Dec 13, 2017 in Literature

American Immigration by Maldwyn Allen Jones

The book under review is American Immigration, written by Jones, Maldwyn, and published by University of Chicago Press, 1960. The writer illustrates that, at each stage of the development of the American nation since the days of immigration to the current day, immigrants have played a very crucial role. The rich history of immigration into the United States is related to the history of people emigrating from other nations. In the book, Jones explains the major reasons that made emigrants to their countries, as well as the psychological, social, and economic adjustments that they had to make in order to fit in American life. Adjustments were different for diverse categories of immigrants. Over 60 million or more immigrants have entered the United States since the year 1607. They have played a crucial role in growth of democracy, development of American policy, foreign policy, the labor movement, industrialization, and evolution of Western culture.

The superb organization of the book depicts the expertise of Jones as a history researcher. The first three chapters of the book deal with immigration into the new country from the time of formation of the colonies up to the foundation of the nation in 1815. The next three chapters are based on the factors that led to increase in mass immigration after the Civil War ended. The chapters on the Post Civil War period are followed by three other chapters that discuss the period on regulation of immigration through quota legislation in the 1920s. The last chapter features recent immigrants including Puerto Ricans, Mexicans, Canadians and war refugees from Europe. There is a minimal breakdown of organization in the transition from new immigrants to new immigrants.

Information is given in a chronological order within the book.  Readers of this reviewed work are able to follow the events as they occur since the first group of immigration came to the country. The regional and national information is discussed in great details. The analytical and logical presentation of information shows that Jones is a master of immigration affairs. The racial patterns of migration and settlement are keenly dissected.

Jones attests that when he published the book mass immigration had almost ceased. This had been caused by The Mass Immigration Act of 1924, which had limited immigration. The Act had emphasized on limiting immigrants from Asia, Southern Europe and from other regions in the world that were undesirable to the Northern American ideology. The decrease in immigration had also been caused by the end of the World War II and the great depression. The end of the Second World War had initially led to an increase in immigrants, though the numbers had stabilized.

The United States is portrayed as a beneficiary of the immigration movement. Jones discusses all the waves of immigration from 1890 to 1914. He discusses the new and old immigration trends giving the readers a clear historical picture. He discusses the anti-immigration movement and the movement supporting natives. He focuses mostly on European immigrants who were the majority. He also discusses the mass immigration of people from the Filipinos to Hawaii during the 1920s. Some immigrants from Europe were shut out in the 1920s. A policy to encourage immigrants of Hispanic descent was adopted to promote good neighborhood. Immigration levels between the United States and Canada were almost equal as some were emigrating northwards while the rest were emigrating southwards. Immigrants from Mexico were shocked when they came to the United States, because their societies were renowned agrarian. The Mexican immigrants were poor and had low levels of education. They were discriminated against due to their skin color. In the book, Jones treats them as victims of racism and instead of flourishing like the other immigrants, they wallowed in poverty. Jones discusses Negroes from the Caribbean and the West Indies, but does not discuss Negroes from Africa effectively.

The reader gets the impression that churches were very crucial to the survival and welfare of immigrants. The churches provided important economic and social support for newly arrived immigrants and helped them to integrate with the rest of society. Jones was the first immigration author to touch on the important role played by churches. Religious faith kept the groups together in the leanest of times. Religious records hold the most relevant information about immigrants. Other factors that caused them to leave included war, threat of being conscripted to the armed forces, the agricultural revolution, the industrial revolution, and famine. The synagogues and the churches played essential role, especially in cases where religious persecution was the main reason for migration. The immigrants increased the population, and by extension the workforce. Immigrants had an important impact, because they increased the existing native inhabitants and, consequently, increased both the consumer and the producer base. The author faulted the findings of The Dillingham Commission, which had reported immigrants as been a liability to the society. The immigrants had also led to reduction of wages, which in turn had lowered the standards of living.

The book relies on secondary sources and has very few primary sources. The secondary sources on which the book is based are listed in the form of an annotated bibliography, which the reader can access at the end of the script. This becomes hard for the reader to verify and follow the topics. It would have been better for the writer of the book to include the secondary sources as in-text citations or as footnotes to make it easier to authenticate the sources. The book covers a lot of immigration issues, but does not make new contributions since it only supplements existing sources on the history of American immigration. Jones is able to write a lot on wide cultural, social, economic, and political aspects of immigration. Moreover, he covers substantial topics that deal with immigration from the time of arrival of the first colonizers until the arrival of refugees and displaced persons after the Second World War.

Several textbooks on the history of immigration in America give a one-sided perspective, which suggests that the success of America is solely attributed to the old immigrants, who emigrated from North Western Europe before 1880. Jones gives a balanced perspective explaining in length the contributions made by the immigrants who emigrated to the country after 1880 from Eastern and Southern Europe and other regions of the world. It is important to mention that the “old” immigrants had few problems adjusting to the new culture due to assimilation and dispersion while the “new” immigrants had a hard time as they were accused of stealing jobs from the native residents since they were willing to work at low wage rates. Furthermore, Jones defends the new immigrants from the claims that they refused to disperse like their earlier counterparts and instead crowded together in ghettos and other unsanitary places. They stayed together for purposes of security and stability in a new land.

Most of the information provided by Jones is general. He generalizes the fact that all immigrants contributed to the technological and economic development of America. He fails to back his claims with substantial evidence. Some immigrants did not contribute to the development, because they had little education and inadequate skills. Others stuck to the culture of their old countries and refused to embrace the culture of the new world. He does not mention that the presence of several ethnic and racial groups in the country complicated American politics. The book is of extreme importance to a general reader looking for an outline of general events in the history of American immigration. Unfortunately, American immigration history is also not important to a reader who wants to study various aspects of immigration history.

The book has a limited plot that fails to capture the unique contributions of distinct Americans and the unique circumstances they faced, some of which continue up to the present day. The book plays a fundamental part in filling the scholarly gap left by lack of scholarly studies in the important subject of immigration. The book also does an exemplary job in combining aspects of the immigration of all people from all places at all periods of America history. In the pre-Jones era, writers tended to be prejudiced and biased in their scholarly work. Jones thus gives the topic of immigration comprehensive approach that does not alienate the reader. He stands out, because he was a British scholar writing on American history.

Jones is able to avoid prejudices and biases that have affected the validity of work belonging to some scholars on historical immigration. He analyzes the differences between immigrants who found opportunities by chance in the lucrative formal sector to those who found opportunities in the informal sector. Jones writes that the immigrants’ main attraction was the high number of opportunities present in America as compared to their own countries. There are minor errors here and there, but the errors do not affect the authenticity of the indispensable information contained in the book. In addition, the author accomplishes his purpose since he helps the reader to correct some of the misconceptions contained in The Dillingham report and other scholarly works. Lastly, his work effectively fills the gap left by failure of the mass media to cover immigration issues before 1960.

Related essays