During the period 1880 to 1930, immigrants were swarming across the oceans to America. Propaganda said it was a very wealthy country and that there were many jobs available there. Of course the immigrants were gullible. By the time they reached the United States and discovered what America was really like, they could not afford a trip back to their native country; they had no choice but to stay.
When those poor immigrants from all over the world read “The New Colossus” by Emma Lazarus, it incited them to travel to that new land which appeared friendly and full of opportunities. “Give me your tired, your poor, “(The New Colossus, Emma Lazarus, Doc. 2).
When the immigrants arrived, instead of enjoying good housing and working conditions and reasonable salaries, they found themselves down in the dumps. They lived in groups in dirty little houses situated in dangerous neighborhoods (doc. 4).
The immigrants expected a better life. After they arrived, they soon realized that their new life would not be as easy and comfortable as they had hoped. They thought freedom, happiness and a good life were guaranteed in the United States. Back in their native land, obtaining supplies had been fairly easy; they would grow food and barter for goods. In the United States, money was required. Also they would often see objects they desired but could not afford (doc. 3).
During this period, Italians, Austrians, Hungarians, Russians and Germans were traveling to the United States and only a few of them could speak English. The immigrants spoke different languages and came from different cultures.
The Education of the Immigrant article by Grace Abbott, 1917, mentioned that immigrants would be protected against fraud and exploitation but people still cheated them and paid them less than the average American worker. The United States government had to give the immigrants the opportunity to learn the English language and to comprehend the laws so that they could contribute to making the country an effective democracy (doc. 6).
Immigrants were considered a threat because they might have come from a communist country. They were often associated with communism or anarchy. Immigrants led strikes to promote better working conditions. Immigrants also represented a threat to workers because they earned lower wages for a longer work day. As a result people started to resent the days when America opened its door to foreigners.
Upon their landing in America, immigrants found out that they were not always welcome. Americans responded quite differently to the issue of immigration. Two main movements developed in response to their presence in the USA:
– The Progressive movement which helped the immigrants;
– The Nativist movement which opposed immigration in the name of American ideals.
The progressives wanted to help the immigrants adapt to American life. They believed that moderate changes could improve the condition of the majority of the people. They also believed that the government should help to bring about those changes (from the Webster Dictionary). The Progressive movement also brought in other reforms like mandatory school attendance, child labor laws and organized labor. Poor Americans also benefited from these reforms (from the DBQ).
The Nativist movement was a conservative movement. Nativists did not mind the presence of the immigrants in the United States as long as it did not change anything for them. For example, if an Italian immigrant went to the United States, they expected him to become Americanized and share their values as soon as he/she set foot on American land. Some Nativists developed xenophobia. Their policy was to keep the United States a society ethnically homogeneous (WASP =White, Anglo-Saxon, Protestant). Nativists held the immigrants responsible for hindering the process of capitalist growth (doc .7)
Congress passed the Quota Act in 1921 which limited entrance to three percent of that nation’s presence in the United States. As a result immigration from Eastern and Southern Europe dropped a lot (from “Shut the door’: A senator speaks for immigration restriction in History matters).
The Sacco and Vanzetti case shows clearly the kind of discrimination immigrants were victim of. In 1920, Sacco and Vanzetti were accused of murdering a security guard, a shoe factory paymaster and of robbery of 15,766.51 dollars. After the trial, people accused the prosecution and trial judge to allow anti-italianism, anti-anarchist and anti-immigrant sentiments to influence the jury’s verdict. Still, Sacco and Vanzetti were executed on August 23, 1927. Fifty years after their execution, Sacco was proven guilty while Vanzetti was innocent. The Governor of Massachussetts, Michael Dukakis said in 1977 that Vanzetti had been treated unjustly and that “all disgrace upon his name be removed”.
So now you know that during the period 1880 to 1930, when immigrants heard about the United States, they immediately thought it was paradise. All the propaganda about the USA all over the world made it hard to resist going there. When they got to America, immigrants quickly changed opinions. Immigrants were actually discriminated against and cheated of their rights. But progress was made to stop racism and xenophobia even though racism still exists throughout the world. The country was called the melting pot of the world since the immigrants started a new nation.