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Immigration and Racial Oppression

Immigration and Nativism: Terminology

  • Assimilation – is the process by which immigrants adopt the cultural traits of their new country are absorbed into a society
  • Americanization – the demand that immigrants to the United States abandon their cultural or ethnic background in order to conform as dictated by the majority group
  • Nativism – is an anti-immigrant ideology which is aimed at protecting established inhabitants of a country from new immigrants who are seen as threatening or dangerous
  • Xenophobia is the fear or prejudice against people from other countries


History of Nativism in America

  • 1700s – Nativism has been occurring since the first colonists came to America.  In the 18th Century, the British were the dominant ethnic group, and they felt threatened as immigrants from other countries arrived who did not see themselves as British subjects, and had no interest in discarding their own cultural heritage
  • Early 1800s – During the time of the founding of our country, America was strongly influenced by Protestant Christianity.  By the early 1800s, nearly 200,000 Catholics had immigrated and were living in the country.  Protestants felt threatened by this anti-Catholic sentiments grew very strong.  
    • The political cartoonist Thomas Nast depicted Catholic bishops as alligators threatening American children, reflecting fears that Catholics would try to convert Protestants
  • Mid 1800s – In the 1850s, there was a period of intense nativism that was fueled by anti-radicalism:
    • Many immigrants were impoverished workers with very little education who were taken advantage of by established American capitalists
    • They began to realize they were being exploited and formed unions and organized strikes and protests to demand better pay and working conditions
    • Nativists then began to associate radical ideas and actions associated with anarchism and socialism with “foreigners”
  • Early 1900s – The early 20th Century saw a brief decline in nativism as it became evidence that immigrant ethnic groups were contributing to the economic and political success of the United States. 
    • Nativism surged when World War I began.  German Americans were accused of disloyalty and of being German spies.  Children were severely punished for speaking German in school.
  • 1950s-1960s – In the 1950s and 1960s, legislation relaxed immigration quotas that had been in place since the 20s.  This lad to a marked increase in the number of people of color immigrating to the United States.


Ongoing Nativist Attitudes and Actions

  • A focal point of nativist attitudes today is the 2000 mile border between the U.S. and Mexico.  Because Latinos are the majority of immigrants, the backlash of anti-immigrant sentiment is directed at Spanish-speaking immigrants
  • In 1994, California submitted Proposition 187, which would have denied public social services to anyone unable to  prove S citizenship or other lawful residency
  • “English-only” advocates demand that English be declared the “official language” of the United States.  They claim that this is in response to large numbers of immigrants who refuse to learn English.  English-only laws result in the justification of antagonism some people feel against those who speak a different language.

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