Reading A New Wave of Immigration

New Immigrants During the late 1800s large numbers of immigrants continued to come to the United States. Immigration patterns, however, began to change. Immigrants who had come to the United States before the 1880s were often called old immigrants. They were mostly from Great Britain, Germany, Ireland, and Scandinavia. Most of them were Protestants, except for the Irish and some Germans. During the 1880s, as many immigrants came to the United States as had arrived in all the years from 1820 to 1860. These new immigrants were often from different countries than previous immigrants. In 1914, for example, more than 70 percent of immigrants to America were from southern and eastern Europe. Thousands of Czechs, Greeks, Hungarians, Italians, Poles, Russians, and Slovaks came to the United States looking for a better life. Immigrant Miriam Zunser hoped "for all manner of miracles [in] a strange, wonderful land!" Many of these new immigrants were looking for economic opportunities. Others, such as Armenians and Jews, were escaping political and religious persecution. Many of the immigrants who arrived in the late 1800s brought new cultural practices with them. They also practiced a variety of religions, including Eastern Orthodox Christianity, Roman Catholicism, and Judaism. Coming To America The Second Industrial Revolution created thousands of jobs that attracted many immigrants who sought work and new lives in America. Immigrants typically faced a difficult journey. Most of them bought the cheapest tickets that were offered. They traveled in steerage, the area on a ship's lower level near the location of the steering mechanisms for the ship. In this cramped area, passengers often experienced overcrowding and seasickness. Some passengers even died from disease. Despite the hardships, immigrants held on to their hopes. One passenger described a group of fellow immigrants peering "through the portholes . . . in anticipation of the wonders we were to behold." Upon reaching the United States, new arrivals had to go to immigration processing centers. For many years, these centers were poorly run by state and local governments. In 1890 the federal government began taking control of the immigration centers. Two years later, a new receiving office was opened on Ellis Island in New York harbor. Over the next 40 years, millions of immigrants came through the Ellis Island center. Most Asian immigrants entered the country through the West Coast station known as Angel Island in San Francisco Bay. In the processing centers, officials interviewed immigrants to decide whether to let them enter the country. Officials also conducted physical examinations. They did not allow people carrying infectious diseases, such as tuberculosis, into the country. Most immigrants passed and were admitted. Immigration Life Most new immigrants settled in large cities. There they hoped to find work and other people from their homelands. Life in America was often very different from life in the old country. Therefore,

many immigrants moved into neighborhoods with other people of the same nationality. In these neighborhoods they could hear their own language, eat familiar foods, and keep their customs. Many immigrant groups published newspapers in their own languages and founded schools, clubs, and places of worship. These organizations helped preserve their beliefs and customs. In New York City, for example, Jewish immigrants founded a theater that presented performances in the Yiddish language. Immigrants often opened local shops and small neighborhood banks. Business owners helped new arrivals by offering credit and giving small loans. Such aid was important for newcomers because there were few commercial banks in most immigrant neighborhoods. In 1904 Italian immigrant Amadeo Peter Giannini started the Bank of Italy in San Francisco. This bank later became the Bank of America. Even with neighborhood support, immigrants often found city life difficult. Many immigrants lived in tenements poorly built, overcrowded apartments. They often had to work under exhausting conditions. One young woman described the difference between her hopes and reality in the new land. Immigrant Workers Many immigrants had been farmers in their homelands. However, few of these immigrants could afford to buy land at home or in the United States. Instead, they found jobs in America's cities, where most of the country's manufacturing took place by 1900. Those immigrants who came from rural areas were unskilled in manufacturing or industrial work. Most of these immigrants had little money and knew little English. These factors forced most of them to take low-paying unskilled industrial jobs. Many of these jobs were in the construction, garment, or steel industries. One Hungarian immigrant wrote that his people could be found "wherever the heat is most . . . scorching, the smoke and soot most choking." The typical workweek for industrial laborers in the late 1800s consisted of six 10-hour days. Longer hours, however, were also common. Although wages were relatively low, they were often higher than those that most immigrants could earn in their home countries. Women and children earned even less than men. Many families depended on everyone's wages for survival. Not all industrial labor took place in large factories. Some immigrants worked long hours for little pay in small shops or factories located in or near working-class neighborhoods. Often associated with the clothing industry, these workplaces were called sweatshops because of the long hours and often unhealthy working conditions. Many garment workers earned wages based on the number of clothing pieces they finished. To earn their living, these so-called pieceworkers had to work quickly. Immigrant women often worked as maids and cooks for middle- or upper-class families. Other women ran boardinghouses in their homes. Women in these occupations worked from dawn until dusk. Immigrants with appropriate skills could find work in a wide range of occupations. They worked as bakers, carpenters, masons, metal-workers, or skilled machinists. Some immigrants saved, shared, or borrowed money to open small businesses. Their businesses included barbershops, laundries, restaurants, and vending carts. Newly arrived immigrants often opened the same types of businesses in which other immigrants from the same country were already successful.

Many immigrants traveled back and forth between Europe and the United States, before returning to live permanently in Europe. Immigrants who remained in the United States often paved the way for the success of future generations. Opposition to Immigration Anti-immigrant feelings grew along with the rise in immigration in the late 1800s. Americans known as nativists feared that too many new immigrants were being allowed into the country. Many nativists also held racial and religious prejudices against Asian and southern and eastern European immigrants in particular. Nativists felt that the differences in these immigrants' languages and cultures would keep them from becoming good citizens. Nativists also argued that the new immigrants' poverty and lack of education would harm American society. Some labor leaders feared that immigrants willing to work for low wages would take jobs away from union members. Some politicians agreed. Senator Henry Cabot Lodge of Massachusetts shared this view. "If we have any regard for the welfare, the wages, or the standard of life of American workingmen, we should take immediate steps to restrict foreign immigration." Some business leaders, however, favored immigration as a way of keeping labor costs low. In some places, nativists took part in violence against immigrants. Other nativists worked for the passage of laws to stop or limit immigration to the United States. In 1882 Congress passed the Chinese Exclusion Act, banning Chinese people from immigrating to the United States for 10 years. This law marked the first time a specific nationality was banned from entering the country. As a result, the Chinese American population dropped steadily in the late 1800s. Congress later extended the ban into the 1900s. To work toward further lowering the number of immigrants, nativists founded the Immigration Restriction League in 1894. The league demanded that all immigrants prove that they could read and write before they could enter the country. Supporters hoped that this would lower immigration from eastern and southern Europe. Immigration from western and northern Europe would be preserved. Congress passed a law requiring a literacy test for immigrants in 1897. But President Cleveland vetoed it, saying that the bill was "narrow, and un-American." Despite opposition from nativists, immigrants continued to arrive in large numbers. These immigrants played a key role in the industrial and economic growth of the late 1800s.

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