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Coming to America: A History of Immigration and Ethnicity in American Life

Coming to America: A History of Immigration and Ethnicity in American Life

by Roger Daniels

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With a timely new chapter on immigration in the current age of globalization, a new Preface, and new appendixes with the most recent statistics, this revised edition is an engrossing study of immigration to the United States from the colonial era to the present.


With a timely new chapter on immigration in the current age of globalization, a new Preface, and new appendixes with the most recent statistics, this revised edition is an engrossing study of immigration to the United States from the colonial era to the present.

Editorial Reviews

Daily Herald
Perhaps the most authoritative and readable single-volume history of immigration yet written. Nationality by nationality, Daniels traces the migration of refugees to this country as far back as the year 1500.
San Francisco Chronicle
From almost every corner of the globe, in numbers great and small, America has drawn people whose contributions are as varied as their origins. Historians have spent much of the last generation investigating the separate pieces of that great story. Now historian Roger Daniels has crafted a work that does justice to the whole.
A broad historical overview of immigration to America from 1500 to the present that is informal, current in scholarship, comfortably written, and generous in spirit. Daniels (history, U. of Cincinnati) includes slavery, the successive waves of ethnic immigration, and the 20th century migrations of refugees within the context of evolving capitalism and world events. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)

Product Details

HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
Harper Perennial
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Product dimensions:
5.31(w) x 8.00(h) x 1.29(d)

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

Overseas Migration from Europe

Migration is a fundamental human activity. The very first person of whom we are aware--that African Eve whom her discoverer, Donald Johanson, decided to call Lucy--was in the process of moving (migrating or returning "home"?) as her footprints, still legible after three million years, show.1 In the ensuing millennia her descendants settled, somehow, every continent save Antarctica. The New World, last to be settled, was apparently uninhabited by man until some thirty thousand years ago, when Asian migrants crossed the then-existing land bridge between Siberia and Alaska and deployed throughout the two Americas, creating cultures of great variety and complexity. To cite but one example of that variety, consider the Inuit, one of the native peoples of Canada's Arctic regions. (Americans tend to call them Eskimos.) Though the Inuit number but several thousand, their two language families, specialists assure us, are as dissimilar as English and Russian.

In any event, by prehistoric times, the human race had peopled almost the entire globe by migration. In historic times we make a distinction between the term migration, which simply means moving, and immigration which means moving across national frontier. If we posit two unemployed auto workers in Detroit leaving the motor city to seek a job elsewhere--one of them taking a trolley across the bridge to Windsor, Ontario, and the other flying to San Diego--only the first is immigrating even though his is the shorter journey. Thus an immigrant is simply a migrant whose move has involved crossing at least oneinternational frontier.

The struggle to impose global European hegemony began after the voyages of Columbus and others in the so-called Age of Discovery ("so-called" because everywhere Europeans went they found people there before them). In the course of that struggle Europeans' attitudes toward the peoples of the rest of the world changed. That change can most easily be seen by comparing the notions of one of the earlier European travelers, Marco Polo (1254?-1324?), with those of his successors. His famous book about his travels to China is written from the perspective of a person from a relatively underdeveloped region who has visited a more-developed one. Two centuries later, however, in the Age of Discovery, the attitudes of Europeans were quite different. Not only did they arrogantly assume their own superiority, but they also disregarded the legitimacy of the civilizations and cultures they encountered. Although still ready, like Marco Polo, to report wonders, and often capable of believing almost anything, European travelers in the new age exhibited an almost universal self-confidence of the superiority of their own culture. Europeans as different as Hernán Cortés (1485-1547) and John Winthrop (1588-1649) justified their usurpations as promoting the greater glory of God and/or empire. Similarly, the great Portuguese poet Luis de Camoëns (1524-80), who had himself been in India and China, begins his epic, The Lusiads (1572):

This is the story of Heroes who, leaving their native
Portugal behind them, opened a way to Ceylon and
farther, across seas no man had ever sailed before . . .
It is a story, too, of a line of kings who kept
advancing the boundaries of faith and reason.

Scholars disagree about the reasons for this confidence: Some ascribe it to European culture generally, others to Christianity, and still others to technology. One of my own teachers, the late Lynn White, Jr., ascribed it to a combination of religion and technology.2 But, whatever the reasons, the growth of the notion of European superiority is quite clear.

Most Europeans also assumed that they and their stock were inherently superior to the various peoples they subjugated. With some notable exceptions, Europeans had a contempt for the cultures and peoples they encountered, an attitude that would soon evolve into modern racism. We who write of the triumphs of modern immigration to America must never forget the societies and peoples whom the newcomers conquered and sometimes exterminated. Although few contemporary writers are quite as crude as Theodore Roosevelt--in his vivid Winning of the West (1889 - 96) he could complain that the British Proclamation Line of 1763 was an attempt to keep "two thirds of a splendid continent as a hunting preserve for squalid savages"--too many historians of America still write as if the New World before the coming of the whites had been a tabula rasa or a virgin land for them to conquer and manipulate as they would. This theme, explicitly or implicitly, is dominant in most of the writing about what one Eurocentric historian called the "transit of civilization from the Old World to the New."' From John Winthrop's Journal (1630-44), through Frederick Jackson Turner's frontier thesis (1893), to Bernard Bailyn's Voyages to the West (1987), the theme of "an errand into the wilderness" or of "peopling" an empty land has dominated the discussion of the first centuries of modem immigration to America.

Faith and empire were, as Camoëns noted, prime forces in the process of European migration overseas, but so too was the desire for economic gain. From an imperial point of view--one that will be largely ignored in this book, which is focused on the experience of the human beings who came--the settlement of America north of Mexico was essentially a failure, an investment whose bottom line was Written in red ink. No single fact illustrates this better than the willingness of some British policymakers during the negotiations preceding the Treaty of Paris of 1763 to take the profitable sugar island of Martinique (385 square miles) instead of all of Canada as spoils of war. Individuals, of course, did make money even out of North America.

Coming to America. Copyright © by Roger Daniels. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

Meet the Author

Roger Daniels is Charles Phelps Taft Professor of History Emeritus at the University of Cincinnati. He received his Ph.D. from UCLA in 1961 and is a past president of both the Immigration and Ethnic History Society and the Society for Historians of the Gilded Age and the Progressive Era. He has written widely about Asian Americans and immigration. Among his most recent books are Not Like Us: Immigrants and Minorities in America, 1890-1924; Debating American Immigration, 1882-Present (with Otis Graham); and American Immigration: A Student Companion.

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