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North American Immigration


The experience of the immigrants in the USA may be regarded as one of the central aspects that formed the American nation. Originally, these are the immigrants from Europe (Ireland, Germany, Austria), South America (Mexico, Argentina, Puerto Rico), Asia (China, Japan, Korea), and Africa. It should be emphasized, that various reasons have made these people move to the USA, and extremely different customs, traditions, and cultural backgrounds were contributed to the development of the American. This paper aims to represent the concepts of immigration tendencies, represented in various researches. Originally, these are the papers, dedicated to outlining the reasons for immigration, and defining the key trends of the immigration process as well as the influence of new ethnic groups on the creation of the American nation. Thus, the concept, which suits the real situation of immigration the most will be defined, and the other two concepts, represented in the researches, will be discussed in the paper.

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Race and ethnicity in the USA. Handlin’s Concept of Uprooted Americans

The ethnic background of the USA is represented with numerous nationalities, the representatives of which moved to the USA because of particular reasons, and with the definite aim. Oscar Handlin’s concept of uprootedness, John Bodnar’s views of transplantation, and Kathleen Conzen’s ideas on dual construction of ethnicity are regarded as the key concepts of immigration, and all the further considerations are generally based on one of these three concepts.

Oscar Handlin bases his considerations on the fact, that people, who immigrated to the USA faced agricultural challenges, and were requiring new free lands for the extended agricultural activity. These were mainly peasants and, emigration, from this point of view, is regarded as the end of the peasant era in old Europe. Surely, not only peasants were searching for a better life, nevertheless, they became the origin of a new nation, and formed the basis of the economic system of future America. (Olson, 2008)

The emigrants felt uprooted by the circumstances, and the situation for them looked like the choice between immigrating or dying. Originally, these circumstances may be explained by the lack of free lands in Europe, as owners of the lands did not wish to work on it themselves, while the peasants were forced to pay high taxes. As Handlin emphasizes, these peasants were standing at the crossroads, and the fact, that they are leaving their motherlands forever did not stop them. It should be stated that the immigrants were aiming to preserve their customs, values, ideology, and traditions, as they felt themselves comfortable in their native cultural surrounding. They considered that these customs would not apply to America, nevertheless, later these traditions formed the cultural background of the USA. As Handlin states in his book (1973, p. 319):

Not that they derived much joy or comfort from the conviction. In any case, they suffered. The separation itself had been hard. The peasants had been cut off from homes and villages, homes and villages which were not simply places, but communities in which was deeply enmeshed a whole pattern of life. They had left the familiar fields and hills, the cemetery in which their fathers rested, the church, me people, the animals, the trees they had known as the intimate context of their being.

In the light of this fact, there is a strong necessity to emphasize that the original concept of uprootedness should be regarded as the basic theory, explaining the immigration origins, nevertheless, this explanation may be relevant only to European emigration, as Asians and Latin Americans had quite different reasons for immigration to the USA.

Olson (2008), in his turn, emphasizes the notion that the immigration of most European nations was caused by political issues in Ireland, Germany, Spain, Denmark, etc. They were searching for a job, free lands, for they could work on them, and, surely, the possibility to earn their living.

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As for the matters of the practical application of this concept, it should be stated that it may be applied to Europeans and Asians only, as African and Latin American peoples were transported to the territory of the USA against their will. As for the Spanish-speaking nationalities, the European part assimilated, and is considered the part of the European general immigration. As for the Mexicans and immigrants from Latin America, they were considered the people of the second sort due to racial prejudices, and could not influence the immigration process and ethnic development of the USA essentially.

Transplantation by John Bodnar

While Handlin places a particular emphasis on the matters of the peasantry and the issues, which are closely linked with the better agricultural circumstances, the other researchers aim to put the main emphasis on the broader reasons. Thus, Bodnar emphasizes the matters of transplantation in the context of developing capitalism and developing economies. The main premise of this concept is covered in the fact, that the traditional economic systems of Europe and Asia were reluctant for transforming, consequently, the entrepreneurs, who were able to create the market relations in their native countries “transplanted” their marketing abilities and talents to the USA. Thus, the country became the Eldorado for market economic relations and the development of capitalism. Bodnar himself (1987, p. 529) emphasizes in his research:

The thrust of contemporary American social history has probed beyond the realm of group dynamics, however, and has exposed the private and personal dimension of individuals facing the historical currents of capitalism, industrialization, and urbanization alone. This direction, however, has rightfully disturbed some scholars who have lamented the abandonment of coherent theories, which can somehow hold all of this disparate information together.

Originally, Bodnar aims to clarify the issues of capitalism and sometimes exploitation of the working class and peasantry without resorting to the terminology by Marx. The fact is that he mainly focuses on the matters of private history and aims to achieve consensus with other historians on the issues of class division, power relations, and progress.

John J. Bukowczyk, in his research (1988) emphasizes that the research by John Bodnar is conservative enough for shaping the frames of the conceptual reasoning of the immigration process, nevertheless, this conservatism does not allow the paper to be regarded as the original and unique concept, as it is essentially limited geographically and in time. Taking into consideration the notion, that not every ethnic group moved to the USA voluntarily, the issues of capitalism and labor division may be attributed to Europeans mainly, and slightly touch upon the reasons, which made Asians move to the USA. Nevertheless, these reasons are unacceptable for Africans and Latin Americans, as the reasons for their immigration are related to the matters of capitalism only indirectly.

Takaki emphasizes the following statement: After the “wake,” the migrants traveled to Dublin and then to Liverpool, where they boarded crowded ships bound for America THE crossing was traumatic. The emigrant is shown a berth, a shelf of coarse pinewood, situated in a noisome dungeon, airless and lightless, in which several hundred persons of both sexes and all ages are stowed away on shelves two feet one inch above the other, three feet wide and six feet long, still reeking from the ineradicable stench left by the emigrants of the last voyage. (Takaki, 1998 p.113)

The matters of transplantation are generally regarded in the context of forced movements, while people were forced to move by the surrounding economic and social environment, nevertheless, any single word is not stated on the matters of forced transportation of the labor force from Africa and Latin America. Originally, these matters are not concealed, nevertheless, most researchers try not to touch them in the studies, while African and South American cultural traditions appeared to be not less important than European and Asian origins. Consequently, the research by John Bodnar may be regarded as a more extended concept, nevertheless, it does not cover all the possible issues of immigration. While the traditional representations of immigration are regarded to be the matters of the search for a better life, few concepts pay attention to the forced movement of people as the working force on plants and plantations.

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Nevertheless, when the Civil Rights Act was accepted, it claimed that: All persons born in the United States and not subject to any foreign power are declared to be citizens of the United States. It does not purport to give these classes of persons any status as citizens of States, except that which may result from their status as citizens of the United States. The power to confer the right of State citizenship is just as exclusively with the several States as the power to confer the right of Federal citizenship is with Congress. (Kawaguchi, p.233)

Kathleen Conzen. Dual Construction of Ethnicity

This is another research, dedicated to the issues of social adaptation as the key reason for immigration. Originally, this concept may be attributed to Mexican Americans and other Latin American immigrants, who wished to preserve their cultural traditions by isolating them from the allover American community. Instead of uniting with the other people, and participating in the forming of a homogenous nation, Mexicans created their ethnic groups. It should be emphasized that concerned about the fate of Spanish-speaking Catholics in a white Protestant society, Mexican officials had inserted several guarantees into the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo. Mexican residents had a year to decide their loyalties; if at the end of the year they had not declared their intentions, they would automatically receive United States citizenship. Only two thousand crossed the border; the others became Mexican Americans. As Conzen et al. (in Gjerde, 1998, p. 22) emphasize, the Mexicans aimed to preserve the heterogeneous nature of their ethnic group, but did not contribute to the general development of American culture. The following statement should be emphasized:

Despite the heterogeneous nature of their origins, backgrounds, and traditions, Mexican-Americans started developing a strong sense of ethnic group identity, based in part on their shared experiences as non-White immigrants. Working within the narrow framework of acceptable behavior constructed by the external community, Mexican-Americans were able to assert a common sense of ethnicity and foster community solidarity through the annual Mexican Independence celebrations. (Gjerde, 1998, p. 22)

In the light of this consideration, there is a strong necessity to emphasize that the issues of ethnicity have become central for analyzing the process of immigrant adaptation. Nevertheless, it is impossible to explain this process without resorting to classical social theories, which are generally applied to the explanation and study of the immigration processes, and touch upon the issues of modernization. Still, as Conzen et al (in Gjerde, 1998, p. 27) stated in their research:

From the 1960s on, the rise of ethnic movements in the United States and throughout the world have demonstrated an unexpected persistence and vitality of ethnicity as a source of group identity and solidarity. These phenomena stimulated an enormous amount of research and writing on the nature of ethnicity as a form of human collectivity.

Originally, the concept of social adaptation may be applied to every ethnic group, represented in the ethnic diversity of the USA, nevertheless, the researchers pay particular attention to Mexicans and Latin Americans, as they are of particular interest for the research of social adaptation issues.


Finally, there is a strong necessity to emphasize that the concepts, which are used by different authors for explaining the immigration tendencies and reasons may be regarded as righteous and correct in the context of historical circumstances and particular geographic locations. Nevertheless, all three concepts focus on the restricted issues of immigration and do not pay any attention to other reasons, which made people from other geographic regions move to the USA.

As for the matters of concept, which can be applied the best, the Transplantation concept is regarded to be the widest and explains the maximum range of possible reasons covering the widest geographic range. Nevertheless, it does not cover the matters of forced transportation of Africans to the USA.

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Originally, not every nation played a strong role in the formation of the cultural and ethnic background of the USA, and the main concepts have been regarded in the paper. While Europeans have formed a homogenous mass of immigrants, the representatives of the other continents appeared to be less active in this process due to particular reasons and factors.


Bodnar, J. The Transplanted: A History of Immigrants in Urban America. Indiana University Press, 1987.

Bukowczyk J. J. “The Transplanted”: Immigrants and Ethnics. Social Science History, Vol. 12, No. 3, 1988, pp. 233-241. Duke University Press.

Gjerde J. Major Problems in American Immigration and Ethnic history. University of California, Berkeley. New York. 1998

Handlin, O. The Uprooted. The Epic Story of the Great Migrations That Made the American People. Little, Brown and Company Publishing, 1973

Kawaguchi. History 10 Reader.

Olson, J. The Ethnic Dimension in American History. Sam Houston State University. Blackwell Publishing 2008.

Takaki, R. A Larger Memory. Little, Brown and Company Publishing, 1998.

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