Throwbacklist Thursday: The Immigrant Songs

immigrants on an atlantic linerPretty much every world religion and ethical system makes a virtue of offering succor to travelers, the rootless, and the persecuted. Immigration, the social-political system we’ve constructed around those ideas, plays a vital role in the narratives of many nations.

Immigrants remain in the new with the ongoing Syrian civil war and related ISIS/ISIL depredations displacing untold thousands of people and setting off the same tangles between charity and xenophobia that have vexed humanity since ancient times.

Covering the national and the transnational, UIP provides mountains of material on immigration matters.

sinkeDutch Immigrant Women in the United States, 1880-1920, by Suzanne M. Sinke
We don’t often think of the Dutch as an immigrant group. But of course they came from a country with ways different from our own, and that was true long before the legalized vice and hippy postal carriers. Suzanne M. Sinke looks at the shifting gender roles of the tens of thousands of Dutch Protestant women who, starting in 1880 and for 40 years after, made new homes in the United States. Examining the domain of the home as well as the related realms of education, religion, healthcare, and worldview, Sinke discerns women’s contributions to the creation and adaptation of families and communities, pointing out how they differed from those of men. Sinke lets the women tell their stories in their own words as preserved in personal letters and diaries. Supplemented by photographs and accounts from archived interviews and Dutch American newspapers, each chapter includes an in-depth portrait of one Dutch immigrant woman and multiple examples from the lives of others.

wongAmerican Paper Son: A Chinese Immigrant in the Midwestby Wayne Hung Wong
During the height of racist anti-Chinese U.S. immigration laws, illegal aliens were able to come into the States under false papers identifying them as the sons of those who had returned to China to marry and have children. American Paper Son is the story of a Chinese immigrant who came to Wichita, Kansas, in 1935 as a thirteen-year-old “paper son” to help in his father’s restaurant there.

This vivid first-person account addresses significant themes in Asian American history through the lens of Wayne Hung Wong‘s personal stories. Wong served in an all-Chinese unit of the 14th Air Force in China during World War II and he discusses the impact of race and segregation on his experience. After the war he found a wife in Taishan, brought her to the US, and became involved in the government’s infamous Confession program (an amnesty program for immigrants). Rich with poignant insights into the realities of life as part of a very small Chinese American population in a Midwestern town, American Paper Son provides an important new view of the Asian American experience.

vecchioMerchants, Midwives, and Laboring Women: Italian Migrants in Urban America, by Diane C. Vecchio
Diane C. Vecchio‘s study considers the work experiences of Italian immigrant women and their daughters in the previously unexamined regions of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and Endicott, New York, at the turn of the twentieth century. Using Italian and American sources and rich oral histories, Merchants, Midwives, and Laboring Women reveals that women in Italy had economic responsibilities that often included work experiences ranging from midwifery to businesswoman.

Demonstrating the regional variation of Italian women’s work as well as the skills they transplanted to America balances the image of inexperienced and low-skilled laborers that dominates scholarship on Italian working women. Vecchio’s research on Endicott sheds light on the gendered nature of life in a “company town” governed by welfare paternalism, while her research on Milwaukee emphasizes how Italian immigrant women turned to small business enterprise when local opportunities for wage-earning were limited. This comparative method helps to move beyond reductionist theories and conventional portraits of Italian women to explore the diverse factors that prompted them to seek certain kinds of occupations to the exclusion of others.

aarim-heriotChinese Immigrants, African Americans, and Racial Anxiety in the United States, 1848-82, by Najia Aarim-Heriot
The first detailed examination of the link between the “Chinese question” and the “Negro problem” in nineteenth-century America, this work forcefully and convincingly demonstrates that the anti- Chinese sentiment that led up to the passage of the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 is inseparable from the racial double standards applied by mainstream white society toward white and nonwhite groups during the same period.

Najia Aarim-Heriot argues that previous studies on American Sinophobia have overemphasized the resentment labor organizations felt toward incoming Chinese workers. This focus has caused crucial elements of the discussion to be overlooked, especially the broader ways in which the growing nation sought to define and unify itself through the exclusion and oppression of nonwhite peoples. She highlights striking similarities in the ways the Chinese and African American populations were disenfranchised during the mid-1800s, including nearly identical negative stereotypes, shrill rhetoric, and crippling exclusionary laws.