Arab immigrants

  • Early Immigrants
  • Acceptance and Exclusion
  • Civil Rights and Stereotypes
  • Mistrust of the Federal Government

Significance: Christian and Muslim Arab immigrants from the Middle East and North Africa, initially drawn to the United States by economic opportunities, have both assimilated into and remained distinct from mainstream American culture, creating a distinctive literary and ethnic identity and working to address stereotypes and prejudices arising from the unfamiliarity of Middle Eastern peoples in the United States.

Arab immigrants

Arab immigrant accountant helping a Latino man prepare his income tax forms in Chicago in early 2007. Known as Al- Muhaseb (the accountant) in Arabic, the man’s company was affiliated with H&R Block, the giant tax-preparation firm. (AP/Wide World Photos)

Tracing the historical presence of Arab immigrants during the various periods of their arrival in the United States raises questions of cultural complexity and religious diversity as well as problems of identification. During the early years of the first major period of immigration, which lasted from 1881 to 1914, the U.S. Bureau of Immigration used no standard terminology to identify from what parts of the Ottoman Empire Arab immigrants originated. Instead, the bureau used such labels as Greeks, Turks, Armenians, Ottomans, and Syrians. After 1899, the bureau simply labeled all Arab immigrants as "Syrians.”

Early Immigrants

The initial wave of immigration brought roughly 110,000 Arabic speakers to the United States before World War I (1914-1918). A second, much smaller, number entered between 1920 and 1924, when passage of a new federal immigration act set a quota on Arab immigrants. The 1924 law represented a shift in American opinion away from the open immigration policies of the earlier era, limiting the entry of members of designated ethnic or national origin groups to 2 percent of the numbers of those groups who had been counted in the 1890 U.S. census. This had the practical effect of further limiting the number of immigrants from Arab lands who could qualify for admission, as the bulk of immigrants to the United States before 1890 had come from northern Europe.

Countries of origin Algeria, Bahrain, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Morocco, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Tunisia, United Arab Emirates, Yemen
Primary language Arabic
Primary regions of U.S. settlement Northeast, Midwest
Earliest significant arrivals 1880’s
Peak immigration period Mid- to late twentieth century
Twenty-first century legal residents* 262,468 (32,809 per year)

Profile of Arab immigrants

*Immigrants who obtained legal permanent resident status in the United States. These figures are only for immigrants from nations whose populations have the highest percentages of ethnic Arabs—those listed above. Other nations with large Arab populations include Chad, Israel, Somalia, and Sudan.

Source: Department of Homeland Security, Yearbook of Immigration Statistics, 2008.

The first Arabic speakers to arrive in the United States were Christians from Lebanon. Higher percentages of Muslim immigrants arrived during the next major period of Arab immigration, from the early 1950’s to the mid-1960’s. Another increase came after the passage of the Immigration and Naturalization Act of 1965, which abolished the quota system. The Arab countries that contributed the greatest numbers of immigrants after 1965 were Egypt, Morocco, Yemen, Jordan, and Iraq.

The first Arab immigrants generally settled in the urban areas of the Northeast and Midwest of the United States, forming their own ethnic neighborhoods. By the beginning of World War II, they had established major presences in New York City, Boston, and Detroit. Their economic profile was both as members of the industrial workforce and independent businesspeople who traveled widely in search of customers for their lines of household goods.

The second wave of Arab immigrants, who came during the 1950’s, brought a significant number of professional people seeking better conditions. Their numbers were augmented by university students who chose to remain in the United States and followed employment opportunities to new homes, often creating an Arab presence where none had been before. The third wave, after 1965, contained a mixture of skilled and unskilled workers, many fleeing civil strife or instability in their homelands. However, equal numbers simply sought better lives for themselves and their families. The third stream of Arab immigration contributed most of the visible face of Arab America known to the rest of the United States.

Acceptance and Exclusion

All three waves of Arab immigrants initially encountered a variety of prejudicial attitudes beyond those associated with belonging to any group of newcomers to America working to establish themselves. The initial group from Syria and Lebanon entered the United States at a time when nativism was widespread and a cultural imperative on making all immigrants assimilate completely into white Protestant society was in vogue. The newcomers were viewed as suspect for multiple reasons. Not only were they foreign born and speaking limited English, they also were dark skinned, often unskilled, and members of either the Roman Catholic or the Eastern Orthodox faiths. Their village backgrounds, family loyalties, and relatively small numbers worked to preclude the establishment of a distinct and visible Arab ethnic segment of the population in a fashion similar to the process undergone by such groups as the Italians, whose own provincial origins took second place to their identification with their native country. The question of Arab eligibility for admission as American citizens proved contentious after 1910, due to federal government restrictions on Arab immigration. However, a series of successful lawsuits filed between 1910 and 1923 by members of what was loosely known as the "Syrian” community eventually established that Arabs were to be considered eligible for American citizenship.

Legal Arab Immigration, 2001-2008

Arab immigrants

Civil Rights and Stereotypes

The predominantly Muslim Arab immigrants who arrived during the 1950’s and early 1960’s usually arrived with greater economic resources and higher levels of professional education than the members of the first wave had possessed. They were far less flexible in blending with America society than their Christian Arab predecessors had been. They preferred to retain their allegiance to Islam and remained engaged in Middle Eastern political issues. Mainstream American general opinion toward Arab immigrants altered sharply following the Six-Day War of June, 1967, in which the American ally Israel fought several of its Arab neighbors. After a series of highly publicized airline hijackings by Middle Eastern groups, U.S. President Richard M. Nixon issued an executive order in September, 1972, that was intended to prevent terrorists from gaining entrance to the United States. His order authorized special measures against Arabs, ranging from the imposition of restrictions on their entry and ability to apply for permanent resident status to surveillance of community organizations under the code name Operation Boulder.

The fact that no incidents of terrorist activity connected with the Arab American community had occurred raised questions about the necessity of the president’s measure. However, the situation was further complicated by the subsequent oil embargo and the sharp rise in petroleum prices imposed by the Arab-dominated Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) after the conclusion of another Arab-IsraeliWar in October, 1973. Before these developments, Arab Americans had drawn little public attention in the United States. However, these events prompted a cultural redefinition of what it meant to belong to this community. No distinction was made in political language or mass media journalism to reflect the actual diversity of the contemporary Arab world, which was publicly cast as made up of vicious terrorists intent on destroying America, fanatical religious leaders—no matter which sect of Islam—and unscrupulous businesspeople. These stereotypes were based partly on political realities but were widely disseminated within the United States, unrelieved by positive characterizations of Arabic speakers in American culture.

The presence of such inaccurate images has contributed to a sense of social marginality among Arab Americans that has been addressed in several ways. While some Arab immigrants have made complete breaks with their home cultures and have adopted American lifestyles and values, others stress their uniqueness to distance themselves from being associated with a particular Arab nation or withdraw into ethnic communities, following the pattern of earlier arrivals.

A third response has been to confront stereotypes directly by stressing points of commonality between Islamic and American culture by calling attention to common emphases on strong families and beliefs held by both Muslims and Christians. Although the history of Arab immigrant civil rights activism can be said to begin with the protest by a delegation representing the Association of Syrian Unity made to the federal government during the citizenship disputes before World War I, most such groups came into being during the 1980’s. Perhaps ironically, the success of Arab Americans in adapting to mainstream culture during the earlier part of the twentieth century had the unexpected result of isolating them from the issues of the Civil Rights movement of the 1960’s. The largest civil rights organization countering stereotypes and misinformation about the Arab communities has been the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee. Founded by South Dakota politician James Abourezk—the first Arab American to serve in the U.S. Senate—in 1980, it quickly established chapters nationwide. In 1985, the Arab American Institute was established inWashington, D.C., to encourage and promote greater involvement by Arab Americans in civic life and the political process.

Mistrust of the Federal Government

In 1987, the Reagan administration attempted to prosecute two longtime Palestinian American residents of California and six of their associates who had been distributing literature and working at fund-raising for the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. The government charged that they were promoting communism. Dubbed the "LA 8,” the Arab defendants were not deported, as a federal judge ruled the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952, under which they were being prosecuted, to be unconstitutional. The government continued to attempt to revive the case six times over a period of twenty years, using successive pieces of antiterrorist legislation including the Patriot Act. In 2007, the Board of Immigration Appeals announced that no further action would be taken, following a ruling by a Los Angeles federal immigration judge that the plaintiffs’ civil rights had been repeatedly violated. This long, drawn-out case served as the focus for Arab immigrant distrust of the federal government and, despite the eventual vindication of the accused, created a legacy of wariness that was only exacerbated by the terrorist attacks on America of September 11, 2001.

The varied social impacts of the events of September 11, 2001, on the Arab immigrant communities were based upon several pieces of legislation passed by the U.S. Congress in the immediate aftermath of the attacks. There was an intensification of existing negative stereotypes about Arabic speakers and an erosion of certain civil rights and elements of due process in investigations carried out by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) with the stated aim of identifying possible terrorists and their accomplices, based in large part on racial profiling. Male immigrants fromArab nations regarded as terrorist havens who did not possess green cards were frequently required to be photographed, fingerprinted, and registered by the federal government. More than 140,000 people were registered. Only a handful of the people investigated were actually accused of having terrorist links, but the process resulted in hundreds of Arab immigrants leaving the United States for their home nations, Canada, or Europe to avoid official deportation.

Many of the actions taken by the FBI were sharply criticized by the U.S. Justice Department. These actions also helped energize civil liberties organizations within and outside the Arab community to oppose the selective enforcement of immigration law being utilized to target them. Arab immigrants found themselves having repeatedly to deal with the domestic political consequences of policies and actions they did not condone. They also were repeatedly obliged to emphasize and assert their adoption of American national culture, a process complicated by ignorance among mainstream Americans of the actual core values of Islam.

Despite these problems, the numbers of Arab nationals applying for immigrant status to the United States held firm after 2001—at an average of about 4 percent of total U.S. immigration. However, there was a sharp decline in the numbers of foreign student visas issued to applicants fromMiddle Eastern countries. The drop in student visas ranged from 31 percent for persons from Lebanon to 65 percent for persons from the Persian Gulf states. At the same time, however, the U.S. government actively sought persons fluent in all dialects of the Arabic language to work in its counterterrorism campaign. Ironically, the scarcity of Arabiclanguage programs in American institutions of higher education forced the government to accept applicants for these new positions from among recent Arab immigrants, who faced lengthy periods of security evaluation before they were hired.

These cultural and political challenges resulted in a new awareness of the presence of Arab immigrants in the mind of the American public and offered the immigrants an unprecedented opportunity to educate other Americans on the realities of Arab life. A prime example of this new assertiveness was the appearance in public settings across the United States of women wearing head scarves as required by the Qur$3n, a practice widespread within the Muslim world but not well known in the United States before 2001. In May, 2005, the Arab American National Museum opened in Dearborn, Michigan. These and other outreach efforts by Arab political and religious organizations has begun to create a degree of balance in how the American public regards Muslim and Christian Arab Americans.

Robert B. Ridinger

Further Reading

Arab American National Museum. Telling Our Story: The Arab American National Museum. Dearborn, Mich.: Author, 2007. Profile of the history and exhibits of this unique collection of Arab immigrant history.

Ewing, Katherine Pratte, ed. Being and Belonging: Muslims in the United States Since 9/11. New York: Russell Sage Foundation, 2008. Collection of eight ethnographic essays that explore how questions of identity and assimilation have been and are being addressed in contemporary Arab Christian and Muslim communities.

Hooglund, Eric J. W. Crossing the Waters: Arabic-Speaking Immigrants to the United States Before 1940. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1987. Collection of original research essays on the first wave of Arab immigration.

Kayyali, Randa A. The Arab Americans. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 2006. Detailed yet readable history of the cultural background of Arabic-speaking immigrants to the United States and their participation in and impact on American society.

Mehdi, Beverlee Turner, ed. The Arabs in America, 1492-1977: A Chronology and Fact Book. Dobbs Ferry, N.Y.: Oceana, 1978. The history of Arabic speakers in the Americas is followed from 1789 to 1977 through fifty-five primary documents.

Naff, Alixa. Becoming American: The Early Arab Immigrant Experience. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1985. History of the first wave of Arab immigrants before World War II and their economic and social networks.

Orfalea, Gregory. Before the Flames: A Quest for the History of Arab Americans. Northampton, Mass.: Olive Branch Press, 2006. Collection of oral histories of 125 Arab immigrants of three generations of migration, with background information.

See also: Asian immigrants; Asian Indian immigrants; Asiatic Barred Zone; Iranian immigrants; Israeli immigrants; Muslim immigrants; 9/11 and U.S. immigration policy; Patriot Act of 2001; Religions of immigrants; Stereotyping.

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Argentine immigrants

Reflecting significant Italian as well as Spanish influence, Argentines constitute a small immigration population of mostly easily assimilated professionals, scientists, artists, and craftsmen...

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Asian Indian immigrants

  • First Wave of Immigration, 1900’s to 1920’s
  • Anti-Asian Legislation
  • Second Wave of Immigration, 1965-1990
  • Beyond 2000

Significance: The Asian Indian diaspora followed three waves of immigration to the United States: The first wave occurred in the first decade of the twentieth century, the second during the 1970’s, and the third during the early twenty-first century, when the highest level of immigration fromIndia occurred. Accounting for more than 2.5 million people in 2007, Asian Indians constituted the thirdlargest Asian immigrant population in the United States.

Asian Indian immigrants

Sikh immigrants to California posing for a group portrait in 1910. (California State Library)

Although most immigration from India to the United States occurred during the early twentyfirst century, the earliest signs of international migration from India occurred after 1830, when Indian merchants, sailors, and indentured workers traveled on East India Company ships to North America. The 1900 U.S. Census reported that 2,545 "Hindus” whose birthplace was listed as India had settled in the United States.

First Wave of Immigration, 1900’s to 1920’s

Between 1907 and 1917, thousands of Sikh landowners and peasants left the Punjab in northern India to search the western shores of North America for employment and higher wages. First immigrating to Vancouver, Canada, Punjabi Sikhs settled in Oregon,Washington, and Northern California to work on the Western Pacific Railroad. Legally prohibited from bringing their wives and families, some young, male Sikhs married Mexican women, creating a "Mexican Hindu” culture. The small Sikh immigrant community remained faithful to its religious and cultural practices, establishing temple settlements for other Asian Indian travelers.

Immigration from India, 1900-2008

Asian Indian immigrants

Source: Department of Homeland Security, Yearbook of Immigration Statistics, 2008. Figures include only immigrants who obtained legal permanent resident status. Immigration records for 1820-1899 show a total of only 687 immigrants.

Leaving employment on the railroad and in the lumber mills, by 1910 Asian Indians began contracting for agricultural jobs in California, where there was a dire need for farmworkers. Comfortable and experienced working in the fields, Asian Indians moved from working as day laborers to tenant farmers.Transacting bank loans, Indians purchased acreage. By 1914, as prosperous landowners, the Asian Indian immigrants started moving inland to central California to establish independent ethnic agrarian communities. Hard-working and Englishspeaking, the Asian Indians posed little threat to the socioeconomic fiber of the region. However, by the 1920’s the hostilities toward the growing number of "Asiatics” escalated as the competition between Asian immigrants and white workers increased.

Anti-Asian Legislation

As early as 1905, an association known as the Asiatic Exclusion League (AEL) organized to oppose Asian immigration. It launched an anti-Asian crusade toward not only the Chinese and Japanese immigrant populations but also the three thousand new Asian Indian immigrants who had arrived in California at the end of the decade. After years of fighting for congressional legislation to limit immigration, the exclusionists were successful in adopting a series of laws that led to turning away hundreds of Asian immigrants. The Immigration Act of 1917 (also known as the Asiatic Barred Zone Act) restricted immigration from Asia. Soon afterward, the Supreme Court ruled in United States v. Bhagat Singh Thind (1923) that Indians were not included under the "statutory category as white persons”; consequently, Indians were denied the right to naturalization, and previously naturalized Indians were stripped of U.S. citizenship.

Seven years later, the Immigration Act of 1924 limited the number of new immigrants to 2 percent of the number of people from their country who were already living in the United States. Over the next twenty years, the number of Indians in the United States dwindled to fewer than 2,500. In 1946, the Luce-Celler Bill reinstated naturalization to Asian Indians and allowed an immigration quota for Indians and Filipinos; 6,000 Indians entered the United States between 1947 and 1965.

Second Wave of Immigration, 1965-1990

The tides turned under President Lyndon B. Johnson when he signed into law the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 (also known as the Hart-Celler Act), lifting the national-origin quotas system and issuing visas on the basis of preferred skills or family reunification. The initial post-1965 immigrants were professionals and their families; after the mid-1970’s, the Asian Indian immigrants moved into small business ownerships and selfemployment ventures in restaurants, travel agencies, and motels. Almost 40 percent of all Asian Indians who entered the United States after 1965 arrived on student or exchange visitor visas. By 1990, the Indian population had increased to 786,694.

With the passage of the Immigration Act of 1990, preference was given to immigrants with high technology-based skills, advanced degrees, and exceptional professional talents. Contributing to the "brain drain” in India, colleges throughout the United States hosted a significant number of Indian students, making India one of the top five sending countries. By 2000, Asian Indians constituted the fourth-largest immigrant community in the United States.

Profile of Asian Indian immigrants

Country of origin India
Primary languages English, Hindi, Urdu, Bengali, Marathi, Tamil, and others
Primary regions of U.S. settlement California, New York, New Jersey, Texas, Illinois
Earliest significant arrivals Early twentieth century
Peak immigration period Early twenty-first century
Twenty-first century legal residents* 535,988 (66,998 per year)

*Immigrants who obtained legal permanent resident status in the United States.

Source: Department of Homeland Security, Yearbook of Immigration Statistics, 2008.

Beyond 2000

The Asian Indian immigrant population increased by 38 percent between 2000 and 2005, becoming the third-largest immigrant population in the United States. Asian Indians have attained the highest level of education and the highest median income among all national origin groups in the United States. More than 40 percent are medical professionals, scientists, or engineers concentrated in metropolitan areas across the United States.

Entering the United States English-knowing, highly educated, socially and professionally connected, and geographically mobile has made Asian Indian assimilation fairly smooth. Asian Indian immigrants tend to identify themselves not with the Indian national origin group but with their particular regional, linguistic, religious, or professional subgroups. After arrival, Bengalis, Punjabis, Marathis, and Tamils tend to maintain their languages, religious practices, foods, and dress.

Tamara M. Valentine

Further Reading

Bacon, Jean Leslie. Life Lines: Community, Family, and Assimilation Among Asian Indian Immigrants. New York: Oxford University Press, 1996. Examination of the Asian Indian experiences in Chicago.

Jensen, Joan M. Passage from India: Asian Indian Immigrants in North America. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1988. Cultural history of the immigration patterns of Asian Indians to the United States.

Joshi, Khyati Y. New Roots in America’s Sacred Ground: Religion, Race, and Ethnicity in Indian America. New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 2006. Analysis of second-generation Indian Americans and their identities.

Leonard, Karen Isaksen. The South Asian Americans. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1997. Examination of the social, political, and cultural history of South Asian immigrant communities.

Sheth, Manju. "Asian Indian Americans.” In Asian Americans: Contemporary Trends and Issues, edited by Pyong Gap Min. 2d ed. Thousand Oaks, Calif.: Pine Forge Press, 2006. Sociohistorical look at the diverse Asian Indian communities that developed across the United States.

See also: Asian immigrants; Asiatic Barred Zone; Asiatic Exclusion League; Association of Indians in America; Bellingham incident; "Brain drain”; Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965; Lahiri, Jhumpa; Motel industry; Mukherjee, Bharati; Pakistani immigrants; United States v. Bhagat Singh Thind.

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Australian and New Zealander immigrants

The earliest waves of Australian and New Zealander immigration to the United States coincided with significant cultural developments.

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Brazilian immigrants

Economic and political instability in Brazil during the late twentieth century prompted unprecedented emigration fromthe country.

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Burmese immigrants

Burmese immigrants are relatively recent arrivals to the United States.

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Cambodian immigrants

The arrival of thousands of immigrants from Southeast Asia during the mid-to-late 1970’s marked a new era in immigration to the United States because of multiple factors.

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Canadian immigrants

Canadian immigration to the United States has historically been episodic, typically paralleling economic fluctuations and shifts in employment opportunities in one or the other of the two neighboring countries.

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Chinese immigrants

Significance: During the late twentieth century, Chinese became one of the fastestgrowing immigrant populations in the United States. By the early twenty-first century, they constituted the largest Asian immigrant group in the United States and could be found throughout the North American continent.

Although most immigration from China to the United States occurred during the twentieth century, the earliest identifiable Chinese immigrants arrived in America during the 1780’s. However, the discovery of gold in California in 1848 brought a large wave of Chinese. In the following three decades, about 300,000 Chinese entered the United States to work primarily as miners in gold mines, laundry and grocery operators in urban communities, farm laborers in agricultural areas, or fishermen in fishing villages in California.

Push-Pull Factors

Similar to their counterparts from other countries, early Chinese immigrants were "pushed” by forces in China and "pulled” by attractions in the United States. The "push” mainly came from natural disasters, internal upheavals, and imperialistic aggressions in China during the 1840’s and 1850’s. The "pull” resulted from the discovery of gold in California and the economic opportunities in the United States.

The decades of the 1840’s and the 1850’s in China were full of natural calamities. The major ones were the severe draught in Henan Province in 1847, the flooding of the Yangtze River in the four provinces of Hubei, Anhui, Jiangsu, and Zhejiang, and the famine in Guangxi in 1849. Flood and famine in Guangdong gave way to the catastrophic Taiping Revolution (1850-1864), which devastated the land, uprooted the peasantry, and dislocated the economy and polity.

Moreover, the importation of opium deepened the social and economic crisis. As a result of the OpiumWar of 1839-1842, opium traffic practically became unrestrained. The volume of imports rose from33,000 chests in 1842 to 46,000 chests in 1848, and to 52,929 chests in 1850. The year 1848 alone witnessed the outflow of more than ten million taels of silver, which exacerbated the already grave economic dislocation and copper-silver exchange rate. The disruptive economic consequence of opium importation was further compounded by the general influx of foreign goods in the open ports. Canton was particularly hit because it had the longest history of foreign trade and the widest foreign contact. Local household industries were swept away, and the self-sufficient agrarian economy suffered. Those who were adversely affected became potential emigrants.

News of the discovery of gold in California (which the Chinese called Gam Saan, or "Gold Mountain”) spread like wildfire to every corner of the world and soon attracted thousands of gold seekers to California. Among them were 325 Chinese "forty-niners.” During the early 1850’s, the number of Chinese increased dramatically: 2,716 in 1851 and 20,026 in 1852. By 1882, when the passage of the Chinese Exclusion Act ended the largescale Chinese immigration, about 300,000 Chinese were living in the continental United States.

The Chinese gold seekers, referred to by their compatriots as Gam Saan Haak ("travelers to Gold Mountain” or "Gold Mountain guests”), were mostly adult males from Guangdong Province. Gold played a significant role in the lives of the early Chinese immigrants, and the majority of these gold seekers worked in the mining areas of California. U.S. Census statistics indicate that almost all the Chinese in the continental United States lived in California in 1860. Most Chinese miners worked in placer claims. They washed the gold-bearing sand in a pan or rocker to let the heavier particles of gold settle at the bottom.

As Chinese miners became ubiquitous in the California hills, white miners felt threatened and demanded that the California legislature eliminate the competition from foreign miners. In May of 1852, the state legislature passed the Foreign Miners’ Tax, which required every foreign miner who was ineligible for citizenship to pay a monthly fee of three dollars. Chinese immigrants, the primary targets of the California law, were considered ineligible for citizenship because of a 1790 federal law that reserved naturalized citizenship to "white” persons only.

In addition to mining, the construction of the transcontinental railroad absorbed a large number of Chinese laborers, many of whom were former miners. After the end of the U.S. Civil War, the U.S. government could once again devote its attention to the construction of the transcontinental railroad. The eastern part of the railroad was contracted to the Union Pacific Railroad to build westward from the Missouri River, and the western part of the railroad to the Central Pacific Railroad Company—financed by the "Big Four,” Sacramento merchants Leland Stanford, Charles Crocker, Mark Hopkins, and C. P. Huntington, to build eastward from Sacramento. In February, 1865, fifty Chinese workers were hired by the Central Pacific Railroad Company as an experiment. As the Chinese workers performed various tasks of blasting, driving horses, handling rock, and doing pick-and-shovel work, they proved to be effective and reliable workers, and the company began to hire more Chinese. During the peak time of the construction, the Central Pacific Railroad Company hired twelve thousand Chinese, representing 90 percent of its entire workforce.

While the majority of Chinese were digging gold and building railroads, some Chinese families fished for their livelihood in the Monterey Bay region. The completion of the transcontinental railroad in 1869 forced most Chinese railroad workers to become farm laborers in California; many others had to migrate south and east, working in southern plantations or in new booming towns on the East Coast and in the Midwest.

Mark Twain on Chinese Immigrants

During the 1860’s, Mark Twain spent five years working mostly as a journalist in Virginia City, Nevada, and San Francisco, California, where he had ample opportunities to observe many Chinese immigrants. As he shows in this passage that opens chapter 54 of his 1872 book Roughing It, he had a high regard for the work ethic and behavior of the Chinese. Elsewhere in Roughing It and other writings, he expressed his disdain for the unfair stigmatization of the Chinese and the rough treatment they endured from the Americans who regarded them as an undesirable criminal class.

Of course there was a large Chinese population in Virginia—it is the case with every town and city on the Pacific coast. They are a harmless race when white men either let them alone or treat them no worse than dogs; in fact they are almost entirely harmless anyhow, for they seldom think of resenting the vilest insults or the cruelest injuries. They are quiet, peaceable, tractable, free from drunkenness, and they are as industrious as the day is long. A disorderly Chinaman is rare, and a lazy one does not exist. So long as a Chinaman has strength to use his hands he needs no support from anybody; white men often complain of want of work, but a Chinaman offers no such complaint; he always manages to find something to do. He is a great convenience to everybody—even to the worst class of white men, for he bears the most of their sins, suffering fines for their petty thefts, imprisonment for their robberies, and death for their murders. Any white man can swear a Chinaman’s life away in the courts, but no Chinaman can testify against a white man.

Anti-Chinese Sentiments and Exclusion Laws

The anti-Chinese movement, compounded by the economic depression on the West Coast in the last decades of the nineteenth century, contributed to the redistribution of Chinese immigrants. Economic discrimination in the form of special taxes and levies targeted the Chinese. For example, California’s foreign miner taxes discouraged Chinese in particular, and an 1870 San Francisco ordinance taxed laundrymen without horses for their delivery wagon. (The Chinese did not use horses, so the law effectively discriminated against them.) Furthermore, anti-Chinese sentiment subjected immigrants and their businesses to violent physical attacks and abuse. The anti-Chinese violence generally took three forms: murder, spontaneous attacks and destruction of Chinatowns, and organized effort to drive Asians out of certain towns and cities.

The series of Chinese exclusion laws effectively banned the entry of Chinese into the United States. The passage of the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act suspended the entry of all Chinese laborers for ten years. Merchants, diplomats, teachers, students, and travelers were exempt, but they still needed documentation. The ban was extended in 1892 and 1902, and made indefinite in 1904. The 1892 Geary Act required all Chinese laborers to register for a certificate of residence. Those who did not register could be arrested or deported. A storm of protest followed, but a test case brought before the U.S. Supreme Court confirmed the constitutionality of the law.

Livelihood of Chinese Immigrants

During the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the laundering business had been a predominant occupation of the Chinese in the United States. After the 1870’s, prejudice against Chinese immigrants from American society effectively cut them out of the rest of the labor market. Persecuted and harassed, the Chinese could not find jobs, and they were forced to rely on their own resources. When they were excluded from the gold mines in the hills, they found an equally lucrative gold mine in the city. In setting up laundries, they did not have to seek out jobs in established industries or incur the risk of heavy capital investment. All they needed for the business were scrub boards, soap, irons, and ironing boards. They would canvass a neighborhood, seek out a low-rent location, and open up a business.

Like laundries, restaurants were one of the most important businesses for the Chinese in the United States. Initially, Chinese restaurants started as a service for the bachelor communities of Chinese immigrants in isolated ranches, logging camps, mining towns, and other areas where Chinese men and women were willing to cook. When the eating places that the Chinese had set up for themselves soon attracted a number of outsiders, the Chinese realized that restaurants were profitable business enterprises well suited to their temperament. During the 1890’s, Chinese restaurants sprouted in the United States in many places. Most small Chinese restaurants were run as husband-and-wife businesses; the husband served as cook and dishwasher in the kitchen, while the wife worked as waitress, barmaid, and cashier in the front.

The grocery business ranked as a distant third occupation for Chinese immigrants before the 1940’s, although it was one of the major enterprises of the Chinese in some southern and western states. Chinese grocery stores provided Chinese ingredients for cooking and other goods for Chinese communities. Unlike the Chinese restaurants, the Chinese grocery stores found their clientele primarily among Chinese and other Asian immigrants. The stores were mostly located in Chinatowns and Asian communities.

Postwar Chinese Immigration

Anti-Chinese sentiment abated during World War II, when China became a member of the Grand Alliance and public images of the Chinese gradually changed. A more favorable attitude in America toward China and Chinese Americans continued after the war. Facing pressures from the public and other interest groups, Congress repealed a large number of exclusion laws, which for years had denied Chinese Americans fundamental civil rights and legal protection. On December 17, 1943, Congress passed the Immigration Act of 1943 (also known as the Magnuson Act), which repealed all Chinese exclusion laws that had been passed since 1882, permitted Chinese aliens in the United States to apply for naturalization, and allowed 105 Chinese to immigrate annually.

In spite of the repeal of the Chinese exclusion laws, the Chinese immigrant quota designated by the American government was quite low. This figure was one-sixth of 1 percent of the number of the Chinese in the United States in 1920 as determined by the census of that year. Nevertheless, nonquota immigrants were allowed to immigrate. More Chinese scholars came to teach in the United States— an average of about 137 each year, compared with 10 per year during the previous decade. More important, under theWar Brides Act of December 28, 1945, and the G.I. Fiancées Act of June 29, 1946, alien wives and children of veterans and American citizens were permitted to enter the United States as nonquota immigrants. During the three-year operation of theWar Brides Act, approximately 6,000 Chinese war brides were admitted. Thus, in 1947 the number of Chinese immigrants entering the United States climbed to 3,191, most of whom came on a nonquota basis.

Profile of Chinese immigrants
Country of origin People’s Republic of China
Primary language Chinese (Mandarin)
Primary regions of U.S. settlement West Coast, Hawaii
Earliest significant arrivals 1780’s
Peak immigration period Late twentieth century
Twenty-first century legal residents* 527,577 (65,947 per year)

*Immigrants who obtained legal permanent resident status in the United States.

Source: Department of Homeland Security, Yearbook of Immigration Statistics, 2008.

Many women also immigrated under other laws. The Displaced Persons Act of 1948 and the Refugee Relief Act of 1953 allowed several thousand Chinese women to come to America. The former granted "displaced” Chinese students, visitors, and others who had temporary status in the United States to adjust their status to that of permanent resident. The latter act allotted three thousand visas to refugees from Asia and two thousand visas to Chinese whose passports had been issued by the Chinese Nationalist government, which lost power in mainland China in 1949. On September 22, 1959, Congress passed an act under which more Chinese on the quota waiting list obtained nonquota status. Thus, by 1960 the number of Chinese in the United States, as reported by the 1960 U.S. Census, had reached 237,292. This included 135,549 male and 101,743 female persons, of whom 60 percent were native born.

Among the women who immigrated during this period were many so-called war brides who had hurriedly married Chinese American veterans before the expiration date of the War Brides Act in 1949. In her article "The Recent Immigrant Chinese Families of the San Francisco-Oakland Area,” Rose Hum Lee describes the war bride:

The most publicized case of "getting married quick” was of the ex-soldier who enplaned to China, selected his bride, was married, and landed at the San Francisco airport the evening before his month’s leave of absence expired. His bride came later, a practice applying to many others whose admission papers could not be processed rapidly.

Whereas during the 1930’s an average of only 60 Chinese women entered the United States each year, in 1948 alone 3,317 women immigrated. During the period from 1944 to 1953, women constituted 82 percent of Chinese immigrants to America. For the first time, the number of Chinese women and families in the United States noticeably increased. The male-female ratio dropped from 2.9:1 in 1940 to 1.8:1 in 1950, and 1.3:1 in 1960.

Post-1965 Immigration

The Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 and the consequent influx of new Chinese immigrants contributed to the transformation of Chinese American society. The act abolished the 1924 quota system and set up three immigration principles of family reunification, the need for skilled workers, and the admission of refugees. According to these principles, the visas were allocated among quota immigrants from the Eastern Hemisphere according to seven preferences:

  • 20 percent of total annual visas to unmarried children of citizens of the United States 
  • 20 percent to spouses and unmarried children of permanent residents 
  • 10 percent to professionals, scientists, and artists with "exceptional ability” 
  • 10 percent to married children of citizens of the United States 
  • 24 percent to siblings of citizens of the United States 
  • 10 percent to skilled and unskilled workers in occupations "for which a shortage of employable and willing persons exists in the United States” 
  • 6 percent to refugees 

The architects of the 1965 act intended to make the immigration policies appear more humanitarian and impartial to applicants on one hand and more beneficial to the United States on the other. The new law allowed 20,000 quota immigrants from every country in the Eastern Hemisphere to be admitted to the United States each year, regardless of the size of the country. It reserved 74 percent (including 20 percent in the first preference, another 20 percent in the second preference, 10 percent in the fourth preference, and 24 percent in the fifth preference) of the total 170,000 visas annually allotted for the Eastern Hemisphere for family reunification.

Immigration from China, 1850-2008

Immigration from China, 1850-2008

Source: Department of Homeland Security, Yearbook of Immigration Statistics, 2008. Figures include only immigrants who obtained legal permanent resident status. Immigrants from Hong Kong and Taiwan are not included in these figures.

The lawmakers anticipated that European immigrants would continue to be the cohort of new immigrants, since there was a very small percentage (0.5 percent of the total U.S. population during the 1960’s) of Asian Americans in the country. Two occupational preferences (preferences three and six) allowed the U.S. immigration authorities and the Department of Labor to select carefully only applicants with special training and skills who would fill the vacuum in the American job market. In the years following this act, the Chinese American population increased dramatically. In addition, the male-female ratio finally approached parity.

Changing Push-Pull Factors

The majority of new immigrants came to the United States for economic reasons. The influx of Chinese refugees from Vietnam since 1975 were lured by economic opportunities in America. In addition to laboring immigrants, a large number of professionals (the better-educated and the wealthier from China, Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Southeast Asia) also arrived since 1965. These new immigrants benefited from the 1965 Immigration and Nationality Act, which gave priority to refugees, to those who had close family members in the United States, and to applicants who had skills, education, and capital.

After the normalization of Sino-American relations in 1979, some Chinese who had family members in the United States were allowed to come to America as immigrants. Since many of them came for economic reasons and were determined to settle, they brought their families as allowed by U.S. immigration policies. Some resigned their professional jobs in China and started from scratch in the United States.

As of 2008, at least twenty-four national-origin groups had been officially tabulated into the U.S. Census. Americans of Chinese and Filipino ancestries are the largest subgroups, at more than 2 million each, followed by Indians, Koreans, Vietnamese, and Japanese, whose numbers surpass 1 million each. The nearly 2.9 million Chinese Americans tend to settle in urban areas and concentrate in the West. According to the 2000 U.S. Census, California by itself accounted for 35 percent of the 4.3 million people of Asian descent living in the United States and also had the largest number of Chinese. The state of New York accounted for 10 percent (1.2 million) of all Asians, second only to California. Chinese were also heavily concentrated in New York.

Huping Ling

Further Reading

  • Chan, Sucheng. Asian Americans: An Interpretive History. Boston: Twayne, 1991. A scholarly, comprehensive survey of Americans of Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Filipino, and Asian Indian ancestry fromthe mid-nineteenth century to the 1980’s. 
  • Chang, Iris. The Chinese in America: A Narrative History. New York: Viking Press, 2003. A comprehensive account of the political, social, economic, and cultural history of Chinese Americans over a century and a half. 
  • Daniels, Roger. Asian America: Chinese and Japanese in the United States Since 1850. Seattle: University of Washington, 1988. Scholarly synthesis encompassing the two pioneer Asian American groups, the Chinese and the Japanese, from 1850 to 1980. 
  • Ling, Huping. Chinese St. Louis: From Enclave to Cultural Community. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2004. The first comprehensive study of an ethnic community in the Midwest, this groundbreaking work proposes a "cultural community” model to interpret the new type of ethnic community that is defined more by its cultural boundaries than by geographical ones. 
  • _______. Surviving on the Gold Mountain: Chinese American Women and Their Lives. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1998. The first comprehensive history of Chinese American women from the mid-nineteenth century to 1990’s. Explores topics such as causes of immigration, settlement patterns, family, work, and community. 

See also: Anti-Chinese movement; Bayard-Zhang Treaty of 1888; Burlingame Treaty of 1868; Cable Act of 1922; California gold rush; Chinese American press; Chinese boycott of 1905; Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882; Chinese family associations; Coolies; Geary Act of 1892; Hong Kong immigrants; Taiwanese immigrants.

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Colombian immigrants

Although Colombian immigrants are relative newcomers to the United States, their numbers began increasing greatly during the last decades of the twentieth century.

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Cuban immigrants

Significance: The overwhelming majority of Cubans who have immigrated into the United States have settled in Florida, whose political, economic, and cultural life they have transformed. The first wave of Cuban refugees used the state as a base to oppose the Cuban government. The refugees of the 1960’s brought Cuban customs to Florida as well as virulently anticommunist beliefs. The sheer volume of the last wave of Cubans during the 1980’s exacerbated already tense racial relations with African American communities, especially in Miami, who felt politically and economically marginalized.

Cuban immigration waves have tended to follow periods of political repression in Cuba. Most Cuban immigrants have settled in Florida, a state only ninety miles from the coast of Cuba. By the year 2008, more than 1.24 million Cuban Americans were living in the United States, mostly in South Florida, where the population of Miami was about one-third Cuban. Many of these Cubans have viewed themselves as political exiles, rather than immigrants, hoping eventually to return to their island homeland after its communist regime falls from power. The large number of Cubans in South Florida, particularly in Miami’s "Little Havana,” has allowed them to preserve their culture and customs to a degree rare for immigrant groups.

Nineteenth Century Immigration

The tradition of Cuban political exiles coming to the United States began during the nineteenth century, when Spain still ruled the island. The first exiles arrived in 1823. Many of them hoped that the United States would annex Cuba, and they supported a failed Cuban revolt against Spain in 1867. During the 1890’s, the exiled Cuban nationalist leader José Martí organized a second revolt and sought the support of thousands of fellow Cuban exiles in New York and Florida. During the Spanish- AmericanWar of 1898, exiles fought on the American side but opposed the Platt Amendment of 1902 that afterward turned Cuba into a protectorate of the United States. After Cuba finally won its full independence, its government became an oppressive dictatorship. During the late 1920’s, Cuban exiles opposed to the government used Miami as a base to plot its overthrow in favor of democratic government.

Castro and Immigration

In 1959, a communist movement led by Fidel Castro overthrew the government of Fulgencio Batista to take power in Cuba. Castro immediately nationalized businesses and large land holdings, while attacking potential political opponents among the wealthy, entrepreneurs, and Batista supporters. Cubans who did not unconditionally support Castro appeared in media portrayals as enemies of the revolution. As Cubans had often done during past periods of political trouble, many sought temporary exile in the United States. However, unlike the past wave, this group of immigrants benefited from the political atmosphere in the United States fostered by ColdWar. Both the Eisenhower and Kennedy administrations enthusiastically supported Castro’s enemies as anticommunist freedom fighters.

Profile of Cuban immigrants

Country of origin


Primary language


Primary region of U.S. settlement

South Florida

Earliest significant arrivals


Peak immigration period

Late nineteenth century, 1960’s, 1980’s

Twenty-first century legal residents*

245,864 (30,733 per year)

*Immigrants who obtained legal permanent resident status in the United States.

Source: Department of Homeland Security, Yearbook of Immigration Statistics, 2008.

Between 1959 and 1962, 119,922 Cubans arrived in the United States. These people were primarily of Cuba’s elite: executives and owners of firms, big merchants, sugar mill owners, cattlemen, representatives of foreign companies, and professionals. They used whatever means were necessary to get out of Cuba. The most fortunate among them obtained U.S. immigrant, student, and tourist visas; others entered the United States indirectly, through countries such as Canada, where they applied for U.S. visas. About 14,000 unaccompanied minors arrived in the United States in 1960 and 1961 alone through a clandestine U.S. program code-named "Operation Pedro Pan.” After 1961, Castro permitted emigrants to take only five dollars with them, while requiring them to surrender all other property to his government.

Settling in the United States

Although thousands of Cuban immigrants arrived in the United States nearly destitute, they were not without resources. Many were already familiar with the United States, which they had often visited for business or pleasure before the Cuban Revolution. Some also had business or personal contacts in the country to help them adjust. In addition, since Cuban culture itself was highly Americanized before 1960, the American way of life was not altogether alien to them. Moreover, as exiles fleeing a common enemy, they arrived with a strong sense of solidarity. In South Florida, where the bulk of exiles waited for Castro’s overthrow, those who had arrived earlier tried to ease the shock of the newcomers by advising them on matters such as securing U.S. social security cards, enrolling children in schools, and enlisting in the federally funded Cuban Refugee Program, which provided free medical care and food. The exiles themselves helped one another find jobs and living quarters.

Immigration from Cuba, 1920-2008

Immigration from Cuba, 1920-2008

Source: Department of Homeland Security, Yearbook of Immigration Statistics 2008. Figures include only immigrants who obtained legal permanent resident status.

The U.S. government attempted to relocate the newcomers throughout the country. The stated objective of the government’s resettlement efforts was to lighten the financial burden that the exiles presented to South Florida’s strained social institutions. The federal government may have also feared the social and political implications of having a large, increasingly frustrated, and heavily armed exile population concentrated in Miami. In any case, after the exiles realized that Castro’s government would not soon fall, many began to take advantage of resettlement assistance offered through the Cuban Refugee Program. Many wound up in New York, New Jersey, Chicago, Boston, andWashington, D.C. They brought conservative political views and quickly established cultural organizations. Meanwhile, a four-square-mile area in Miami’s southwest section attracted so many Cubans that it garnered the nickname of Little Havana. The area would become the heart of the exile community and act as a magnet to future Cuban immigrants.

Later Immigration Waves

The third wave of Cuban immigration began after the fall of 1965, when Castro announced that all Cubans with relatives living in the United States would be allowed to leave through the port of Camarioca. He invited exiles to come to Cuba by sea to collect their relatives, as commercial flights between Cuba and the United States had been discontinued in the wake of the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis. Hundreds of Miamians accepted Castro’s offer. Within only a few weeks, about 5,000 Cubans left Cuba. Because of the chaotic nature of this exodus, Cuba and the United States negotiated a plan for a more orderly departure through a program the U.S. government dubbed the "Freedom Airlift.” These flights continued until 1973, when Castro unilaterally stopped them. By that time, 247,726 more Cubans had entered the United States. This immigrant wave comprised mostly small merchants, craftsmen, skilled and semiskilled workers, and relatives of middle-class Cubans who had immigrated during the early 1960’s.

In 1978, the Cuban government began discussions with Cuban exiles over the fates of political prisoners in Cuba. The government agreed to release 3,600 of its prisoners and to promote reunification of families by allowing Cubans living in the United States to visit their families on the island. These visits led to a fourth wave of Cuban immigration. In 1980, a chaotic flotilla of Miamians began sailing to the Cuban port of Mariel to bring their families to the United States in what became known as the "Mariel boatlift.” The sailors were forced to carry everyone whom Cuban officials put aboard their boats, including people regarded as social undesirables: prisoners who had committed nonpolitical crimes, mental patients, and homosexuals. However, contrary to popular perceptions in the United States, most of the people who came to the United States in the boatlift were not criminals. The majority were young, working-class men from the mainstream of Cuban society. A significant number of intellectuals were also among these immigrants, some of whom lacked legal immigrant status and consequently spent years in detention in the United States.

End of the Cold War

The end of the Soviet Union’s economic aid to Cuba in 1989 combined with the U.S. trade embargo to produce another wave of immigrants seeking better economic conditions. This final wave of Cuban immigration began in 1989 and continued into the early twenty-first century. These new arrivals became known as balseros because they traveled on makeshift rafts or balsas. Castro initially opposed this immigration. However, in 1994, in an apparent effort to reduce domestic political tensions or to force the United States to negotiate an immigration agreement, Castro reversed his threedecade- old policy of arresting people who tried to escape the island by sea. He announced that Cubans would be allowed to leave in small vessels and makeshift rafts if they wished to go to the United States. U.S. president Bill Clinton’s administration subsequently negotiated an agreement with Cuba to halt this exodus. The accord suspended the preferential treatment that had been given to Cubans since 1959. No longer would they be treated as refugees from a communist state. Additionally, the U.S. Coast Guard was ordered to send all balseros to the U.S. Navy Base in Guantanamo Bay in Cuba. The rafters faced the prospect of being detained indefinitely at Guantanamo if they would not voluntarily return home. Cuban exiles reacted angrily to this change in policy with demonstrations throughout South Florida. Meanwhile, Guantanamo’s detainee population reached 32,000 men, women, and children. Most of these undocumented immigrants were young and without resources.

In 1995, the Clinton administration allowed Guantanamo detainees to qualify for entrance into the United States. However, Cubans wishing to immigrate had to follow the same procedures as immigrants from other countries. They were no longer to receive preferential treatment and would be limited to 20,000 visas per year.With the end of the Cold War, immigrants from communist countries no longer mandated special treatment. Meanwhile, Cubans—including Elián González, who became a cause célèbre in the United States—continued to pile onto rafts in the hope of reaching Florida. Cuban exile organizations, such as Brothers to the Rescue, sent planes near or into Cuban airspace in search of rafters. In 1996, the Cuban air force shot down two of the exile planes, sparking an international crisis with the United States. Clinton retaliated by tightening the embargo on Cuba, but his administration’s policy on Cuban immigration remained unchanged.

Cuban Life in the United States

Cuban Americans have made remarkable progress in adjusting to life in the United States. The 1959 wave of immigrants, who were well above average in educational background and business skills, established an economic and cultural base that would ease the adjustment of later immigrants. However, the successes of the Cubans led to friction with African Americans, many of whom felt politically marginalized and shut out of economic advancement. This friction resulted in 1980 in a riot in the Overtown district of Miami that had a 50- percent unemployment rate among African Americans. The riot was triggered by an incident of police brutality but reflected deep anger at persistent police mistreatment and well as neglect of the black community by Miami’s predominantly Cuban American political leaders. In the aftermath of the riot, little changed despite promises to fix the underlying causes of the revolt. The Cuban immigrants and their descendants have remained a powerful political and cultural force within South Florida.

Caryn E. Neumann

Further Reading

De los Angeles Torres, Maria. In the Land of Mirrors: Cuban Exile Politics in the United States. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1999. Examines the politics of Cuban exiles during the twentieth century, including a focus on the period after the end of the Cold War.

Fernandez, Alfredo A. Adrift: The Cuban Raft People. Houston: Arte Público Press, 2000. Discusses Cuban refugees, including Elián González, who traveled on rafts to reach U.S. soil during the 1990’s.

Gonzalez-Pando, Miguel. The Cuban Americans. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1998. Historical examination of Cuban Americans during the twentieth century with a focus on the post- 1959 years.

Landis, Jacquelyn, ed. The Cubans. Farmington, Mich.: Thomson Gale, 2005. Collection of essays on early Cuban exiles, political unrest and later waves of immigration, the refugee crisis, and the accomplishments of Cuban Americans.

Ojito, Mirta. Finding Manana: A Memoir of a Cuban Exodus. New York: Penguin Books, 2005. Contains accounts from people who participated in the 1980 exodus from Cuba.

Pedraza, Silvia. Political Disaffection in Cuba’s Revolution and Exodus. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2007. Superb historical study of the role of politics in prompting Cuban immigration.

Perez-Firmat, Gustavo. Life on the Hyphen: The Cuban- American Way. Austin: University of Texas, 1994. Explores how tradition and interpretations of tradition have influenced the identities of Cuban Americans.

See also: Florida; Florida illegal immigration suit; Freedom Airlift; González case; History of immigration after 1891; Latin American immigrants; Little Havana; Mariel boatlift; Miami.

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Czech and Slovakian immigrants

During the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, about one-sixteenth of all European Czechs immigrated to America, while the Slovaks made up the sixthlargest group of immigrants during this period of the “new immigration.”

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Dominican immigrants

Although the West Indian island nation of the Dominican Republic had a close relationship with the United States through much of the twentieth century, significant Dominican immigration into the United States did not begin until the latter part of the century.

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Dutch immigrants

Commercial enterprises constituted the first organized wave of immigration from the Netherlands to North America during the early seventeenth century and led to the founding of Fort Nassau, which was only the second permanent European settlement in North America.

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Ecuadorian immigrants

Ecuadorians constitute the eighth-largest Latino group in the United States, according to the 2000 U.S. Census.

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Ethiopian immigrants

After passage of the 1965 Immigration and Nationality Act, Ethiopians became the third-largest national group of African immigrants to immigrate to the United States. Most arrived in the United States after Congress passed the Refugee Act of 1980.

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European immigrants

Although the territory of the United States was originally settled in ancient times by the Asian ancestors of modern Native Americans, European immigrants of the seventeenth through early twentieth centuries dominated the landscape and brought with them the culture and institutions to which other modern immigrants have had to adapt. 

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Filipino immigrants

Significance: During the late twentieth century, Filipinos became one of the fastestgrowing immigrant populations in the United States. By the early twenty-first century, they constituted the third-largest Asian immigrant group in the United States, after Asian Indians and Chinese, and could be found living throughout the North American continent.

Filipino farmworkers in California during the 1930’s

Filipino farmworkers in California during the 1930’s. (Library of Congress)

Although most immigration from the Philippines to the United States occurred during the twentieth century, the earliest identifiable Filipino immigrants arrived in America during the 1830’s.At that time, hunters and trappers of Filipino origin settled in the region of Louisiana below New Orleans, which was then the busiest port in the United States after New York City. At that time, the Philippine Islands were a Spanish colony, and these first Filipino immigrants appear to have reached New Orleans on Spanish ships. As late as the 1930’s, descendants of these early Filipino immigrants, popularly known as "Manila men,” maintained a settlement along the mouth of the Mississippi River and supported themselves by shrimping, fur-trapping, and fishing.

American Involvement in the Philippines

At the end of the nineteenth century, the Philippines came under the political dominance of the United States, a development that would eventually contribute to a large Filipino American population. When the United States fought Spain in the Spanish-AmericanWar in 1898, Filipino rebels were engaged in their own war against their Spanish rulers. When Assistant Secretary of the Navy Theodore Roosevelt ordered the U.S. Navy to attack the Spanish at Manila, the Philippines’ capital, the United States established contact with Filipino insurgents. After the United States defeated Spain, the U.S. government did not withdraw its armed forces from the occupied former Spanish colonies, which included the Philippines, Cuba, and Guam. Instead, the United States sent troops to the Philippines to subjugate Filipinos unwilling to accept American rule, and the United States set up its own colonial government.

U.S. governor-general William Howard Taft, who later became president of the United States, was among many Americans who believed that educational programs could help to direct the development of the Philippines and establish ties between the United States and its new colonial subjects. American teachers were sent to the Philippines, and Filipino students known as pensionados were brought to the United States. About 14,000 government- subsidized Filipino students studied in the United States between 1903 and 1938.

Push-Pull Factors

During the decade following the arrival of the first pensionados, Filipino immigration to the United States increased dramatically. The Filipino American population increased from fewer than 3,000 persons in 1910 to more than 26,000 in 1920 and more than 100,000 in 1930. These new immigrants were drawn to America primarily by the demand for labor.

Profile of Filipino immigrants

Country of origin Philippines
Primary language Tagalog, English
Primary regions of U.S. settlement West Coast, Hawaii
Earliest significant arrivals 1830’s
Peak immigration period 1965-2008
Twenty-first century legal residents* 469,033 (58,629 per year)

*Immigrants who obtained legal permanent resident status in the United States.

Source: Department of Homeland Security, Yearbook of Immigration Statistics, 2008.

During the early twentieth century, American industry grew rapidly and agriculture increasingly became a large-scale enterprise, requiring growing numbers of hired workers. Farming became more regionally specialized as advances in refrigeration and transportation made it practical to grow fruits and vegetables on large regional farms for export to distant parts of the United States. To meet the need for labor, farmers in California and canning factories in Alaska began recruiting Filipino workers. In 1920, the West Coast of the United States alone was home to an estimated 5,600 Filipinos. By 1930, this number had grown to 45,372. Filipino migrant workers provided much of the seasonal labor for fruit and vegetable farms in California, Oregon, and Washington, where they harvested asparagus, grapes, strawberries, carrots, lettuce, potatoes, and beets.

Hawaii, then an American territory, was the destination for many Filipino agricultural workers. American sugarcane planters in Hawaii rapidly expanded their exports during the first decade of the twentieth century and needed workers for the fields. In 1906, A. F. Judd, an attorney representing the Hawaii Sugar Planters Association (HSPA) arrived in the Philippines to recruit workers for the sugarcane fields and to make the legal arrangements to bring them to Hawaii. However, relatively few agricultural workers left the Philippines forHawaii until 1909. During that year, unrest among the Japanese, who until then had made up the majority of laborers in the Hawaiian sugarcane fields, prompted plantation owners and managers to increase their recruiting efforts among Filipinos. When Japanese plantation workers went on strike, Hawaiian planters concluded that they needed a new and more easily controlled labor source.

The peoples of the Philippines speak many different languages, although there are a few widely spoken major languages, such as Tagalog, Ilocano, and several closely related dialects of Visayan. The linguistic diversity among the Filipino immigrants helped the Hawaii planters to avoid the labor problems they had experienced with the linguistically homogeneous Japanese. By being careful to recruit workers from different regions of the Philippines, they limited communication among Filipino field-workers. Between 1909 and 1914, about 4,000 Filipinos made the voyage from the Philippines to Hawaii each year. Their numbers decreased after 1915, when the Philippine legislature passed laws regulating the recruitment and treatment of Filipino workers. The numbers picked up again during the 1920’s, however. By 1925, around half of all plantation workers in Hawaii were Filipinos. By the early 1930’s, Filipinos made up about three-fourths of all Hawaii plantation workers.

From the 1930’s to 1965

The wave of Filipino immigrant labor to the United States that began in the first decade of the twentieth century became a trickle in 1934. During that year, the U.S. Congress passed the Tydings- McDuffie Act, which transformed the political status of the Philippines into a commonwealth—the first step toward independence for the Philippines. Under the law’s provisions Filipinos were no longer considered American nationals, and immigration from the Philippines was limited to fifty persons per year. When World War II reached the Philippines in 1942, Japan occupied the Philippine Islands, bringing even this limited flow of migration to the United States to a temporary halt.

After World War II, the United States recognized the full independence of the Philippines. However, the U.S. government still maintained a presence in the Philippines that contributed to new forms of migration. In 1946, the U.S. Congress passed the Luce-Celler Bill, which increased the Philippines’ immigration quota from fifty to one hundred persons per year. Spouses of U.S. citizens were not counted within this quota, however, and they became a major part of Filipino immigration. Meanwhile, the United States retained large military bases in the Philippines, ensuring an ongoing presence of large numbers of mostly male American military personnel, some of whom interacted socially with Filipino women. Many Filipino- American marriages resulted from these contacts. Between 1946 and 1965, as many as one-half of all immigrants from the Philippines arriving in the United States were wives of U.S. servicemen.

In 1948, the U.S. Congress passed the Education Exchange Act, another piece of legislation that promoted the immigration of a new category of Filipinos who would join the growing Filipino American population. The 1948 law enabled foreign nurses to spend two years in the United States for study and professional experience. Differences between American and Filipino living standards lured many Filipino nurses to remain in the United States after they completed their training, and the large demand for nurses in the United States made it relatively easy for them to find work.

Post-1965 Immigration

The 1960 U.S. Census counted 105,000 people living in the United States who had been born in the Philippines. At that moment, Filipinos constituted the second-largest immigrant group in the United States, only slightly behind immigrants born in Japan. As American restrictions on immigration from Asia were relaxed after 1965, the historical ties between the Philippines and the United States set the stage for a new wave of Filipino migration.

Immigration from the Philippines, 1930-2008

Immigration from the Philippines, 1930-2008

Source: Department of Homeland Security, Yearbook of Immigration Statistics, 2008. Figures include only immigrants who obtained legal permanent resident status. There are no data for Filipino immigration before 1930.

When Congress passed the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 (also known as the Hart- Celler Act), the United States adopted a new immigration policy that dropped the former quota system of immigration that had been biased in favor of immigrants from northern and western Europe. The new basis for admitting immigrants was a set of preferences, with immigrants migrating to reunite with family members in the United States given the highest priority classifications, followed by immigrants with needed job skills. The new immigration policy opened immigration to the United States to many parts of the world, and the numbers of immigrants began climbing dramatically.

Thanks to the historical links between the United States and the Philippines, Filipinos were in a particularly good position to take advantage of the change in American immigration law. Because the Philippines remained a relatively low-income country—even though it had many well-educated and highly skilled people—and the United States was one of the world’s most prosperous nations, Filipino interest in emigrating to the United States was great. Moreover, many potential immigrants already had skills that were in demand in the United States and some familiarity with the English language and American culture.

Many post-1965 immigrants from the Philippines were highly skilled professionals. Before 1960, fewer than 2 percent of the people of Filipino ancestry residing in the United States had professional occupations, compared to 6 percent of all Americans. By contrast, two decades later, about one-quarter of all Filipinos in the United States were professionals. By the twenty-first century, this figure had risen to nearly one-third.

The United States had a particularly strong demand for medical workers that Filipinos could supply because the American occupation of the Philippines had established American training and standards in the islands. As a consequence, nurses, physicians, medical technicians, and other medical professionals were heavily overrepresented among the occupational fields of Filipino immigrants to the United States.

Nurses, who had already begun moving from the Philippines to the United States after passage of the 1948 Education Exchange Act, began arriving in the United States in even greater numbers following the passage of the Health Professions Assistance Act in 1976. This piece of legislation required professionals to have firm job offers from American employers before they could immigrate to the United States. This law was followed by active cooperation of immigration officials with American hospitals in recruiting nurses. Again, the special historical connections between the United States and the Philippines meant that the Philippines was training nurses ready for work in the United States, making that Asian country an ideal recruiting ground for immigrants.

Changing Push-Pull Factors

During the 1960’s, the American military presence in the Philippines continued and even grew along with American involvement in the Vietnam War. By 1980, one quarter of all married Filipino American women had husbands who had served in the U.S. military during the Vietnam War period. The popular identification of the Philippines as a source of wives also expanded into civilian American society, so that marriages arranged by mail between women in the Philippines and men in the United States were becoming common during the 1970’s. By the early 1990’s, an estimated 19,000 so-called mail-order brides were leaving the Philippines each year to join husbands and fiancés abroad, with the United States their primary destination.

As the Filipino American population increased, a growing number of residents of the United States had immediate relatives in the Philippines. Because the 1965 change in immigration law had made family reunification the category that allowed the most immigrants, this meant that each new immigrant opened the way for others. The result was an exponential growth in the Filipino American population throughout the last decades of the twentieth century and the first decade of the twenty-first century. In 2007, the U.S. Census Bureau estimated that 2.5 million people of Filipino descent were living in the United States, ranking Filipino Americans only slightly behind Asian Indian Americans and a little further behind Chinese Americans.

In 2007, more than 72,500 people from the Philippines were admitted to legal permanent residence in the United States, and nearly 39,000 people born in the Philippines became naturalized U.S. citizens. By this time, Filipino Americans were living in communities across the United States, but the single largest concentration could be found in California’s Los Angeles-Long Beach-Santa Ana metropolitan area, in which an estimated 380,000 Filipinos resided in 2007.

Carl L. Bankston III

Further Reading

Bankston, Carl L. "Filipino Americans.” In Asian Americans: Contemporary Trends and Issues. Edited by Pyong Gap Min. 2d ed. Thousand Oaks, Calif.: Pine Forge Press, 2006. Sociological survey of modern Filipino American communities throughout the United States. 

Bulosan, Carlos. American Is in the Heart: A Personal History. 1946. Reprint. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1974. Memoir of perhaps the best-known Filipino American writer, who came to the United States as an immigrant fieldworker during the 1930’s. 

_______. On Becoming Filipino: Selected Writings of Carlos Bulosan. Edited by Epifanio San Juan, Jr. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1996. Additional writings by Bulosan documenting the Filipino American immigrant experience. 

Espiritu, Yen Le. Homebound: Filipino American Lives Across Cultures, Communities, and Cultures. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2003. Study of how Filipino immigrants have adapted to American culture and society built around interviews with more than one hundred Filipino Americans. 

Karnow, Stanley. In Our Image: America’s Empire in the Philippines. New York: Random House, 1989. History of the American conquest and occupation of the Philippines and efforts to impose American culture and institutions on the island nation. 

Okamura, Jonathan Y. Imagining the Filipino American Diaspora: Transnational Relations, Identities, and Communities. New York: Garland, 1998. Exploration of Filipino immigration that examines the subject in the context of Filipino emigration to more than 130 countries around the world. 

See also: Alaska; Anti-Filipino violence; California; Exeter incident; Filipino American press; Filipino Repatriation Act of 1935; Hawaii; Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965; Indonesian immigrants; Luce-Celler Bill of 1946; Mail-order brides; Malaysian immigrants.

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Former Soviet Union immigrants

Immigration to the United States fromseveral of the former Soviet countries is a relatively recent development, but some of the others have long histories of sending people to the United States.

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German immigrants

Significance: The first non-English-speaking immigrant group to enter the United States in large numbers, Germans played major roles in American economic development, the abolitionist movement, U.S. military forces, and other spheres during the nineteenth century, and German immigrants continued to make important contributions to the United States during the twentieth century.

German immigrants on the steerage deck of the immigrant ship Friedrich der Grosse

German immigrants on the steerage deck of the immigrant ship Friedrich der Grosse. When World War I began in August, 1914, the U.S. government seized the ship, which happened to be laid up in New York harbor. After the United States entered the war in 1917, the Navy used the ship, renamed USS Huron, to transport troops across the Atlantic. Over the next two years, the ship completed fifteen round-trip voyages. (Library of Congress)

Most German immigration to the United States occurred during the nineteenth century, but Germans began arriving as early as 1608, when they helped English settlers found Jamestown, Virginia. Germans also played an important role in the Dutch creation of New Amsterdam, which later became New York City, during the early 1620’s. Other early German immigrants helped to settle North and South Carolina. By the nineteenth century, German immigrants were advancing farther inland to states such as Nebraska, Ohio, Illinois, Missouri, Wisconsin, Kansas, Minnesota, and Texas.

Early Immigration, 1608-1749

Two forces were paramount in prompting early German immigration: heavy taxation and German laws of primogeniture, which permitted only the eldest sons in families to inherit their fathers’ land. These forces, along with seemingly constant and disruptive German wars, gave many young Germans strong motivations for emigrating to a new country, where they could hope to own their land and prosper with minimal government hindrance.

The first American region in which large numbers of Germans settled was Pennsylvania. Germantown, near what is now Philadelphia, was the first of many permanent German settlements in the British colonies—many of which had the same name. After Germantown was founded in 1683, German immigration to Pennsylvania grew more rapidly. By the mid-eighteenth century, Pennsylvania’s approximately 50,000 German immigrants made up about 40 percent of the colony’s entire population. Amish and Mennonite religious communities and the creation of the perhaps inaptly named "Pennsylvania Dutch” established Pennsylvania as a primary stronghold for German immigration. Pennsylvania was also becoming a base from which Germans migrated to other colonies, including what is now northern West Virginia, most of Maryland, parts of North Carolina, and the western regions of Virginia and South Carolina.

Profile of German immigrants

Country of origin


Primary language


Primary regions of U.S. settlement

Pennsylvania, New York, Missouri, Minnesota, Ohio, Illinois, Nebraska

Earliest significant arrivals


Peak immigration periods

1840’s-1920’s, 1950’s

Twenty-first century legal residents*

63,214 (7,901 per year)

*Immigrants who obtained legal permanent resident status in the United States.

Source: Department of Homeland Security, Yearbook of Immigration Statistics, 2008.

Taking their name from Deutsche, the German word for "German,” the Pennsylvania Dutch were the primary builders of Philadelphia and many of its neighboring communities in what became a six-county region that would be known as "Pennsylvania Dutch Country.” Pennsylvania’s Amish communities have kept alive German culture through their rejection of modern technology, their continued wearing of early German farming attire, and their ability to speak both old and modern forms of German. German farmers, craftsmen, and indentured servants helped develop Pennsylvania.

Late Eighteenth Century Developments

During the late eighteenth century, the Industrial Revolution began transforming the economies of the many German states from agricultural to manufacturing bases, making it more difficult for farmers to prosper. The lure of apparently unlimited farmland in North America, coupled with news from successful immigrants to provide a powerful lure to emigrate. From the late eighteenth century through much of the nineteenth century, millions of Germans went to the United States. Many of them were farmers who brought skills that contributed significantly to the agriculture of the Midwest, and many settled and helped build cities such as Milwaukee and Cincinnati.

The success of many early German immigrants in agriculture helped draw many German-born businessmen to the United States, where some of them built beer breweries that prospered alongside local agriculture. Some the best-known American breweries, such as Pabst, Anheuser-Busch, Schlitz, Blatz, and Miller, were started by Germans.

Because Philadelphia was at the center of American opposition to British colonial rule, it is not surprising that Germans played an important role in the American Revolution that led to the independence of the United States. By the late eighteenth century, many German immigrants had deep roots in North American and were eager to help fight for independence. However, Great Britain’s use of German mercenaries against Americans helped give German Americans a bad name.

Known as Hessians because most of them were from the German state of Hesse, as many as 30,000 German mercenaries may have fought for Great Britain, and they may have constituted as many as one-third of all British combat troops in the Revolutionary War. These Germans fought ruthlessly against the Americans, but they paid a heavy price in casualties. Nearly one-quarter of them died from illnesses, and another quarter may have died in combat. It is not known exactly how many of the German troops remained in the United States after the war, but their number seems to have been high. Moreover, many Hessian mercenaries prospered after the war, thanks to the fact that the new U.S. government lacked the funds to send them back to Europe.

German immigrants who fought on the American side were also recognized for their valor and loyalty. Some held high commands. A particularly well-known German general in the war was Baron Friedrich Wilhelm von Steuben, who volunteered his services as a trained Prussian general to the American cause free of pay. Von Steuben was especially valuable in teaching discipline and drill to revolutionary soldiers, few of whom had any formal military training. The colonial troops were initially ridiculed by British troops for their inability to hold line and their eagerness to retreat. Von Steuben helped transformthe untrained men into efficient soldiers. Steubenville, Ohio, was later named in his honor.

First Century of American Independence, 1783-1900

Through the half-century following the Revolutionary War, German immigration increased steadily. Many of the new arrivals settled in such major cities as New York and Philadelphia, but independence from Great Britain allowed the United States to open up the West to settlers, greatly expanding agricultural opportunities for Germans and other immigrants.

Although much of the prosperity that German immigrants enjoyed in North America was based on their success in agriculture, Germans played a leading role in opposing slavery, which provided most of the farm labor in southern U.S. states. Some of the German leaders in the American abolitionist movement were political refugees from the many failed revolutions of 1848 in Europe who came to the United States filled with liberal ideals.

After the U.S. Civil War began in 1861, German immigrants again played a prominent role in the fighting. Some Germans fought for the Confederacy during the war, but the overwhelming majority of Germans involved in the conflict fought on the Union side. Indeed, nearly one-quarter of all Union Army troops were German Americans, about 45 percent of whom had been born in Europe. Among the most outstanding German officers in the Union Army were Carl Schurz, Max Weber, Louis Blenker, and Franz Sigel. Many Germans who fought for the Union brought considerable military experience. A slave state that remained in the Union, Missouri had a large German population that supplied many soldiers to the Union cause. After the war ended in 1865, German immigration continued to rise at a rate faster than that of any other immigrant group into the early twentieth century.

Immigration from Germany, 1820-2008

Source: Department of Homeland Security, Yearbook of Immigration Statistics, 2008. Figures include only immigrants who obtained legal permanent resident status.

Twentieth to Twenty-first Centuries

German immigration to the United States continued to grow until 1914, when World War I began in Europe. The U.S. declaration of war against Germany in 1917 began the first period of anti- German sentiment since the Revolutionary War, when Great Britain used German soldiers against Americans. Anti-German fever during the war caused many Americans to vilify German Americans, especially those known still to speak German, and recently arrived German immigrants. Only a small number of German Americans openly supported Germany’s position in the war. Many of them were imprisoned for sedition or attacked by mobs.

During the war, former U.S. president Theodore Roosevelt went as far as to say neutrality was not an option and dual loyalty could not exist. Rising anti-German sentiment saw many German names disappear from the names of businesses, schools, and even public streets. Indeed, World War I helped accelerate the obliteration of German subcultures within the United States. Many German-language magazines and newspapers stopped publishing. German Americans avoided speaking German in public, and school systems stopped teaching German. Many German Americans anglicized their own surnames: "Mueller” became "Miller,” "Schmidt” became "Smith,” and "Franz” became "Franks.” Fear of American hostility, not the war itself, did much to destroy visible traces of German culture in the United States.

American entry into World War II in 1941 renewed American animosity toward Germans. Anti- German and anti-Japanese campaigns began shortly after Japan launched its sneak attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. The United States had still not fully recovered from anti- German animosity during World War I, and the new war against Germany’s already reviled Nazi regime renewed American distrust of Germans. Using the Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798, the U.S. government legally detained more than ten thousand German Americans during the war. German businesses suffered vandalism and many Germans were attacked by American mobs. Meanwhile, the Holocaust in Europe led to another increase in German immigrants following the war. Most of these people were German Jews who had suffered greatly under the Nazi regime.

An ironic aspect of the war was the fact that the supreme Allied military commander and future president of the United States, Dwight D. Eisenhower was himself of German descent. Some of his ancestors had been members of the Pennsylvania Dutch communities. The war also brought to the United States the great German theoretic physicist Albert Einstein and German rocket expert Wernher von Braun, who would later help shape the American space program.

After memories of World War II receded and Eisenhower became a popular U.S. president, German heritage lost some of the negative stigma it had acquired over the previous decades. This development was aided by growing American distrust of the Soviet Union and the beginning of the Cold War. With an ominous new international threat looming, Americans were becoming less inclined to worry about differences among their own subcultures.

Despite early twentieth century anti-German movements, many traces of German culture have survived into the twenty-first century. These can be seen in product names such as Bayer, Heinz, Chrysler, Busch, and Budweiser, and in such now thoroughly American items of cuisine as hot dogs (frankfurters) and pretzels. In addition to foods and beers, German culture has provided the American educational system with the concept of kindergarten, which was regularly practiced in Germany following the increased immigration during the early nineteenth century. Other German contributions to American culture include two-day weekends, gymnasiums, Christmas trees, and theme parks.

Keith J. Bell

Further Reading

Brancaforte, Charlotte L., ed. The German Fortyeighters in the United States. New York: Peter Lang, 1990. Eighteen essays covering a wide range of topics, including a reappraisal that many of the immigrants were not radicals or revolutionaries. 

Creighton, M. The Colors of Courage: Gettysburg’s Forgotten History: Immigrants, Women, and African Americans in the Civil War’s Defining Battle. New York: Basic Books, 2006. Depicts the forgotten heroism of Germans and other immigrant peoples in one of the bloodiest battles in American history. 

Fogleman, Aaron Spencer. Hopeful Journeys: German Immigration, Settlement, and Political Culture in Colonial America, 1717-1775. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1996. Details the everyday struggles of common German immigrants to the colonies during the eighteenth century and includes many individual stories. 

Heinrich-Tolzmann Don. The German American Experience. Amherst, N.Y.: Humanity Books, 2000. Thought-provoking examination of how German immigrants have blended into American society. 

Kamphoefner, Walter, and Wolfgang Helbich, eds. Germans in the Civil War: The Letters They Wrote Home. Translated by Susan Carter Vogel. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2006. Fascinating collection of documents presenting the firsthand views of German immigrants who fought in the U.S. Civil War. 

Kennedy, David M. The American People in World War II: Freedom from Fear, Part II. New York: Oxford University Press, 1999. This book places immigration issues in the broad context of America at war and looks at American attitudes toward German immigrants. 

Spalek, John, Adrienne Ash, and Sandra Hawrylchak. Guide to Archival Materials of German- Speaking Emigrants to the U.S. After 1933. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 1978. Invaluable handbook for historical and genealogical research into German/Austrian immigration during the mid-twentieth century. Especially strong on Holocaust-related immigrants. 

Tolzmann, Don Heinrich. The German-American Experience. New York: Humanity Books, 2000.Comprehensive study of German immigrants in the United States, with sections on politics and nativism, German rural and urban communities, and German-speaking communities. 

Trumbauer, L. German Immigration. New York: Facts On File, 2004. Details personal stories of German immigrants to the United States and the key players in the formation of the country. 

Wittke, Carl. Refugees of Revolution: The German Forty-eighters in America. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania, 1952. A classic work on the experience of the Forty-eighters in the United States. Heavy emphasis on biography. 

See also: Austrian immigrants; CivilWar, U.S.; Einstein, Albert; German American press; History of immigration, 1620-1783; History of immigration, 1783-1891; History of immigration after 1891; Holocaust; Prisoners of war in the United States; Schurz, Carl; Strauss, Levi; World War I; World War II.

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Greek immigrants

Significance: Although Greeks have accounted for a relatively small percentage of the total immigrants to the United States, they have formed strong ethnic communities that have kept alive their language, traditions, and religion. Persons of Greek ancestry account for 0.4 percent of the current population of the United States.

Significant numbers of Greeks did not begin immigrating to the United States until the 1880’s. However, the first Greek immigrants arrived during the 1820’s, when the Greek war of independence from the Ottoman Empire left Greece with a large foreign debt, and the lack of industrialization forced inhabitants to look elsewhere for employment.

Emigrants boarding small boats in Patras, Greece

Emigrants boarding small boats in Patras, Greece, on their way to the steamship that will take them to America in 1910. (Library of Congress)

After the Turks captured Constantinople in 1453, Greece became part of the Ottoman Empire. Inspired by the late eighteenth century revolutions in North America and western Europe, as well as their own sense of Greek nationalism, a group of Greek loyalists planned a rebellion against the Ottoman state. They gained the support of numerous countries, including Great Britain, France, and Russia. Greece became an independent nation after signing the Treaty of Adrianople in 1832.

Immigration Begins

Following the end of its war of independence, Greece faced a number of internal economic challenges. The country was slow to industrialize through the nineteenth century. As late as 1879, more than 80 percent of its people still lived in rural communities. Currants were Greece’s chief export product, and their price declined so much that many Greek farmers went bankrupt and were unable to pay their taxes. This poor economic climate prompted many Greeks to emigrate.

With the encouragement of the Greek government, young men began leaving the country during the late nineteenth century in the hope of gaining employment in the United States. Large-scale Greek immigration to the United States began in 1880, with the largest numbers immigrating during the early twentieth century. Between 1900 and 1920, more than 350,000 Greeks immigrated to the United States. About 95 percent of the immigrants who came between 1899 and 1910 were men. In keeping with Greek tradition, these men often worked to secure dowries for their sisters back home. In 1905 alone, Greek immigrants remitted more than four million dollars to their families in Greece. Most did not intend to stay in the United States.

Profile of Greek immigrants

Country of origin


Primary language


Primary regions of U.S. settlement

East Coast states, Midwest

Earliest significant arrivals


Peak immigration periods

1900-1917, 1970’s

Twenty-first century legal residents*

7,429 (929 per year)

*Immigrants who obtained legal permanent resident status in the United States.

Source: Department of Homeland Security, Yearbook of Immigration Statistics, 2008.

Greeks in the United States

Upon arriving in the United States, most Greek immigrants found jobs in various industries. In New England, for example, they worked in textile mills. A particularly large Greek community formed in Lowell, Massachusetts, where many Greek men worked in the mill. In Utah and Colorado, Greeks found work in copper and coal mines. In California they worked in railroad gangs. Many were victimized by padrones, labor brokers who recruited immigrants for jobs in exchange for the immigrants’ wages.

Around the turn of the twentieth century, Greek immigrants began going into business for themselves. They opened shoeshine parlors, candy shops, and, most notably, restaurants. Their first restaurants served native cuisine to fellow Greeks. In Chicago, some moved into the lunch business, working from street carts that sold inexpensive fare to factory workers. After the Chicago city council banned the sale of food on city streets, the immigrants turned to opening permanent establishments. Using mainly family members for labor and requiring little startup money, the restaurant business was the first stable economic base for Greeks in America. By 1919, one of every three restaurants in Chicago was operated by a Greek.

A major unifying force for the Greek community in America was the church. The first Greek Orthodox Church in the United States, the Holy Trinity of New Orleans, was founded in 1864. By 1918, nearly 130 Orthodox churches had been founded across the country. Local community organizations called kinotis raised the necessary funds to establish the churches. Many Greeks sought the close-knit communities they had in their home country, and the churches provided the immigrants with forums in which to share their common beliefs. During the early twenty-first century, Greek Orthodox churches have continued to serve as cultural and social centers for many Greek communities within the United States.

Immigration from Greece, 1880-2008

Immigration from Greece, 1880-2008

Source: Department of Homeland Security, Yearbook of Immigration Statistics, 2008. Figures include only immigrants who obtained legal permanent resident status. Records for 1820-1879 show only 375 immigrants from Greece.

Late Twentieth Century Immigration

Prior to 1965, the United States had established quotas restricting immigration from certain countries and ethnic groups. The quotas favored immigrants fromnorthern and western European countries. The Immigration Act of 1924 had imposed harsh restrictions on non-western European immigrant groups. Under that law, only one hundred Greeks per year were allowed entry into the United States.

In 1965, the Democratic-controlled U.S. Congress passed the Immigration and Nationality Act. Whereas previous immigration acts had imposed quotas by country, the 1965 act established hemispheric quotas, and distributed visas based on job skills and family reunification. Many Greek Americans used the new law to bring members of their families to the United States. Between 1960 and 1980, more than 170,000 Greeks immigrated to the United States, many with family reunification visas.

During the first decade of the twenty-first century, approximately 1.4 million persons of Greek ancestry were living in the United States. They resided in all fifty states, with the greatest numbers living in large cities such as Chicago, New York City, and Detroit. Many Greek immigrants have assimilated into American culture, but have remained strongly connected to Greek traditions, religion, and ethnicity.

Bethany E. Pierce

Further Reading

Contopoulos, Michael. The Greek Community of New York City: Early Years to 1910. New Rochelle, N.Y.: Aristide D. Caratzas, 1992. History of one of the largest concentrations of Greek immigrants in any American city.

Moskos, Charles. Greek Americans: Struggle and Success. 2d ed. New Brunswick, N.J.: Transaction Publishers, 1989. Scholarly study of Greeks in America through the 1980’s.

Orfanos, Spyros D., ed. Reading Greek America: Studies in the Experience of Greeks in the United States. New York: Pella, 2002. Collection of essays examining a variety of issues surrounding Greek immigrants.;

Saloutos, Theodore. The Greeks in the United States. Rev. ed.NewYork:, 2007.Comprehensive study of Greek immigrants. Includes an introduction by Charles Moskos, and historiographical essay by Alexander Kitroeff.

Scourby, Alice. The Greek Americans. Boston: Twayne, 1984. Broad study of Greek Americans with background information on Greek history, several chapters on immigrants, and a chapter on changes in Greek American family structures.

See also: Congress, U.S.; Economic opportunities; History of immigration after 1891; Huffington, Arianna; Immigration Act of 1921; Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965; Italian immigrants; Quota systems; Turkish immigrants; Yugoslav state immigrants.

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Guatemalan immigrants

Civil war, natural disasters, and economic hardships combined to cause Guatemalan immigration to the United States to begin a rise during the 1960’s that has continued to grow into the twenty-first century. Guatemalans have become the second-largest Central American immigrant community after Salvadorans.

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Haitian immigrants

Although Haitians are citizens of the second-oldest republic in the Western Hemisphere, an island nation located only seven hundred miles from the United States, they have experienced unique difficulties in finding acceptance as immigrants and have become one of the most abused groups of immigrants in modern American history.

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Hmong immigrants

Significance: The Hmong are one of the most recent Asian immigrant groups to come to the United States. Their main home is in the northern mountain regions of Laos. The Hmong and other Laotian immigrants were helped by the passage of the Indochina Migration and Refugee Assistance Act of 1975 in their efforts to relocate after the Vietnam War ended.

Shaman conducting a traditional good-luck ritual for members of a Hmong family preparing to leave a Thai refugee camp for the United States in 2004

Shaman conducting a traditional good-luck ritual for members of a Hmong family preparing to leave a Thai refugee camp for the United States in 2004. (Getty Images)

The Hmong people have no significant history of immigration to the United States before 1970. By the year 2000, Hmong immigrants numbered around 170,000 according to U.S. Census data. When they began migrating to the United States, they were encouraged by various settlement agencies to disperse throughout the country. However, because of their kinship patterns and collectivist nature, they instead tended to congregate within communities where other Hmong lived. Consequently, 89 percent of these immigrants settled in California, Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Michigan.

American Involvement with the Hmong

During the Vietnam War, Hmong villagers worked alongside the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) in their fight against the North Vietnamese in what has been called a "secret war” in Laos. Their assistance on what was supposed to be neutral territory resulted in problems for Hmong veterans on several different levels. After the South Vietnam capital of Saigon fell to North Vietnamese forces and the war ended, Laos was taken over by Pathet Lao communist forces, and the Hmong were targeted for reprisals because of their support of U.S. involvement in Southeast Asia. At risk of severe retaliation from the Lao government, Hmong and other Laotian exiles escaped to Thailand, where they were placed in refugee camps. Upon resettlement to the United States, the Hmong immigrants achieved refugee status largely because of their war efforts on behalf of the Americans as well as their need to escape the communist regime in Laos.

Profile of Hmong immigrants

Countries of origin

Laos and Vietnam

Primary language


Primary regions of U.S. settlement

California, Michigan, Minnesota, Wisconsin

Earliest significant arrivals


Peak immigration period


Twenty-first century legal residents*

30,000 (estimated; 3,750 per year)

*Immigrants who obtained legal permanent resident status in the United States. Source: U.S. Census Bureau.

Immigration After 1975

In response to the plight of Indochinese communities such as the Hmong after the Vietnam War, the U.S. Congress enacted legislation to enable Southeast Asian refugees to come to the United States. Many immigrants from that region were well educated and possessed valuable job skills. In contrast, however, a large part of the Hmong immigrants were poorly educated and were unskilled workers, as most had been farmers in their home country, and other aspects of the Hmong economy were not highly advanced. These factors, among others, influenced group assimilation processes even though American officials and citizens were initially supportive of Hmong migration.

Between 1981 and 1986, only a few thousand Hmongrefugees came to the United States. Admissions picked up between 1987 and 1994, when more than 50,000 Hmong entered the country. From 2004 until 2006, pressure fromhuman rights groups contributed to the resettlement to the United States of an additional 15,000 Hmong immigrants from a refugee camp in Thailand. Afterward, immigration from northern Laos to the United States slowed.

Hmong in the United States

Hmong communities in the United States have stabilized. U.S. government estimates indicate that between 170,000 and 186,000 Hmong were living in the United States by 2008. However, estimates from nongovernment sources have suggested that there may actually be between 250,000 and 300,000. About 60,000Hmongreside in the state of Minnesota, with about 30,000 in the Minneapolis- St. Paul area alone. The firstHmongrefugees came from a subsistence and agrarian background, but later waves of immigrants came with some knowledge of technology and Western culture. Overall, the American Hmong population was young and highly urban by the year 2009. In fact, the Minneapolis- St. Paul area has the largest Hmong urban population in the world. The majority of Hmong Minnesotans have already become second- or third-generation American-born citizens.

With a relatively short history in the United States, the Hmong still struggle with cultural identity issues. The initial culture shock that occurred during their first wave of immigration resulted in a slower assimilation rate than was anticipated, even though some younger Hmong Americans adapted relatively quickly. The Hmong have not abandoned their collectivist family structures and this has helped them achieve a level of economic stability. Like those of Vietnamese immigrants, Hmong families often pool resources and incomes in order to buy homes, businesses, and cars.

In Minnesota, Hmong residents generate more than $100 million in revenues annually and entrepreneurs have successfully revitalized the University Avenue area of St. Paul. Even though the first wave of Hmong immigrants was not as prepared to cope with the technologically advanced capitalistic society of the United States, over the years they have become upwardly mobile, a situation that indicates a positive future.

Dianne Dentice

Further Reading

Barr, Linda. Long Road to Freedom: Journey of the Hmong. Bloomington, Minn.: Red Brick Learning, 2004. Account of the plight of Hmong refugees during the early twenty-first century. 

Faderman, Lillian, and Ghia Xiong. I Begin My Life All Over: The Hmong and the American Immigrant Experience. Boston: Beacon, 1998. Collection of thirty-five Hmong immigrant narratives that emphasizes generational differences. 

Keown-Bomar, Julie. Kinship Networks Among Hmong-American Refugees. New York: LFB Scholarly Publishing, 2004. Thorough sociological study of Hmong immigrants. 

Mote, Sue Murphy. Hmong and American: Stories of Transition to a Strange Land. Jefferson, N.C.: Mc- Farland, 2004. Another collection of Hmong immigrant narratives. 

Parrillo, Vincent. Strangers to These Shores. 9th ed. Boston: Allyn&Bacon, 2008. General treatment of race and ethnic relations with a section on Laotian immigration that emphasizes Hmong immigrants. 

Schaefer, Richard T. Racial and Ethnic Groups. 11th ed. Upper Saddle River, N.J.: Prentice Hall, 2007. General textbook on American ethnic groups that includes a case study of a Hmong community in Wausau, Wisconsin. 

Sherman, Spencer. "The Hmong in America: Laotian Refugees in the Land of the Giants.” National Geographic (October, 1988).Well-illustrated description of Hmong communities in North Carolina and California. 

See also: Asian immigrants; Immigration waves; Indochina Migration and Refugee Assistance Act of 1975; Laotian immigrants; Minnesota; Refugees; Tennessee; Thai immigrants; Vietnam War.

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Honduran immigrants

Significance: Honduran immigration into the United States is a relatively recent phenomenon, but the 81 percent increase of Hondurans coming into the country during the first decade of the twenty-first century, was the largest of any immigrant group. Their numbers rose fromapproximately 160,000 in 2000 to 300,000 in 2008.

Until the fourth decade of the twentieth century, U.S. Census data did not count immigrants from individual Central American nations. In any case, the numbers of Hondurans immigrating to the United States before 1930 was small, and even during the decade of the 1930’s, only 679 Hondurans entered the country legally. The numbers of immigrants remained low into the 1960’s, when a significant increase began. During that decade, 15,078 Hondurans were granted legal permanent resident status in the United States. By the last year of the twentieth century, an average of more than 7,100 new immigrants per year were coming from Honduras. The 2000 U.S. Census recorded a total of 282,852 Hondurans living in the United States legally. However, these numbers do not include the large numbers of undocumented immigrants. By the year 2008, it was estimated that nearly 1 million Hondurans resided in the United States. Of that number, as many as 70 percent were estimated to be in the country illegally.

Many of the most recent Honduran immigrants to enter the United States legally have been granted temporary protected status because of the devastation in Central America left by Hurricane Mitch in 1998. That status was extended several times, including an extension to July of 2010; it grants work authorization and protection from deportation but does not assure permanent residency. As many as 80,000 Hondurans came to the United States under temporary protected status.

Profile of Honduran immigrants

Country of origin Honduras
Primary language Spanish
Primary regions of U.S. settlement California, Washington, New York, Ohio, Illinois, Texas, Nebraska
Earliest significant arrivals Early twentieth century
Peak immigration period 1980’s-2008
Twenty-first century legal residents* 52,534 (6,567 per year)

*Immigrants who obtained legal permanent resident status in the United States.

Source: Department of Homeland Security, Yearbook of Immigration Statistics, 2008.

Push-Pull Factors

A combination of economic hardship and natural disasters has led to the increase in Honduran immigration. Most Hondurans are small-scale farmers with average income of only $1,700 per year. During the first decade of the twenty-first century, it was estimated that 59 percent of all Hondurans were living below the poverty line. Approximately 20 percent of adults were illiterate, and 25 percent of the children were chronically malnourished.

Immigration from Honduras, 1930-2008

Immigration from Honduras, 1930-2008

Source: Department of Homeland Security, Yearbook of Immigration Statistics, 2008. Figures include only immigrants who obtained legal permanent resident status.

The 1998 arrival of Hurricane Mitch in Central America proved to be one of the worst natural disasters ever to hit Honduras. The hurricane caused great additional economic hardships in what was already a desperately poor country. Entire fruit fields were destroyed, resulting in the departure of many multinational fruit companies that were important employers. Record amounts of rainfall caused mudslides that wiped out entire villages. Back roads and bridges were destroyed, and as much as 70 to 80 percent of the national transportation infrastructure was ruined. Seven thousand people died, and more than 20 percent of the entire population were left homeless after the hurricane. During the months directly following the hurricane, the U.S. Border Patrol reported a 61 percent increase in captures of Hondurans trying to cross the border into the United States.

Hondurans in the United States

Honduran transnational communities strive to maintain ties with their hometowns while creating new homes for themselves in the United States. The flow of migrants has a direct impact on Honduran communities in both countries, creating an exchange of cultures that changes both. Honduran residents of the United States account for 40 percent of all tourism revenue in Honduras.

Hurricane Mitch in Central America, 1998

Hurricane Mitch in Central America, 1998

Many Hondurans work in the United States in order to send remittances to relatives still in Honduras. In 2007, the Honduran foreign ministry reported that $2.8 billion in remittances were sent to Honduras by workers in the United States. Remittances directly affect the receiving families, lifting many of them out of poverty. They also add to the economic disparity in communities, creating a clear distinction between those who receive them and those who do not. However, some observers feel that remittances can create a dependence on charity that does little to improve the economic development of Honduras.

Hondurans who try to travel to the United States to find work face difficult and dangerous journeys that require passing through Guatemala and Mexico. Peril and discomforts include rape, exposure to severe heat in desert areas, long separations from family, robbery, accidents, and even murder. Engaging professional guides known as "coyotes” can cost as much as five thousand dollars. It has been estimated that only 25 percent of the approximately 80,000 Hondurans who have tried to reach the United States each year since 1998 have succeeded.

Many of the Hondurans who have immigrated to the United States have flourished. However, a less positive result of Honduran immigration has been the development of youth gangs. During the 1990’s, the U.S. government targeted undocumented residents in the penal system for deportation. Many of these former criminals were also gang members who recommenced their gangster lifestyle upon return to Honduras, creating transnational ties with gangs in the United States.

Elizabeth Ellen Cramer

Further Reading

  • Duffy, Maureen P., and Scott Edward Gillig. Teen Gangs: A Global View. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 2004. Discusses teen gang activity in fourteen countries, including Honduras. 
  • González, Juan. Harvest of Empire: A History of Latinos in America. New York: Viking Press, 2000. General history of Latin American immigration into the United States, including that from Central and South American nations. 
  • Nazario, Sonia. Enrique’s Journey. New York: Random House, 2006. True story about an elevenyear- old Honduran boy’s epic journey to the United States to find the mother who went north to find work when he was only five years old. Based on a prize-winning series of stories first published in the Los Angeles Times, for which Nazario was a feature writer. 
  • Salgado, Sebastião, and Lélia Wanick Salgoda. Migrations: Humanity in Transition. New York: Aperture, 2001. Photojournalistic work depicting displaced populations of the world, including Hondurans in the aftermath of Hurricane Mitch. 
  • Schmalzbauer, Leah. Striving and Surviving: A Daily Life Analysis of Honduran Transnational Families. New York: Routledge, 2005. Focusing on Honduran families in the United States, this volume investigates the role of the family in transnational communities. 

See also: El Rescate; Farm and migrant workers; Guatemalan immigrants; History of immigration after 1891; Illegal immigration; Latin American immigrants; Louisiana; Push-pull factors; Salvadoran immigrants; Sanctuary movement; Smuggling of immigrants.

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Hong Kong immigrants

Hong Kong immigrantsImmigrants fromthe Chinese port city of Hong Kong have differed from earlier Chinese immigrants in a variety of distinctive ways. Their arrival in the United States has drastically transformed the nature of Chinese American communities.

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Hungarian immigrants

Although most Hungarians who emigrated to the United States arrived between 1890 and the start of World War I in 1914, the most significant Hungarian immigration took place during the 1930’s.

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Indonesian immigrants

Indonesia is made up of a large number of populated islands located south of Southeast Asia’s Malay Peninsula.

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Indonesian immigrants: Barack Obama and Indonesia

Although Indonesia’s ties with the United States have historically been limited, the Southeast Asian nation has a special connection with the forty-fourth president of the United States.

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Iranian immigrants

Iranian immigrants: Revolution and Immigration

Iranian immigrants: Iranians in the United States

Significance: Iranian immigration to the United States is a recent phenomenon and has taken place primarily since 1975. The Islamic fundamentalist revolution of the late 1970’s that transformed Iran into a theocratic state was a major world event that increased Iranian migration to the United States and created some negative stereotypes of Iranians among Americans. Some large Iranian American communities have developed, most notably in the region of Los Angeles.

The first recorded immigrants from Iran to the United States arrived during the 1920’s, when 208 people from Iran (or Persia, as the country was then generally known) came to the United States. Their numbers increased over the next four decades but still remained comparatively small. Immigration and Naturalization Service data show only 9,059 people coming from Iran during the 1960’s. In the 1970’s through the 1990’s, Iranian immigration shot up dramatically. Between 1970 and 1979, 33,763 Iranians immigrated legally to the United States. During the 1980’s, this figure went up to 98,141 and decreased only slightly, to 76,899, during 1990’s. Between 2000 and 2008, 67,915 new residents came from Iran.

Country of origin Iran
Primary language Farsi
Primary regions of U.S. settlement California
Earliest significant arrivals 1920’s
Peak immigration period 1979-2008
Twenty-first century legal residents* 93,195 (11,649 per year)

*Immigrants who obtained legal permanent resident status in the United States.

Source: Department of Homeland Security, Yearbook of Immigration Statistics, 2008.

By 1980, the Iranian-born population of the U.S. amounted to 130,000 people, compared to only about 24,000 a mere ten years earlier. More than 70 percent of this 1980 population had arrived during the second half of the 1970’s, so they were an extremely new group. They were concentrated on the West Coast, with four out of ten Iranian residents of the United States living in California alone and one out of five living in the Los Angeles-Long Beach metropolitan area. The Iranian-born population continued to expand into the twenty-first century, growing from slightly more than 204,000 in 1990 to more than 290,000 in 2000 and to about 328,000 in 2007.

Carl L. Bankston III

Further Reading

Ansari, Maboud. The Making of the Iranian Community in America. New York: Pardis Press, 1992. Useful overview of the growth of the Iranian immigrant community in the United States. 

Bozorgmehr, Mehdi. "Iran.” In The New Americans: A Guide to Immigration Since 1965, edited by Mary C. Waters, Reed Ueda, and Helen B. Marrow. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2007. Best available short overview of Iranian immigration, written by a highly respected authority on this topic. 

Dumas, Firoozeh. Funny in Farsi: A Memoir of Growing Up Iranian in America. New York: Villard, 2003. Warmly personal memoir of the experiences of an Iranian American. 

Karim, Perssis, and Mehid M. Khortami, eds. A World in Between: Poems, Stories, and Essays by Iranian-Americans. New York: George Braziller, 1999. Anthology of literary works by Iranian immigrants that illustrate the experiences of Iranians in the United States. 

Naficy, Maid. The Making of Exile Cultures: Iranian Television in Los Angeles. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1993. Examination of how Iranian television has influenced group identity in the large ethnic community in Los Angeles. 

Sharavini, Mitra K. Educating Immigrants: Experiences of Second Generation Iranians. New York: LFB Scholarly Publishing, 2004. Emphasizes the importance Iranian immigrants place on education for their children and looks at the relative success of Iranian ancestry students in American schools. 

See also: Arab immigrants; California; Israeli immigrants; Los Angeles; Muslim immigrants; Pakistani immigrants; Refugees; Religions of immigrants.

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Iranian immigrants: Revolution and Immigration

Much of the immigration from Iran to the United States resulted from political unrest in Iran and as a consequence of people fleeing the Iranian Revolution of 1978-1979 and the creation of the Islamic Republic in 1980.

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Iranian immigrants: Iranians in the United States

By 2007, the geographic concentration of Iranian immigrants had grown greater.

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Irish immigrants

During the early nineteenth century, Ireland was one of the main sources of immigration to the United States.

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Irish immigrants: Early Irish Immigration

The majority of the Irish in America before the nineteenth century were those who later became known as Scotch-Irish, descendants of people from Scotland who had moved to the northern part of Ireland in earlier centuries.

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Irish immigrants: Early Nineteenth Century Immigration

Movement from Ireland to the United States continued into the nineteenth century and began to increase in response to new opportunities.

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Irish immigrants: Irish Immigrants during the U.S. Civil War

By 1860, a year before the Civil War broke out, well over 1.5 million people born in Ireland were living in the United States.

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Irish immigrants: Immigration During and After the Great Wave

The Civil War was enormously destructive, but it also helped to stimulate the American economy and to push the United States toward more industrialization.

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Irish immigrants: Immigration After 1965

During the last three decades of the twentieth century, the United States began welcoming a new great wave of immigrants.

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Israeli immigrants

Significance: The state of Israel was established only in 1948, and much of its own population growth has come about through Jewish emigration from the United States and Europe. This makes analyses of migration from Israel to the United States uniquely complex. Many ostensible immigrants to the United States from Israel have been Jews who originated in the United States, emigrated to Israel, and later returned to North America. Some of these same returnees have even returned to Israel again. The subject is also complicated by the fact that immigrants to the United States from Israel have included Muslim and Christian Palestinians, who may or may not have been Israeli citizens. Moreover, some Palestinian immigrants who were legally Israeli citizens may not have identified with the Jewish state.

The number of immigrants to the United States whose last country of residence was Israel has grown steadily over the decades. From 1950 to 1959, 21,376 legal migrants fromIsrael were admitted into the United States. During the 1960’s, that figure increased to 30,911 and in the 1980’s to 43,669. After a slight dip to 41,340 during the 1990’s, a total of 47,873 new immigrants arrived fromIsrael between 2000 and 2008. Estimates from U.S. Census data indicate that numbers of people born in Israel, or Palestine, in the United States grew from 94,500 in 1990 to 123,000 in 2000 and reached 154,000 in 2007.

Immigration from Israel, 1948-2008

Immigration from Israel, 1948-2008

Source: Department of Homeland Security, Yearbook of Immigration Statistics, 2008. Figures include only immigrants who obtained legal permanent resident status.

According to the sociologist Steven J. Gold, a widely recognized authority on Israeli immigrants, Jewish Israelis in the United States have shown a number of distinctive characteristics. They have tended to have high levels of education and to work in professional fields, most notably in educational services. According to early twenty-first century U.S. Census figures, about one-quarter of Israeli immigrants have been managers, officials, and proprietors. Other common occupations have been in sales, teaching, and professional and technical jobs. However, most Jewish Israeli immigrants have come to the United States in order to escape political unrest in the Middle East, not to seek improved economic opportunities. Consequently, although they have generally adapted well to American life and generally speak English fluently, a substantial number of them have avoided describing themselves as "Americans” and have expressed a desire eventually to return to Israel. Many continue to speak Israel’s national language, Hebrew, at home.

Profile of Israeli immigrants

Country of origin Israel
Primary languages Hebrew, English
Primary regions of U.S. settlement California, New York State
Earliest significant arrivals 1950’s
Twenty-first century legal residents* 36,516 (4,565 per year)

*Immigrants who obtained legal permanent resident status in the United States.

Source: Department of Homeland Security, Yearbook of Immigration Statistics, 2008.

Jewish Israelis live throughout the United States, but they are most heavily concentrated in New York City and Los Angeles. These two cities alone contain about half of all Jewish Israelis living in the United States. Other popular destinations for many Israeli immigrants have included Michigan, Florida, and Illinois. Israeli immigrants are frequently drawn to large established Jewish neighborhoods, such as Brooklyn and Queens in New York City and West Hollywood and the San Fernando Valley in the Los Angeles area.

Carl L. Bankston III

Further Reading

Gold, Steven J. The Israeli Diaspora. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2002. 

Gold, Steven J., and Bruce A. Phillips. "Israelis in the U.S.” In American Jewish Yearbook, 1996. New York: American Jewish Committee, 1996. 

O’Brien, Lee. American Jewish Organizations and Israel. Washington, D.C.: Institute for Palestine Studies, 1986. 

Sobel, Zvi. Migrants from the Promised Land. New Brunswick, N.J.: Transaction Books, 1986. 

Telushkin, Rabbi Joseph. The Golden Land: The Story of Jewish Immigration to America. New York: Harmony Books, 2002. 

Worth, Richard. Jewish Immigrants. New York: Facts On File, 2005. 

See also: Afroyim v. Rusk; American Jewish Committee; Anti-Defamation League; Anti-Semitism; Arab immigrants; Dual citizenship; Emigration; Holocaust; Jewish immigrants; Los Angeles; Muslim immigrants; New York City.

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Italian immigrants

The late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries saw a large-scale influx of Italian immigrants to the United States.

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Italian immigrants: Early Immigration

Immigration from Italy to the United States was only a trickle before the 1880’s.

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Italian immigrants: Late Nineteenth Century Immigration

The political unification of Italy in 1879 did not bring better lives to the majority of Italians, who began to emigrate in large numbers to Brazil, Argentina, and the United States.

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Italian immigrants: Twentieth Century Trends

Anti-Italian sentiments among native-born Americans grew along with the burgeoning numbers of Italian immigrants.

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Italian immigrants: Italian Religion and Culture

Historically, most Italians have been Roman Catholics, and immigrants have continued in that religious faith in the United States.

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Italian immigrants: Families

An important center of Italian immigrant life has been the family.

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Italian immigrants: Italian Stereotypes

Few European immigrant groups have faced as much ethnic prejudice as Italians.

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Italian immigrants: Italian Contributions to American Cuisine

The art of cooking has always been part of the Italian domestic landscape.

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Thai immigration

Most Thai Americans are the product of the revised regulations under the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 and the U.S. presence in Vietnam.

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Taiwanese immigration

Taiwan did not become an independent country until 1949. As one of the West’s staunchest allies in the cold war after 1945, Taiwan has enjoyed a special relationship with the United States, including both diplomatic and military assistance in its conflict with the Communist People’s Republic of China.

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Swiss immigration

The Swiss were among the earliest non-British or non- French European settlers in both the United States and Canada, with a substantial immigration during the 18th century.

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Swedish immigration

Though Swedes settled in North America as early as 1638, the great period of Swedish migration was between 1870 and 1914.

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Sri Lankan immigration

Most Sri Lankans in the United States and Canada are professionals or come from professional backgrounds and thus have done relatively well economically.

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Spanish immigration

Significant elements of Spanish culture represent one of the major strands of the American social fabric.

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Soviet immigration

Emigration from the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR; Soviet Union) was, for most of its history (1917–91), forbidden.

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South Asian immigration

Most early studies of immigration to the United States and Canada treated all the peoples of South Asia as a single category, including immigrants from more than a dozen ethnic groups who inhabited British India prior to 1947.

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Slovenian immigration

Throughout most of its history, Slovenia was governed by the Germanic Austrians or the Serb-dominated state of Yugoslavia. In 1991, Slovenia won its independence, making it one of the newest countries in the world.

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Slovakian immigration

Emerging from the nationalist democratic movements of the late 1980s and early 1990s, Slovakia is one of the newest countries in the world.

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Schwenkfelder immigration

The Schwenkfelders were a small, pietistic sect that emigrated from southern Germany and lower Silesia in the Austrian Empire beginning in 1731.

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Salvadoran immigration

Salvadoran immigration to the United States is a new phenomenon, the product of a long civil war that decimated the country during the 1980s.

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Russian immigration

Though Russia controlled parts of the modern United States and Canada, it left relatively little cultural mark during its early 19th-century settlement of the Pacific Northwest.

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Romanian immigration

Most ethnic Romanians from the Ottoman, Austrian, and Russian Empires and the state of Romania came as laborers and peasants and sought work wherever they could find it in North America.

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Quaker immigration

The Quakers, officially members of the Religious Society of Friends, were a pietistic Christian sect founded by George Fox in England in the 1640s.

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Puerto Rican immigration

Puerto Rico is a Caribbean island commonwealth of the United States, located about 1,000 miles southeast of Miami.

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Portuguese immigration

The Portuguese have a long tradition of migration—to Brazil, to North America, and to other European countries.

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Polish immigration

Poles represent the largest eastern European immigrant group in the United States and the second largest in Canada, behind Ukrainians.

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Pilgrims and Puritans

The Pilgrims and the Puritans were two theologically related Christian groups that developed within the Church of England in the 16th century.

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Picture brides (mail-order brides)

This informal term refers to women who married single immigrant men they had never met but with whom they had exchanged photographs, usually through family intermediaries.

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Peruvian immigration

Significant Peruvian immigration to North America began in the 1960s and reflects the unusually diverse ethnic heritage of South America’s third largest country.

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Palestinian immigration

Palestinians are Arabs and generally were counted as part of Ottoman or Arab immigration figures prior to World War II (1939–45).

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Pakistani immigration

Pakistanis only began to immigrate to North America in significant numbers since the mid-1960s, when immigration policies in both the United States and Canada abandoned racial quotas.

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Pacific Islander immigration

The islands of the vast Pacific Ocean stretch over thousands of miles but have a small total population.

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Norwegian immigration

Norway was the number one source country for Scandinavian immigration to North America, and second only to famine-ravaged Ireland in percentage of its population to immigrate.

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Nigerian immigration

Nigeria is the number one source country for West African immigrants coming to the United States and is second to Ghana for immigration to Canada.

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Nicaraguan immigration

As a result of an ongoing and integral U.S. involvement with the politics of Nicaragua from the 1850s, a unique set of circumstances has brought a variety of Nicaraguan immigrants to the United States.

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New immigration

New immigration is a term principally applied to the United States, designating a shift in the most common immigrant groups.

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Moroccan immigration

The Moroccan presence in North America was small until the 1950s. According to the U.S. census of 2000 and the Canadian census of 2001, 38,923 Americans and 21,355 Canadians claimed Moroccan descent.

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Mexican immigration

Mexicans hold a unique position in the cultural history of the United States.

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Mennonite immigration

Old Order Mennonites were one of the few immigrant groups to maintain their distinctive identity across more than three or four generations after coming to North America.

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Macedonian immigration

According to the U.S. census of 2000 and the Canadian census of 2001, 38,051 Americans and 31,265 Canadians claimed Macedonian descent.

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Lithuanian immigration

Lithuanian immigration to North America, spurred by economic opportunity and political oppression, has been the largest among the Baltic states.

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Liberian immigration

Liberia traditionally was not an important source country for immigration to North America; however, political turmoil during the 1990s and into the 21st century and the region’s special relationship to the United States led to a significant increase in immigration.

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Lebanese immigration

The Lebanese, among the earliest Middle Eastern immigrants to come to North America in significant numbers, formed the largest Arab ethnic group in both the United States and Canada.

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Latvian immigration

According to the U.S. census of 2000 and the Canadian census of 2001, 87,564 Americans and 22,615 Canadians claimed Latvian descent.

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Laotian immigration

Laotian immigration to North America was almost totally the product of the Vietnam War (1964–75).

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Korean immigration

Korean immigration to North America remained relatively small until U.S. and Canadian immigration reforms in the 1960s eliminated racial limitations on entrance.

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Jewish immigration

The Jewish immigrant experience was unique in North American history.

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Japanese immigration

For most of the 20th century, Japanese Americans formed the largest Asian ethnic group in the United States.

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Jamaican immigration

Jamaicans are the largest West Indian immigrant group in Canada and the third largest in the United States, behind Puerto Ricans and Cubans.

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Italian immigration

Italy was second only to Germany as a source country for immigrants to the United States after 1820.

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Irish immigration

The Irish were the first of Europe’s many impoverished peoples to seek economic advantages in the New World in large numbers in the 19th century, providing one of the great immigration streams to both Canada and the United States.

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Iraqi immigration

Unlike some other Muslim groups, Iraqis had little exposure to Western culture before immigrating to North America in the wake of the first Persian Gulf War (1991) and therefore had more difficulty assimilating.

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Iranian immigration

During the 1990s, Iranians formed the largest immigrant group from the Middle East in both the United States and Canada.

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Indian immigration

According to the 2000 U.S. census, 1,899,599 Americans claimed Asian Indian descent. Although most were Hindus and Muslims, almost 150,000 were Christians from southern India.

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Icelandic immigration

Sharing a common North Atlantic heritage with Canada, Iceland became one of the few source countries to send more immigrants to Canada than to the United States.

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Hutterite immigration

The Hutterian Brethren (Hutterites) are a communal Anabaptist Protestant sect that emigrated en masse from Russia to the United States in the 1870s.

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Hungarian immigration

One of the largest ethnic immigrant groups of the great migration between 1880 and 1914, Hungarians built one of the most cohesive ethnic identities in the New World.

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Huguenot immigration

French citizens who embraced the Protestant teachings of the 16th-century reformation were known as Huguenots.

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Honduran immigration

As the poorest country in Central America, Honduras has become an important source country for northward migration since the 1960s.

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Haitian immigration

Haitian immigration to North America is a relatively new phenomenon, the product of right-wing political oppression and political instability since the 1950s.

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Gypsy immigration

Gypsies, because of their itinerant lifestyle both in Europe and in North America, are among the most difficult immigrants to understand or characterize.

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Guatemalan immigration

Guatemalan immigration to North America was largely the product of the civil unrest in Guatemala during the 1980s and 1990s.

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Greek immigration

Greeks emigrated from their homeland and from many parts of the Ottoman (Turkish) Empire beginning in the 1890s, forming one of the most homogeneous ethnic groups in North America.

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Ghanaian immigration

Most Ghanaians came to the United States and Canada after independence in 1957, seeking education and business opportunities.

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Finnish immigration

Finns were among the earliest settlers in North America, forming a substantial portion of the colony of New Sweden, founded in 1638 along the Delaware River (see DELAWARE COLONY).

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Filipino immigration

Because the United States had acquired the Philippines as a colonial territory in 1898, Filipinos were in some ways privileged immigrants during the 20th century and second in number only to Chinese among Asian immigrants to the United States.

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Ethiopian immigration

Ethiopians were among the first Africans to voluntarily immigrate to the United States, mainly as a result of cold war conflicts.

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Estonian immigration

Estonian immigration to North America has been small and closely tied to political events in Europe. In the U.S. census of 2000 and the Canadian census of 2001, 25,034 Americans and 22,085 Canadians claimed Estonian descent.

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Egyptian immigration

Egyptians have never emigrated in large numbers from their homeland. In the U.S. census of 2000 and the Canadian census of 2001, 142,832 Americans and 41,310 Canadians claimed Egyptian descent.

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Ecuadorean immigration

Almost all Ecuadorean immigration to North America has occurred since the 1960s. In the U.S. census of 2000 and the Canadian census of 2001, 260,559 Americans and 8,785 Canadians claimed Ecuadorean descent.

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Dutch immigration

Coming to the Hudson River Valley of New York as early as 1614, the Dutch were among the earliest European settlers in the New World and exerted considerable political and economic influence in New York well into the 19th century.

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Dominican immigration

Between 1980 and 2000, the Dominican Republic was second only to Mexico among source nations in the Western Hemisphere for immigration to the United States.

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Danish immigration

Though Viking Danes were probably among the first Europeans to settle North America, the first Danish settlement of lasting importance came in the 1640s, when about 500 Danes composed half the population of the Dutch New Netherlands colony.

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Cuban immigration

Cubans are usually considered to be the most successful Hispanic immigrant group, with educational and economic profiles near those of the U.S. population as a whole.

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Croatian immigration

Croatians were the earliest south Slavic group to settle in North America in significant numbers. In the U.S. census of 2000 and the Canadian census of 2001, 374,241 Americans and 97,050 Canadians claimed Croatian descent.

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Colombian immigration

The Colombian community in the United States is ethnically diverse and forms the largest immigrant group from South America.

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Chinese immigration

The Chinese were the first large Asian group to settle in both the United States and Canada and proved integral to the economic development of the North American west.

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Chilean immigration

The earliest migration of Chileans to the north came during the California gold rush of 1848–49, when some 7,000 immigrated to the United States, with most settling in San Francisco and Santa Clara Counties.

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Cape Verdean immigration

Although Cape Verdeans have never constituted a large immigrant group in North America, they formed an important cog in the 19th-century Atlantic whaling industry before finally settling in New England.

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Canadian immigration to the United States

From the earliest period of European settlement in North America in the 17th century, France and England both found it difficult to attract settlers to the cold northern colonies that eventually became Canada.

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Cambodian immigration

There was virtually no Cambodian immigration to North America prior to 1975. As a result of the Vietnam War (1964–1975) and subsequent regional fighting, large numbers of Cambodians were granted refugee status by both the United States and Canada.

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Bulgarian immigration

There were very few Bulgarian immigrants to North America prior to the 20th century, and they never constituted a major immigrant group.

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British immigration

In the U.S. census of 2000, more than 67 million Americans claimed British descent (English, Irish, Scots, Scots-Irish, Welsh), while in the Canadian census of 2001, almost 10 million reported British ancestry.

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Brazilian immigration

Throughout the 19th and early 20th centuries, few Brazilians immigrated to North America, as their country was actively promoting immigration to Brazil to develop the untapped resources of the country.

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Bosnian immigration

Bosnians began to immigrate to North America around 1900, though their numbers remained small until the breakup of Yugoslavia and the resultant civil war in the early 1990s produced a flood of refugees.

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Belgian immigration

Belgians were among the earliest settlers in colonial North America, although they immigrated in significant numbers only between 1820 and 1920. In the U.S. census of 2000 and the Canadian census of 2001, 360,642 Americans and 129,780 Canadians claimed Belgian descent.

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Basque immigration

The Basques make up a very small proportion of European immigration to North America. In the U.S. census of 2000 and the Canadian census of 2001, 57,793 Americans and 2,715 Canadians claimed Basque descent, though the numbers probably underrepresent the actual figure.

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Barbadian immigration

As the most densely populated island nation in the Caribbean Sea, Barbados has long experienced strong demographic pressures resulting in emigration.

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Bangladeshi immigration

In the U.S. census of 2000 and the Canadian census of 2001, 57,412 Americans and 13,080 Canadians claimed Bangladeshi descent, though the numbers are speculative.

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Austrian immigration

In the U.S. census of 2000 and the Canadian census of 2001, 735,128 Americans and 147,585 Canadians claimed Austrian ancestry.

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Australian immigration

As a traditional country of reception for immigrants, large numbers of Australians never immigrated to North America.

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Armenian immigration

Armenians first migrated to North America in large numbers following the massacres of 1894–95 at the hands of the Ottoman Empire.

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Argentinean immigration

Argentineans first arrived in the United States and Canada in significant numbers during the 1960s, primarily seeking economic opportunities.

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Arab immigration

The majority of Arabs in North America are the largely assimilated descendants of Christians who emigrated from the Syrian and Lebanese areas of the Ottoman Empire between 1875 and 1920.

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Amish immigration

The Amish are one of the few immigrant peoples to maintain their distinctive identity over more than three or four generations after migration to North America.

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American immigration to Canada

American immigration to Canada has always been a relatively easy process, fostered by a long shared border, similar cultural values, and a common language.

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Albanian immigration

Albanians began immigrating to North America in significant numbers around 1900, though thousands returned to their homeland after World War I (1914–18).

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African forced migration

Throughout most of America’s history, Americans of African descent were its largest minority group.

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Tibetan immigration

Tibetans form one of the smallest immigrant communities in both the United States and Canada;

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Trinidadian and Tobagonian immigration

Two simultaneous ethnic migrations—one black and one Asian Indian—occurred from Trinidad and Tobago beginning in the mid-1960s.

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Turkish immigration

Turkish immigration to North America, apart from large numbers of students, has remained relatively small. It has been supplemented, however, by a growing number of resident refugees or asylum seekers.

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Ukrainian immigration

Ukrainian immigration to Canada represented the largest of any ethnic group from eastern Europe, and the Ukrainians in Canada are one of the few ethnic groups with a larger absolute population than their counterparts in the United States.

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Vietnamese immigration

There were virtually no Vietnamese in North America prior to the Vietnam War (1964–75).

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West Indian immigration

West Indians are of mixed racial and ethnic background.

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