime.

Fourth, if those workers—in this case from Poland—complained about working conditions or because their wages were late or sometimes not paid at all they would be threatened with deportation.

How did this scam work? Recently, a judge unsealed records from a settlement, twenty years ago. According to that settlement the businessman was forced, after battling for years, to pay the undocumented workers the money they said he owed. Including legal costs and interest the tab came to $1.375 million.

The businessman testified that he never visited the work site, where the Poles were demolishing the 12-story Bonwit Teller building. A foreman on the job, Zbignew Goryn, disagreed. The businessman, he said, did visit the site, marveling about the Polish demolition crew. “He said, ‘Those Polish guys are good, hard workers,’” Goryn told the judge.

A smaller group of union workers, paid union rates, made fun of the Poles. Adam Mrowiec testified in court: “They told me and my friends that we are stupid Poles and we are working for such low money.”

“We worked in horrid, terrible conditions,” Wojciech Kozak remembered. “We were frightened illegal immigrants and did not know enough about our rights.” “We were working 12, 16 hours a day and were paid $4 an hour. Because I worked with an acetylene torch, I got $5 an hour. We worked without masks. Nobody knew what asbestos was. I was an immigrant. I worked very hard.”

Eventually, pay stopped coming. The Poles found a lawyer, John Szabo, to represent their cause. Szabo went to the businessman’s office to complain. If something wasn’t done, he’d place a mechanic’s lien on the property. If that happened the building could not be sold until the lien was settled.

A representative of the businessman began showing up to pay the Poles in cash. This insured there was no income-tax-social-security-tax-union-dues paper trail. Joseph Dabrowski testified that the businessman appeared on site and told workers, “If you finish this fast” then “I will pay for it.”

Szabo filed a lien. Daniel Sullivan, a labor consultant, said that the businessman came to him for help. He said he had “difficulties…that he had some illegal Polish employees.” The businessman had his lawyer call Szabo. They were going to call the Immigration and Naturalization Service and have his clients deported. Szabo refused to back down in court. Eventually, the businessman wilted and settled the case. The workers were paid 100% of what they had been demanding for fifteen years.

The new 58-story tower went up at the corner of Fifth Avenue and 56th Street in downtown New York City.

Proud of his accomplishments, the businessman slapped big gold letters on the side of his skyscraper: T-R-U-M-P.


The Simpson-Mazolli Act passed in 1986. For the first time fines would be imposed on companies that hired undocumented workers. Amnesty was granted to all people living illegally in the U.S., so long as they had arrived before January 1, 1982. At the time, we were losing the battle at the border. One border patrol agent compared it to “sword-fighting Zorro with a short knife.”

“The border is a revolving door,” said another.

In the early 1980s it was said that the Gross National Product of Los Angeles County was greater than that of Mexico.

Immigration “has more than enriched us—it has literally shaped us,” President Reagan said at the time. An article in USA Today (June 3, 1986, I think) notes that as of 1985, seven million Germans, 5.3 million Italians, 4.8 million Irish, 4.1 million Canadians, 3.5 million Russians, 2.5 million Mexicans, 2.5 million Scandinavians, .7 million Chinese and .4 million Japanese had come to the United States. Great Britain sent five million. In 1982 more than 40,000 Laotians arrived, along with 18,000 Cambodians. From 1976 to 1985, almost 40,000 South Koreans came annually.

After a coup in Haiti, including “necklacing” of political rivals (hanging tires around victims’ necks and setting them on fire), 6,600 refugees were picked up in U.S. waters between September and mid-December 1991 (Cincinnati Enquirer editorial, December 16, 1991).

In 1990 Congress enacted a new provision, belatedly creating a two-year period, beginning on May 1, 1991, which would allow Filipino veterans from World War II, including guerrilla fighters, to apply for U.S. citizenship.

More than half of 200,000 Filipinos who fought the Japanese were killed. About 50,000 were eligible under the new program. (A law in 1942 gave all those who served in the U.S. military, who were not born here, a chance to become citizens; but it expired in 1946, without including Filipinos.)

From a loose article in my files, probably USA Today.


            In an article in Esquire (July 1, 1990), titled, Any Happy Returns? Pete Hamill wrote about immigrants in Miami, Florida. “As always in Miami,” he says, “I feel as if I’m in a Latin American country.” 

            Driving down the highway, he explains,

I’m listening to Radio Mambi. This is a fifty-thousand-watt Spanish-language station named for the black guerrillas who fought the Spanish in the nineteenth century. When I’m here I listen to nothing else, because I’m a connoisseur of the fanatic heart. Radio Mambi, with all those watts capable of reaching Havana, is totally dedicated to the destruction of Fidel Castro. The news shows lead with stories about Fidel. The comedy shows are about Fidel. The talk shows are about Fidel. Fidel is the devil. Fidel is evil. Fidel should die. It’s beautiful.

At that point, many Cubans were looking forward hopefully to the collapse of Fidel’s regime. “The Florida governor has even created a committee to make the transition in Havana smoother,” Hamill writes. “We’re going back! Christmas in Havana! Vamaños, Cubanos!”

“But wait!” he exclaims. “What about the Nicaraguans? They can go right now. About 150,000 Nicaraguans are living in the Miami area. The suburb of Sweetwater is almost completely Nicaraguan now, and is called Little Managua.”

(Managua is the capital city of Nicaragua.)

The leftist regime of Daniel Ortega had just been voted out of office. A man he talks to later says, “We’re happy about the elections. But going back...I don’t know. We’ll see.”

A second immigrant from Nicaragua makes it clear:

“Nobody wants to go back,” he says. “And the reason is simple. They didn’t come here because of the Sandinistas. That’s all politics and bullshit. They came here because of poverty. Here they have jobs, they have places to live, they have cars, they have their kids in good schools, they think it’s paradise. Why would they want to go back? And how can the Americans force them to go back? That’s why everybody else came here, too.”

Driving around in Sweetwater, I can see what he means: green lawns and cars in driveways and children on bicycles.

Managua, ruined by earthquake in 1972, was never rebuilt by Anastasio Somoza; the old dictator stole the relief money and guaranteed the triumph of the Sandinistas. In comparison with Managua, the ugliest major city in Latin America, Sweetwater looks like a movie set. It reminds me that we all see this world from different perspectives. For a decade, we were taught to see Nicaragua as a theater for Cold War ideological struggle; the exiles were fleeing the Red Peril, thus proving the failure and cruelty of Marxism, and therefore had to be granted refuge. Many Nicaraguans looked at their country in a simpler way: as a place where they could not feed their children.

“Look around,” Carballo has warned me. “Then ask yourself: Would you leave this for Managua?”

Sweetwater used to be a rundown suburb, Hamill wrote. But the Nicaraguans came and began to transform it. Like most immigrants, they “worked at mean jobs” when they arrived. Eventually, they elected their own people to city council, where meetings were sometimes held in Spanish. “They witnessed their own scandals (most of the city council was recently indicted for extortion). They worked hard. They moved up,” Hamill explained.

Now? Would they ever want to go home? Hamill writes: “‘I would like to go for a visit,’ a man named Edgar Cruz says to me, washing a Mazda in the driveway of his home. ‘That would be nice. But I’m an American now. My kids are American. I’m here to stay.’”

Hamill goes to hear a speech by Francisco Mayorga, the economic adviser to the new president of Nicaragua. The Sandinistas are gone, the leftists who controlled the government, he says. “The economy is in ruins,” he continues. “We have to clean up their mess now. And we will need the help of el exilio.”

Or: the exiles.

When Hamill asks one well-dressed young man if he plans to go back, he replies, “Hey, I love my country. But I love myself more.”

And in this way, are new Americans created. 


Another loose article, from the Associated Press, by way of the Enquirer (November 11, 1990, I believe), notes that the new Immigration Act of 1990, should read, “Give us your kin, your skills and your moneyed masses…”

The new law would increase the number of immigrants accepted by 400,000, over three years. “This year,” reporters noted, “131,000 refugees are being accepted, primarily from Indochina and the Soviet Union.” Refugees counted separately. “The new three-year total is 2.1 million visas for permanent residence, up from 1.7 million for the previous three-year period.” The law set aside 465,000 visas, favoring applicants with relatives already in this country. The number of visas set aside for skilled workers was also increased to 140,000 per year, up from 54,000.


             A loose article from the Los Angeles Times, in July 1991, notes:

     Through a little-heralded provision in the Immigration Act of 1990, the United States is offering well-heeled immigrants the chance to become permanent residents for an investment of $1 million in a business creating at least 10 jobs for Americans. 
Up to 10,000 investor visas will be issued annually starting Oct. 1st, marking the first time in the country’s history that wealth has become a criterion for legal immigration.

     …The new law has been widely cheered by developers, attorneys and government officials who have inundated perspective immigrants with investment options, from million-dollar hamburger stands to experimental bicycle patents.

     Even the former commissioner of the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service’s Western Region, Harold W. Ezell, has begun selling car washes and Wiener-schnitzel hot dog franchises to the soon to be arriving “yacht people” of the world.

One critic noted that this law marked a change to a new ethos of immigration “that calls not for the tired, the poor or the huddled masses, but rather, the rich, the skilled and the elite. 


            According to a story in USA Today (6/7/1993) a freighter carrying 300 illegal Chinese immigrants ran aground on a New York City beach. Seven people died fleeing the vessel. “The Immigration and Naturalization Service said the ship is the 24th refugee vessel stopped in U.S. waters since August ’91.”

            The article goes on,

Coast Guard, police and fire rescuers said “chaos” erupted when the 300-foot freighter Golden Venture slammed into a sandbar 200 feet off Rockaway Beach, Queens around 2 a.m.

     Passengers, some in suits and some in underwear, jumped into the cold Atlantic surf.
“It looked almost like the movies about the invasion of Normandy,” said Detective Ming Li

            Besides the dead, two dozen were hospitalized, some escaped, and 200 were taken into custody. Passengers said they had been at sea for a hundred days and had paid as much as $30,000 to be smuggled into the United States. “They say American police are much nicer than police in China,” one New York officer laughed.


Sports Illustrated ran an interesting article on  December 6, 1993. Written by Steve Wulf, it begins:

The small plane flying over Ponce, Puerto Rico, on Nov. 19 carried a rather significant message: CUBANO EXILIATE. The sign, which also bore a phone number, meant “Cuban, defect,” a suggestion for the 881 members of the Cuban delegation that was in Puerto Rico for the 17th Central American and Caribbean Games.

And defect is exactly what many of them did. As of Monday, the day before the 10-day-long Games were to end, Cuba had won more than 300 medals and lost 39 members of its delegation…[The number] was so large as to stun observers of Cuba’s sports machine.

Long held up as proof that Fidel Castro’s socialist system worked, Cuba’s athletes are now providing persuasive testimony that it isn’t working. Said Odalys Hernàndez, who defected shortly after pitching her softball team to a 10-1 victory over Colombia on Nov. 26, “I was looking for a little bit of liberty, which does not exist in Cuba.”

One of the defectors in Puerto Rico was the second-in-command of the Cuban security detail.

Wulf notes that “defections” by Cubans were at an all-time high, with most of those leaving braving passage by sea. Rene Arocha, “a second-line pitcher on the Cuban national team, was a pioneer when he defected” in 1991, Wulf says. At the World University games in Buffalo in 1992, two other Cuban ballplayers “bolted.”

Gymnast Jose Tejada, who won a gold medal during the games in Puerto Rico, told Wulf he had been planning to jump ship for more than a year.

“This wasn’t something I decided overnight. I’m not a child. My prime motivations were the limitations placed on me and the economic factor and the question of ethics. At the root of these problems is a political problem. I talked it over with my mom and dad, my brothers and cousins, and now that I’m here, I will fight hard to help them.”

Tejada, who has no family in the U.S., was asked if he might not feel alone. No, he said, “I have all of you.”

The press chief for the Cuban team called the situation “regrettable.” “Our feeling is simply that if they don’t love their country, we don’t care to dedicate any words to them.” A large part of the problem is that Cuban athletes, if they defect, can make more money, in baseball, for example.

Even two decades later, the defections continued. In 2013 the Chicago White Sox signed Jose Abreu to a six-year deal worth $68 million. Two other Cubans who left the island behind, Yasiel Puig and Yoenis Cespedes signed huge contracts. Puig inked a 7-year, $42 million contract with the Dodgers. Cespedes signed a 4-year deal with the A’s worth $38 million.


            The Cincinnati Enquirer reported on January 1, 1994, that the granddaughter of Fidel Castro, Alina-Maria Salgado-Fernandez, 16, had been allowed to enter the United States to be with her mother, who had defected a week earlier. “I’m going to meet a lot of new people,” she told reporters. “I have to learn the language. And I want to study a lot, something I could not do in Cuba.”

            The story notes, “The girl and her mother, Alina Fernandez Revuelta, then toasted the new year with champagne.”

            Fernandez Revuelta, an outspoken critic of her father’s regime, said, “From now on I will say what I want to say.” In Cuba, Salgado-Fernandez had been under virtual house arrest and was constantly watched. Alina-Maria said through an interpreter, “My mother and I feel for everyone who doesn’t have their mother. I can’t explain why they let me go and don’t let others go.”


Cincinnati Enquirer for August 5, 1998:  Gimel Aguinaga, 16, terminally ill with cancer asked the Make-a-Wish Foundation for help in becoming a citizen before he died; this meant his mother would have to be naturalized, too, since he was not a legal adult. From Nicaragua,  his mother, Blanca Aurora Sunsin, had been living in U.S. for thirteen years legally, but her English was poor. She had to take tutoring lessons to be able to answer the 20 or so questions asked on citizenship test.  She passed, and the boy and a sister, 14, were sworn in, the boy wearing a black beret to cover baldness from chemo. 

“We are touched that a person of such tender age realizes the importance and the value of United States citizenship,” said one official.


Jowel Iranzi, told his story to the NYT in On the Way Home by Elissa Alford; (1-31-16): He came here in May 2010, and Jewish Family Services helped him settle in; getting him a room in the home of a retired nurse, and providing a bicycle and backpack. They also lined up a job at a bakery, where Iranzi worked the second shift.

He figured out a seven-mile bike route to work where he cleaned baking trays, fished donuts out of hot oil and packaged products. “I had been in construction in Africa, so it was very different, and it was hot and greasy. But I was meeting people from all over the world—Nepal, Iraq, Myanmar—and was young and happy.”

Iranzi was a Tutsi, born in the Congo, and his family had to flee—to Burundi, where his father was killed. He spent two years in a refugee camp.

…The day I received my letter from the United States, I took pictures holding the American flag with my friend in the camp. My wife, Antoinette, and our 6-month-old boy had already gone to the States with her family, and they moved in with me after I started working. I was grateful just to be where I was and to have a job.

At 3 a.m. every night he would finish his shift, lift his backpack to his shoulders, hop on his purple bike, and start pedaling for home, using the sidewalk, not riding in the middle of the street. One night: “I suddenly saw bright lights behind me and wondered, What’s going on? Is that an ambulance? Are they going to help someone who is sick? Then the car pulled over and a voice said, ‘Stop right there. Police.’ They were stopping me?”

One officer told him to keep his hands on his bicycle and approach; the other came up behind. Iranzi was shaking and when they asked to see an ID he was nervous. It would be a year before he had a real green card. So he gave them his immigration and Social Security numbers. “As a refugee, you arrive with no trust or self-esteem,” he added. Then they asked to search his backpack—finding only his lunchbox. One officer asked, “Where are you heading?” Iranzi didn’t know enough English to respond. Fortunately, the other officer knew French, and knew many in the Congo spoke French, too. Iranzi now told them he was heading home from work and supplied the name of his employer and the company address.

He was stopped two more times in weeks to come. The second time, all they asked for were his name and ID. The third time, one officer remarked: “Oh, this is the guy. Let him go?”

Iranzi continued:

That fall I started taking college classes in the mornings, so I’d get back from class in the afternoon and then do a full shift. I was sleeping less than four hours a night, but I had a positive perspective: You make it work. The Jewish Family Services offered me a job helping to settle other refugees. Now my bachelor’s degree is almost complete, and I’m training for the National Guard.

I eventually saved enough money to buy a car, but in the days when I was still riding my bike, the police never bothered me again. Instead, when a police car passed by, they sometimes slowed down, turned on the light for a second and made that little whoop sound.

I started to like it when they did that. I was new to the United States, and this was kind of hello.


An article in The New York Times (11/13/18): describes immigrants adjusting to the Thanksgiving rituals they find in this country:

Two years ago this month, Mayada Anjari was only dimly aware that a holiday was approaching. After the family’s three-year journey as refugees from Syria, her sons—Hayan, Mohammed and Abdulrazaq—had just started school here; her husband, Ahmad Abdulhamid, was looking for work; and she had a baby girl, Jana, to chase after.

By last fall, the boys (now 14, 12 and 10) had learned about the Pilgrims (and to dislike broccoli), their father was working full time, and Ms. Anjari had memorized the two-mile walk to the nearest store that stocked staples like grape leaves and flatbread and olives. She had cooked for the church group that sponsored the family’s resettlement, and some people in Manhattan had even paid to eat her kabsa (spice-rubbed chicken with scented rice), her expertly stuffed vegetables, and her fatayer, folds of flaky pastry stuffed with ground meat or spiraled around soft cheese.

A new friend who was also Muslim gave her a turkey from a local halal butcher for Thanksgiving. Ms. Anjari cut it into pieces, covered it with water, and simmered it into soup with potatoes, carrots, ginger and cumin. Her family liked it, she said, but it didn’t seem very special to her.

This fall, Jana began prekindergarten, and fans of Ms. Anjari’s food helped her publish a cookbook of Syrian recipes. So she decided to take a test run at making her first Thanksgiving feast.

Like many people who have recently arrived in America from other countries, Ms. Anjari, 33, found the holiday a bit perplexing. At home, she said, family celebrations and feast days are reserved for religious events. “People do things in so many different ways here,” she said: how they dress, how they raise children, how they worship. “I was surprised that there’s a holiday that everyone celebrates.”

The family fled the violence in 2013, crossing into Jordan, and ending up in a refugee camp. Eventually, based on family status, including small children, the United Nations Refugee Agency selected them for resettlement in the U.S.

The Times notes:

In 2016, the year the family arrived in New Jersey, the United States accepted about 85,000 refugees for resettlement, including more than 15,000 Syrians; in 2017, the total dropped to about 52,000. So far in 2018, about 22,000 people have been allowed in, and just 50 of them were Syrian. 

The article also features Dima King, who came to the U.S. in 2017, “seeking asylum because of anti-gay persecution and legislation that had taken hold in his native Russia since 2013.

King, who has had help training to become a restaurant cook, is now tackling his first Thanksgiving dinner.

Jana, shown above.


Census data (NYT 9/13/18): show that the share of foreign born population in the U.S. is now the highest since 1910.

Since 2010 more than 4 in 10 new arrivals are from Asia and 45 percent of all new arrivals are college-educated.

Since 2010, 2.6 million people from Asia have arrived; only 1.2 million from Latin America (is this just legal number?).

The foreign-born population stood at 13.7 percent or 44.5 million people.

In 1910 the percentage was around 15; by 1970 it had declined to 5 percent.

Emmanuel D’Souza, a nurse practitioner in Dayton, Ohio, who emigrated from India in 2004, said he has noticed a growing and thriving Indian population in his area.

“Now when you go to the grocery store at 5 or 6 in the evening, you see a lot of Indian people, buying vegetables after work,” said Mr. D’Souza.

He said he saw fewer Indian people when he bought his house in 2009 than he does today. Now he counted at least four temples and two mosques, and said there are two Indian specialty grocery stores. Mr. D’Souza, 41, who is Catholic, also sees Indians in church on Sundays.

In Ohio 43% of foreign-born individuals are college-educated vs. 27% of native-born Ohioans.

Half of all foreign-born individuals in this country, still, are from Latin America.

North Dakota had the single largest percentage increase in foreign-born residents since 2010, Mr. Frey said, with the number going up by 87 percent. Dr. Fadel E. Nammour, a gastroenterologist in Fargo, N.D., who moved to the United States from Lebanon in 1996, said he has noticed more immigrant-owned restaurants since he moved to North Dakota in 2002. In recent years, the state has settled refugees from countries including Iraq, Somalia and Congo. In all, foreign-born people in North Dakota rose to 31,000 in 2017 from just 16,600 in 2010, Mr. Frey found.

“There is more diversity now,” Dr. Nammour said. “You can tell by food. There are Indian places that opened up. We have an African place now. Little things that are a little bit different.”


Reporters asked immigrants (NYT 6-25-17) what they thought of the cabinet meeting where members all praised President Trump.

Steve Le came to America from South Vietnam in 1975, when he was seven, and is now a doctor. He replied,

In how many other countries can you call the top elected official in the country a liar and get away with it? Although our democratic process looks dirty to some people, in the end it all comes out clean. We continue to be the longest-standing constitutional nation in the entire history of the Earth, and it is because our forefathers designed that constitution so uniquely in balancing out the powers.

Yohannes Tesfagibir came here from Eritrea, which has had only one president since it won independence in the 90s. It’s known as the North Korea of Africa. “The reason I’m talking to you now,” he told a reporter, “is because I’m free.”

“The whole talk from Trump about ‘I’m going to solve their problems, somebody else is the cause of the problems, and if you’re not with me, then you’re not patriotic’—that’s the Middle East,” said Raji Alatassi, who left Syria twenty years ago.

Leopold Kazadi, from the Democratic Republic of Congo, said he watched the late-night comics poke fun at Trump “with a kind of deep patriotism.” “Here I see a lot of comedians make a joke about the president. People can speak out. In Congo, I can say it’s like ‘esclave.’ I say ‘esclave’ in French. People are like slaves.” “My mom tells me all the time, ‘I’m so glad you’re over there.”


The New York Times (7/5/17) reports on immigrants at a swearing-in ceremony, to become new U.S. citizens:

Mahmoud Esmaeili “was so excited he couldn’t sleep. He moved to the United States over five years ago.” He was sworn in July 4 as a U.S. citizen. “I want to cry. I feel like, wow, my dream has come true and I’m a real American now. He’s 33, a software engineer. “I like the system here. I like the rule of law. You know what to expect and what to not expect, so you can plan. That was the major part of why I wanted to be part of America.”

Referring to Trump’s anti-immigrant stance, he added, “I believe in this system, and that’s why I’m here. I believe that one person—even if it’s the president—can’t do everything he wants. The people are important. People are going to know they made a mistake and they will re-elect someone more suited to America.”

Muhamad Tai, a Pakistani Muslim, says the turn of sentiment in recent months has made his life harder. “I am in between. I still love my country which I was born for, Pakistan, and I love the country of my future, America.”

A man dressed in a George Washington costume tells the new citizens, “Our nation, I believe, has the good wishes of all freedom-loving people in all nations, and I believe they look upon the United States of America as a kind of model for mankind. I pray that we may not disappoint their honest expectations.”

Johnna Scepansky, 50, watching the swearing in, but not related or friends with any of the participants, says, “I hate the vilification that’s coming out on people who just want to be here and have the best possible lives for their family.”


Tejal Rao, born in London, but of Middle Eastern descent, writing in the NYT (7/4/17) remembers growing up in Europe and the Middle East, “the Oreo was my introduction to American food culture.” He still considers “the classic Oreo to be a sandwich cookie of perfect proportion and sweetness.” But, “It was about consuming something American, something cool and rare and glamorous that I might be cut off from at any moment.” “It wasn’t until I moved to the United States that I understood Oreos were not, in fact, a luxury product.”

Masha Gessen reveals (NYT (11/15/17) a piece of writing by her mother:

How does a strange land become your home? I don’t know. It’s a mysterious and incomprehensible process. Yet, bit by bit, the streets of a strange city take on memories of their own and you stop wandering along them like a detached shadow—you become a traveler like all the others. “Absolute homelessness is unbearable,” writes Leszek Kolakowksi, a Polish philosopher living in London. “It would mean a rejection of human existence.” So we build our home in a strange land, and then we can return home from travels to Paris, London, Amsterdam, or Jerusalem. Even when we had the unexpected, incredible chance to travel to Moscow, we left Moscow—to go home. There is a striking duality to émigré consciousness. We mix up our pronouns: we, they, ours, yours, who/where are we after all that? We are people who have built our home on American land and who have gained a home here.

I write this on the eve of the most American of holidays…

Her daughter expected her to describe the Fourth of July; instead she focused on Thanksgiving.

This will be my eleventh Thanksgiving in America. And though I have a persistent aversion to the very concept of patriotism, thanks to the force lessons of “Soviet patriotism,” I find myself saying “thank you” to a world we have chosen and mastered, a world that has been kind to us.


The Carnegie Corporation of New York (NYT 7/4/18), a philanthropic organization started in 1911, “salutes great immigrants great Americans” in a New York Times spread.

The diverse group includes: Art Acevedo, police chief of Houston (Cuba), Matee Ajavon, a female professional basketball player (Liberia), Mohamed Ali, CEO of Carbonite (Guyana), Max Boot, military historian and columnist (Russia), Salud Crabajal, U.S. Congressman from California (Mexico), Du Yun, Pulitzer Prize winner in composing and performance (China), Kerron Clement, Olympic gold medal winner in track and field (Trinidad and Tobago), Joachim Frank, Nobel Prize in chemistry (Germany), Adriano Espaillat, U.S. Congressman from New York (Dominican Republic) Pramila Jayapal, U.S. Congresswoman from Washington (India), Dara Khosrowshahi, CEO of Uber (Iran), Mariana Walker Guevara, Pulitzer Prize winner for journalism (Argentina), Martyna Majok, Pulitzer Prize for drama (Poland), Eugene H. Trinh, astronaut and biochemist (Vietnam), Regina Spektor, singer and songwriter (Russia), Carmen R. Velasquez, New York State Supreme Court Justice (Ecuador), Imbolo Mbue, author and PEN/Faulkner Award winner for her fiction (Cameroon), Shuji Nakamura, Nobel Prize in physics (Japan) and Kumail Nanjiani, comic actor and writer (Pakistan).

(If I was still teaching, I’d note the three members of Congress who were all born in other countries.)


After President Trump refers dismissively in January 2018 to immigrants from “shithole” countries, others go out of their way to point to “good Americans” who were born elsewhere, including some of those very countries. Some cite the example set by Emmanuel Mensah, who came here from Ghana. Mensah, a member of the Army National Guard, died after rescuing four people from a burning building and going after a fifth.

A photo of Alix Idrache, from his graduation ceremony at West Point, a Haitian immigrant himself, goes viral. Idrache captures the essence of what has always made the United States great.

Three things came to mind and led to those tears. The first is where I started. I am from Haiti and never did I imagine that such honor would be one day bestowed on me. The second is where I am. Men and women who have preserved the very essence of the human condition stood in that position and took the same oath...

The third is my future. Shortly after leave, I will report to Ft. Rucker to start flight school. Knowing that one day I will be a pilot is humbling beyond words. I could not help but be flooded with emotions knowing that I will be leading these men and women who are willing to give their all to preserve what we value as the American way of life. To me, that is the greatest honor. Once again, thank you.