No Lamps at Angel Island and 20 Years of Irish Historiography

For our History 297 class, we had to read No Lamps Were Lit for Them: Angel Island and the Historiography of Asian Immigration by Roger Daniels. In this paper, Daniels expounds on the grim history of Angel Island, San Francisco.  This was the site where Asian immigrants to the U.S. were held. To that extent, it is similar to Ellis Island in New York. However, the European immigrants at Ellis Island and the Asian immigrants at Angel Island were treated in two horribly different ways.  Something that rather easily set this tone was the fact that, at Ellis Island, one could see the Statue of Liberty, the shining symbol of our Republic. Meanwhile, at Angel Island, one would have a good view of Alcatraz prison, the symbol of inescapable and ever present government. Altogether, very few people passed through Angel island, due in large part to the immigration quotas that restricted or often banned immigration for Asians. As for the historiography of the paper, sources like the national park service are cited, as re records from the U.S. census. He also cites interviews and autobiographies written by those who had gone through Angel Island.

We also had to read Kevin Kenny’s 20 years of Irish American Historiography.  In this article, Kenny talks about the 1988 book on Irish Immigration, Emigrants and Exiles, written by Kirby Miller which created controversy within the ethno-historic department. Specifically, other historians believed that his ideas on the Irish lack of success in North America and its ties to the Irish reluctance to leave Ireland. However, Kenny argues that, to this day, Miller’s book is still one of the more accurate telling’s of Irish-American immigration, despite these problems. Kenny defends Miller by stating that, while the Irish may not have entirely perceived their emigration as exile, “they were predisposed to see it as such.” In here, Kenny talks about one of the necessary discrepancies of historical writing, showing the difference between the rhetoric surrounding a time and the reality of it. Miller presented a pessimistic tale that many historians were unwilling to accept at first.  However, as Kenny continues, it was also not as gloomy as Miller would have described it. Evidence collected by Irish-American women’s immigration historians have shown that there were women who acted upon their own sense of agency, rather than some collective or familial one. In more recent years, historians have also expanded their research to include Irish protestants.

The Italian American Table

For History 297, we had to read excerpts from The Italian American Table, by Simone Cinotto. The introduction starts with an analysis of the thematic importance of food to Italian-Americans in shows like The Sopranos and The Godfather.  In each case, food is depicted as being something inherently tied to Italian culture. This is something echoed by Italian-American authors, directors and actors in practically every book and movie on Italian-Americans.  Cinotto sought to see why it is that  the culinary arts are seen as being a part of Italian American culture. Cinotto found quotes from people like Mario Puzo, the famed author of The Godfather, describing the importance of food during the Great Depression. It was during the depression that food became intertwined with Italian American culture. After the many diasporas experienced by the Italian Americans and the attempts to be seen as being white, cooking became the best way for the Italian Americans to differentiate themselves from the rest of the country. From this, Cinotto creates the main idea of her book, that the way food is done for each racial or migrant group in America impacts the way their culture is seen.  In this, Cinotto uses the traditions of food culture and interviews, rather than sources like government documents. This shows how historians have been seeking out newer ways of analyzing history.

History in a new Millennium

For History 297, we had to read History in a new Millenniumfrom From Herodotus to H-Net. The chapter starts with the unsettling story of white-supremacists trying to get a court to accept that the Holocaust never happened. To help with their argument, they drew from texts by historians about how certain actions in the past have often been exaggerated. This trial reaffirmed the necessity of historians to make sure that things like these are confirmed beyond reasonable doubt. The chapter continues by highlighting the importance of the internet for modern historians. I found it a bit funny how the author commented on how historians from the generations before have been having trouble with the “new technology”, whereas people in my generation are more technologically literate. However, this does present a problem, seeing as how the internet is increasingly important in most studies, seeing as how it operates as a repository for scholarly information around the world. That is something that just can’t be done with physical books. Museums across the world have begun digitizing various texts and artifacts in an attempt at preservation. Museums themselves have been increasingly important for archiving these types of things.

Selling the East in the American South

For our History 297 class, we had to read Selling the East in the American South by Vivek Bald. Bald’s chapter in this book follows the peddlers from India that came to the U.S. in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s. These Indians fell into a strange category as they were Asian, which did not sit well with American immigration policy at the time, and their skin was dark enough that the Jim Crow laws considered them as being basically black. Bald sought to follow the movements of these peddlers through the American south from state to state.  They came at a time when oriental antiques and people from the Middle East and India were viewed as exotic, while pretty much the rest of Asia was still seen as being too foreign. Owning things that came from these lands gave off an air of imperialistic dominance over them. The peddlers tended to move around quite a bit, but ultimately gathered around places like Atlantic city. However, as the men were in the U.S. working, the wives were back home, keeping things together for the men’s return. The men did not have the intention to settle in the U.S., and most of them did not. Though they did establish certain areas that they would operate from, again like Atlantic City or  New Orleans. Bald makes the argument that this group represents a change from the standard narrative of immigrants to the U.S. in the 19th century. The antiquated idea of immigrants just coming to the East or West coast and coming to stay leaves out the groups that came to work but planned on going home.

A part & Apart and Nation of Migrants

For History 297, we had to read Erika Lee’s A part and Apart. In this paper, Lee describes the differences in the ideas of two giants in the Immigration Studies field: George Sanchez and Rudy Vecoli. Sanchez made the argument that there existed a divide between the studies on immigration in terms of race. His argument stated that the experiences of the different groups of immigrants changes over the years. Specifically, he was referring to the different challenges faced when comparing the groups of immigrants that had come here before the 20th century and those who came after. He believed that the challenges faced by those who came during the 20th century, predominantly Asians and Hispanics, faced challenges that were all-together different than the European and African immigrants who came before them. Vecoli believed this to be “a caricature” of the entire department. Vecoli himself was more invested in the ideas of ethnicity than race when it came to Immigration Studies.  This, Lee wrote, constituted a divide over the ideas on whether the department should use the older ideas on immigration or to incorporate the ideas held by other disciplines. Such ideas are further indicated throughout the paper and are characterized as a divide between Ethnic Studies and the general History department that make the history of Immigration that much more conflicted.

We also had to read Adam Goodman’s Nation of Migrants, Historians of Migration. In this paper, Goodman describes how Immigration Historians have been dismantling the Kennedy theory that America is a “nation of immigrants”, in specific reference to the perceived protagonism of the European immigrants. They have also been taking down the theory that everybody who came to the US did so to escape something and to become American. Many came here just so they could work, then returned to their country of origin.  The field of immigration history has been reforming to become a migration history department, one that analyses not only those who came to stay, but those who left as they were only here to work or those left to find work. They are working to replace the idea that America is a nation of immigrants to the idea that it is the nation migrants.  The problem with this is trying to determine the various motives for each migrant, which can change depending on social group, ethnicity, and from then from person to person.

More -Trans less -National, Globalizing Migration Stories

For History 297, we had to read Mathew F. Jacobson’s More “Trans-” less “National”.  In this Essay, Jacobson highlights one of the more glaring problems that is evident in immigration historians. The main issue being that we often forget that everybody came from somewhere, yet we use that argument to glorify the European immigrants more than others. This is the nationalistic focus that had excluded non-European immigrant cultures from being researched.  This trend started to die off in later years, but the focus was still not on the “trans” in “transnationalism.” The big difference was that now Immigration studies would also include Latino, African, and Asian immigration.

We also had to read Globalizing Migration Histories? by Bruno Ramirez.  In this essay, Ramirez goes through his ideas on the meanings of the words “global” and “globalization.” From this, he looks into the histories of global immigration by Italians as well as the immigration of Canadians throughout North America. He also makes the case that migration, both emigration or immigration, benefits globalization.

 

The Invention of Ethnicity in the U.S. & Race, Nation, and Culture in Recent Immigration Studies

For our History 297 class, we had to read Kathleen Conzen’s The Invention of Ethnicity in the United States. In this essay, Conzen et al bring up the argument that the modern Immigration historians have accepted. Specifically the argument that the immigrants who came to the U.S. tried to resist “Americanization” as best they could. From there, the authors show the competing theories of historians on the idea of immigrant ethnicity, with some thinking that it is an immutable part of who they were, while others think that it was something that would simply fade away with assimilation. The authors then posited their own theory, that ethnicity itself is a construct built by the collective experiences of a people. From this, the various ethnicities were able to “invent” themselves, to create cultural guidelines, taboos, etc. This developed as each of the immigrant groups interacted with one another. Ultimately, the created an average between their ethnicity and “American-ness”.

We also had to read George Sanchez’s Race, Nation, and Culture in Recent Immigration Studies. Sanchez starts the paper on one of the darker notes of American history, the indentured servitude of Thai and Latino women in sweat shops. The story spiraled out to highlight the problems with how the U.S. deals with illegal immigration. This event, as Sanchez described it, sat at a crossroads for the major problems that immigrants in American history had to deal with. Both those who came hear voluntarily and those who did not. Sanchez then focused on the historic rise in tensions between the U.S. in Asia, from the ban on “oriental” immigration, loss of citizenship, and Japanese Internment to modern ideas of foreignness and competition with the east.   Sanchez then described the way that Mexicans and Latin Americans are perceived as “foreign” to Americans. The problems with how easily forgotten that everything west of Oklahoma used to be a part of the Mexican Empire before Americans took it by way of military force or purchase.

Immigrant Women: Nowhere at Home & Women’s Place in the Irish Diaspora

For our History 297 Class, we had to read Immigrant Women: Nowhere at Home? by Donna Gabaccia. Throughout the article, Gabaccia expresses her discontent with the state of the research on women in history. More specifically, she describes the problem with the studies on women in the history of immigration. The problem being the detachment from studying women in the history of immigration as being research on the history of immigration rather than women’s history.  Gabaccia gives the example of Louise Tilly and Joan Scott’s Women, Work and Family, which was praised by ethnic historians but criticized by women’s studies.  During this time, scholars in women’s studies made the argument that became popular in the 70’s, the idea that migrant families were “authoritarian (and) disorganized.” Immigrant historians, however, argue that had migrant society truly held them back, then ethnic identities would never had survived as long as they did. For this reason, Gabaccia argues, immigrant historians see familial solidarity in a positive light.  Gabbaccia finishes the article by stating that, “unless feminist theorists are willing to dismiss massive evidence”, then they will have to accept that one of the things immigrant women viewed in a positive light was their family.

 

We also had to read Women’s Place in the History of Irish Diaspora by Janet Nolan. In this, Nolan asserts the idea that there were a number of Irish immigrants to the U.S. who came here, not only without their families, but also to gain financial independence from their families. Nolan also made reference to how women are now being treated more equally in the lens of history due to the increased belief that leaving them out would leave out truths that show what that time was actually like. Since the mid-2000’s, works have come out to illustrate the importance of women in Ireland during the age of immigration in religious, economic, and cultural aspects. For this reason, Nolan argues, it is imperative that women be returned to historical record.

Hyphen Nation

For our History 297 class, we had to read chapter one of Roots Too by Matthew F. Jacobson. The chapter was entitled Hyphen Nation.

Jacobson begins the chapter by stating the importance of President Kennedy’s “return” to the Republic of Ireland.  Jacobson wrote about the importance that the descendent of an Irish immigrant became the President of the United States. From this, Jacobson shows that Kennedy was able to celebrate his Irish heritage without being “un-American”, and not an assimilation of the Irish-American into simply being American. It should be noted that amongst the many Irish people who greeted President Kennedy was Eamon de Valera. de Valera was born in New York City, led the Irish Republican Brotherhood, and became President of the Republic of Ireland.

From there, Jacobson highlights the rise of the hyphen American movement and the increased love of the culture of ones ancestors.  However, as he noted, with this movement, especially after the civil rights movement, there was a side effect of increased white nationalism. With this their was also an increase in Zionist thought, as well as anti-Zionist thought. Jacobson made the point that, as these ideas were rising and as the grievances of these races were aired, the idea of trying to distance oneself from “whiteness” became more appealing. The idea of group rights was widely accepted, yet people were hesitant to say the same for white groups, especially in the wake of Birmingham.