As University of Minnesota historian Lee (The Making of Asian America) demonstrates in this fascinating but disturbing study, xenophobia is not “an exception to America’s immigration tradition” but is as American as apple pie. Moreover, hostility to migrants, she argues, has derived far more from racist ideologies than it has from anxieties about foreign policy or economic concerns. Lee takes a chronological approach to this topic, starting with Benjamin Franklin’s fears regarding newly arrived Germans in pre-Revolutionary Pennsylvania and moving on to the mid-19th-century “Know Nothing” party’s hatred for Irish Catholics, the federal government’s exclusion of Chinese migrants at the end of the 19th century, the Bostonian intellectual elite’s early-20th-century dismissal of Jews and Eastern Europeans as “beaten men from beaten races” in the early 20th century, and the demonization of Japanese immigrants for decades prior to Pearl Harbor. While readers might be tempted to see these events as dark but foregone moments in the nation’s history, Lee’s later sections make it clear that similar anxieties continue to legitimize fear and hatred of Mexicans and Muslims, and even of “model minority” groups of Asian Americans. She persuasively expresses that current hostilities over national borders are no exception to the nation’s history. This clearly organized and lucidly written book should be read by a wide audience. (Nov.)
"As Erika Lee brilliantly shows, xenophobia has forever been an integral part of American racism. Forcing us to confront this history as we confront its present, America for Americans is essential reading for anyone who wants to build a more inclusive society." Ibram X. Kendi, New York Times bestselling author of How to Be an Antiracist and Stamped from the Beginning
" America for Americans is unflinching and powerful. Through extensive research and crystal clear prose, Erika Lee has masterfully tracked the phenomenon of xenophobia and its devastating effects on this nation's democracy and its people. Spurred on by unscrupulous politicians and key segments of the press, the cadence of fear, racism, and policy violence has rained down on immigrants since the colonial period and wreaked havoc on America's laws and claims of moral and human rights leadership. This is a must-read for all who need and want to understand how the 'leader of the free world' came to ban a religion, violate asylum laws, and lock babies in cages." Carol Anderson, New York Times bestselling author of White Rage and One Person, No Vote
"Erika Lee's America for Americans is an insightful, thought-provoking book that helps us understand why the United States, a 'nation of immigrants,' could be the home to such longstanding and powerful anti-immigrant movements. Anyone who wants to fully understand why Americans are so divided over border walls, asylum policy,
and sanctuary cities must read this outstanding book." Tyler Anbinder, author of City of Dreams: The 400-Year Epic History of Immigrant New York
"America's xenophobic underbelly is laid bare by Erika Lee's meticulous chronicle, which begins well before 1776, when 'swarms' of Germans in the American colonies were labeled 'scum' and 'criminals,' and then details how those same hateful descriptions have been applied to Irish, Italians, Chinese, Japanese, Mexicans, Muslims, and others. This fascinating, timely, and important book makes it possible for us to stop repeating history and instead to build bridges based on our shared immigrant experiences." Helen Zia, author of Last Boat out of Shanghai and Asian American Dreams
" America for Americans is an intellectual tour de force wrapped in a vibrant, accessible narrative. Erika Lee reveals how hostility toward foreigners has profoundly influenced popular imagination and public policy, beginning with agitation over German settlers in early America. The exclusionist rhetoric, practices, and policies so prevalent today are nothing new, but echo back centuries of marking the boundaries of belonging. A timely, eloquent meditation on immigration, Lee's book demonstrates why history matters in understanding the contemporary resurgence of xenophobia and makes plain its shameful consequences (past and present) for individuals and the nation." Vicki L. Ruiz, author of From Out of the Shadows: Mexican Women in Twentieth-Century America
"The most comprehensive and chilling history of anti-immigrant sentiment in America ever written. With narrative authority and analytic precision, Erika Lee shows how xenophobia has shaped America more than the ideals embodied by the Statue of Liberty. An indispensable and sobering guide to the politics of our own time." Gary Gerstle, author of American Crucible: Race and Nation in the Twentieth Century
"A 'nation of immigrants,' America badly needs a history of xenophobia, and in America for Americans, Erika Lee delivers. By distinguishing nativism from xenophobia, she shows how Native Americans and Africans were transformed into foreigners and how that xenophobia fueled racist attacks against immigrants. Neither natural nor inevitable, xenophobia is always promoted by those who benefit from it, and in this courageous book, Lee names the beneficiaries." Donna Gabaccia, emerita professor of history, University of Toronto
Thoroughgoing survey of an old strain in American history: racial and cultural animus toward newly arrived non-Americans.
"The target of our xenophobia may have changed from decade to decade, but our fear and hatred of foreigners has not." So writes Lee (Chair, Immigration History/Univ. of Minnesota; The Making of Asian America: A History, 2015, etc.), opening her discussion with examples from the last electoral cycle and the current occupant of the White House—who, though his statements are "either patently false or grossly misleading," nevertheless cannily taps into that ancient fear. Xenophobia is a powerful motivating factor in American politics, writes Lee, even if it goes against the equally powerful notion that the U.S. is a nation of immigrants. "Even as it has welcomed millions from around the world," she observes, "it has also deported more immigrants than any other nation—over fifty-five million since 1882." Even as the current administration is widening its field of targets to include legal as well as illegal immigrants and to curtail both, it draws on former movements: the Know-Nothings of the 19th century, for instance, who "argued that Catholicism and Catholics were dangerous to American values and institutions"—and it's no accident that the Hispanic migrants are mostly Catholic, even as Islam is also singled out for exclusion today. Lee charts various movements in the nation's history, from Benjamin Franklin's lament even before the Revolution that German immigrants would not be able to assimilate to anti-Irish measures in the years around the Civil War, and then the fervor those very Irish exercised in opposing immigration by Italians, Asians, and Jews. Throughout, the author notes that xenophobia is good business for its purveyors—politicians, TV commentators, radio hosts, and the like—and it is likely to remain a point for those people to flog in the coming election, as the president proclaims, "Our country is full."
A carefully constructed history of wide interest to students of American politics.
Part of the American mythos is that America is a nation of immigrants. While there is truth in that, Lee (history, Univ of Minnesota; The Making of Asian America: A History) exposes another truth: America is also a nation of xenophobes. This book examines different episodes of xenophobia in American history, from Benjamin Franklin's writings against German immigrants in the mid-18th century and the Know Nothings' campaigns against Irish immigrants and the Chinese Exclusion Act of the 19th century to the 1924 Immigration Act and Japanese-American internment of the early 20th century, discrimination against Mexican and Muslim immigrants in recent decades, and more. Immigration restriction is a central hallmark of President Trump's administration. Lee reveals that the rhetoric Trump and his supporters employ when speaking about immigration and immigrants—fears about bringing crime, taking away jobs, failing to assimilate—has long been part of American political discourse from Colonial times to the present. VERDICT This thoroughly researched, informative, and lucid work is essential reading for anyone interested in the history of anti-immigrant sentiment in the United States, and how it influences the current political environment.—Joshua Wallace, Tarleton State Univ. Lib. Stephenville, TX