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From Ellis Island to JFK

From Ellis Island to JFK: New York`s Two Great Waves of Immigration

Nancy Foner
Copyright Date: 2000
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 352
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  • Book Info
    From Ellis Island to JFK
    Book Description:

    In the history, the very personality, of New York City, few events loom larger than the wave of immigration at the turn of the last century. Today a similar influx of new immigrants is transforming the city again. Better than one in three New Yorkers is now an immigrant.From Ellis Island to JFKis the first in-depth study that compares these two huge social changes.A key contribution of this book is Nancy Foner's reassessment of the myths that have grown up around the earlier Jewish and Italian immigration-and that deeply color how today's Asian, Latin American, and Caribbean arrivals are seen. Topic by topic, she reveals the often surprising realities of both immigrations. For example:• Education: Most Jews, despite the myth, were not exceptional students at first, while many immigrant children today do remarkably well.• Jobs: Immigrants of both eras came with more skills than is popularly supposed. Some today come off the plane with advanced degrees and capital to start new businesses.• Neighborhoods: Ethnic enclaves are still with us but they're no longer always slums-today's new immigrants are reviving many neighborhoods and some are moving to middle-class suburbs.• Gender: For married women a century ago, immigration often, surprisingly, meant less opportunity to work outside the home. Today, it's just the opposite.• Race: We see Jews and Italians as whites today, but to turn-of-the-century scholars they were members of different, alien races. Immigrants today appear more racially diverse-but some (particularly Asians) may be changing the boundaries of current racial categories.Drawing on a wealth of historical and contemporary research and written in a lively and entertaining style, the book opens a new chapter in the study of immigration-and the story of the nation's gateway city.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-13788-0
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-8)

    In the history, the very personality, of New York City, few events loom larger than the wave of immigration that peaked in the first decade of the twentieth century. Between 1880 and 1920, close to a million and a half immigrants arrived and settled in the city—so that by 1910 fully 41 percent of all New Yorkers were foreign born. The influx changed the way New Yorkers lived, the shape of their institutions, the flavor of their politics, the very food they ate. The new arrivals, mostly eastern European Jews and southern Italians, left a living legacy as well,...

  5. CHAPTER 1 Who They Are and Why They Have Come
    (pp. 9-35)

    Emma Lazarus was wrong. Or to be more precise, she took a modest amount of poetic license. “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free”—the words of her poem, engraved at the base of the Statue of Liberty, have a strong resonance today as America welcomes a new wave of immigrants to its shores. Although immigrants still often come to escape oppressive governments and poor economic conditions, much has changed. Emma Lazarus’s characterization of immigrants as “the wretched refuse of your teeming shore” and “the homeless, tempest-tost” was overdrawn for the past. It is...

  6. CHAPTER 2 Where They Live
    (pp. 36-69)

    The image and the reality are different—and they are different in unexpected and complex ways. A popular picture of contemporary immigrant life is colored by memories of tenement existence on Manhattan’s Lower East Side and in the Little Italys of a hundred years ago. Popular memories have a way of romanticizing the old neighborhoods; today, public images often simplify the residential picture.

    When New Yorkers look back on the past, they have a tendency to remember the old ethnic neighborhoods as closely knit communities where their grandparents and great-grandparents struggled to realize the American Dream. Conditions were hard, the...

  7. CHAPTER 3 The Work They Do
    (pp. 70-107)

    Of all that we collectively remember of the immigration at the turn of the last century, nothing is more central than the image of hard, sweaty, unremitting work. The migrants, so popular legend goes, had nothing when they came—no skills, no stock in trade, no salable commodity except their extraordinary willingness to work from dawn to dark to get a start.

    As we’ve seen, this is a distorted image, particularly when it comes to the Jews, who included huge numbers of skilled workers. Yet there are significant realities behind the legend. Both Jewish and Italian members of the last...

  8. CHAPTER 4 Immigrant Women and Work
    (pp. 108-141)

    It is impossible to talk about immigrant women today and one hundred years ago without considering the enormous changes that have taken place in the lives of American women.

    Women now vote—a right they gained only in 1920—and hold political office. More go to college, and beyond: by 1979, women students outnumbered men in the nation’s colleges; some ten years later they earned over half of the bachelor’s and master’s degrees awarded and a third of the doctoral degrees.¹ Women executives and high-level professionals are no longer the rarity they once were. In 1910, only 1 percent of...

  9. CHAPTER 5 The Sting of Prejudice
    (pp. 142-168)

    An important and conspicuous difference between then and now is that immigrants today are, in significant numbers, people of color, whereas those at the turn of the century were, in the main, phenotypically white. There are also vast differences in the New York that immigrants find when they arrive. In 1900, blacks made up a little under 2 percent of the city’s population, and an even smaller proportion were Asian or Hispanic. Immigrants now enter a city that was on the receiving end of an enormous internal migration. A massive flow of African Americans from the South between World War...

  10. CHAPTER 6 Transnational Ties
    (pp. 169-187)

    Sound familiar? This reflection on the globalizing world and the possibility of electoral representation for Italians abroad describes issues that immigration scholars are debating and discussing today. The words were written, however, in 1906 by the secretary of the Society for the Protection of Italian Immigrants.¹ They are a powerful reminder that processes that scholars now call transnational have a long history. Contemporary immigrant New Yorkers are not the first newcomers to live transnational lives. Although immigrants’ transnational connections and communities today reflect many new dynamics, there are also significant continuities with the past.

    The term transnationalism, as developed in...

  11. CHAPTER 7 Going to School
    (pp. 188-223)

    “Eastern European Jews showed almost from the beginning of their arrival in this country a passion for education that was unique in American history.” So wrote Nathan Glazer and Daniel Moynihan inBeyond the Melting Pot(1963) , their study of the major ethnic groups then predominating in New York City.¹ Sentimental notions about the Jews’ love affair with education and their zeal for the life of the mind have become part of our picture of the “world of our fathers.” Jews are remembered as a “people of the book” who embraced learning on their climb up the social ladder....

  12. CHAPTER 8 Looking Backward—and Forward
    (pp. 224-244)

    What, then, in a broad sense, can be learned from this comparison of New York’s two great waves of immigration? That our view of the past is shaped by our perceptions of the present. That the remembered past is not the same thing as what actually transpired. That what seems novel isn’t always new. That there is nothing inevitable about the immigrant story.

    The past also illuminates the future. The paths that immigrants’ children will take in tomorrow’s New York are made clearer if we look back at what happened to the descendants of the last great migration. A basic...

  13. Notes
    (pp. 245-288)
  14. References
    (pp. 289-322)
  15. Index
    (pp. 323-334)