Reading Response

Irish American and Asian American Historiography

The ways in which migrant history is written depends on the people who are being researched. Historiography on Irish migrants is larger than on Asian American migrants. Reasons for this include the time in which the studies of these people happened; Irish heritage and ancestor study was very popular for white Americans while Asian American research was barded and stunted due to racial issues and political involvement. ‘No Lamps Were Lit for Them’ speaks on the troubles of Asian American historiography in connection to the rise of ethnic background research and reemergence of Ellis Island compared to Angle Island. ’20 Years of Irish American Historiography’ looks at the ways the written history on Irish American has changed when compared to the first collective study by Kerby Miller ‘Emigrated and Exiles’ in 1988.

Angel Island on the west coast was operated from 1910-1940. In opposition to Ellis Island, Angel Island housed, mostly Asian American, detainees until they could be processed. The island was not recognized the same way as Ellis Island became of what it was used for and who stayed there. During the resurgence of ethnic background by white American Ellis Island became a visual representation for the ‘immigrant experience’ and in doing so ignored the other migrant stations in the west and along the Mexican-US border. The historiography on Asian Americans can be broken down into sections. The first was the ‘period of scorn’, in the few works that mentioned Asian Americans it was done with distain and if permitting the ‘forever foreigner’ motif. At the time also they were not included in migration history either became they were ‘alien in every sense’ or the author did not want to the research to be “complicated with the very different problems of Chinese or Japanese immigration.” Following was the ‘period of neglect’ during this time Asian Americans were again ignored in research all together even when talking about migration. Finally, limited awareness of Asian American history because migration studies was so focused on European migration. Reasoning for this was the run off effects of ethnic studies, racism, and an unwillingness to expand the current model for others.

Kerby Millers book was considered the most collective source for Irish American history. Miller wanted to look at why the Irish saw their migration as an involuntary exile. Themes of Miller’s work include process of migration, colonial period in American history, labor and race, intersection of the Irish with other migrant and ethnic groups in the United States, and the emergence of new transnational context for Irish American history. The reality versus the rhetoric of Irish American history is also discussed. Critics of Miller’s work felt he was too pessimistic of the Irish Americans he studied. In his work he also contradicted himself in his research and how he laid out the book. Miller used few personal accounts numerous stories as evidence while barely discussing the Irish migrant women. On the topic of religion, from how he uses it, does not show how religion can be more of a controlling force than a community engagement one. Second to last the ‘whiteness thesis’ discusses when and how the Irish were seen as white. Though the Irish were always white, European, they were first Irish and unpopular so when the migrating African Americans and Eastern Europeans arrived the Irish had something to oppose and compare to show their whiteness and project their perceived racism onto. Lastly the issue of nation-states and transnationalism is looked at. The effect and reasoning behind nationalism was not seen in Miller’s work because for him the migrants were forced to leave so could not form a nationalist ideal for their country as they would have in America. Nationalism was also a way to prove ones Americanism in America, which was not needed in Ireland when they left.

Reading Response

Pegler-Gordon Reviews

Anna Pegler-Gordon looks at how photography had been used to visualize race. Pegler-Gordon uses the early photography of Chinese immigrants to show this. The use of photography and medical examinations were two ways to restrict people from the United States. For it was only the non-European immigrants at Angel Island and on the Mexican-US border who were photographed. The subjects of these photographs did protest them because they felt it criminalized them. In turn the Chinese immigrants would forge or manipulate the photos to be awarded entry. Photography as a way to define race is easily accepted today because of the use of media and visual representation, but the study of photography in relation to race and immigration was largely ignored because of the small to nonexistent European subjects.

Some issues with the book include looking too deeply into the subject matter at times. What Pegler-Gordon does well though is in asking numerous questions about the methods and motivations for research is important to recognize the limited focus in some areas of immigration studies. Another well written area of Pegler-Gordon’s book is the focus on the three main immigration location; Ellis Island, Angel Island, and the Mexican-US border. Beyond photography Pegler-Gordon looks at the alternative ways to seek entry into the United States through nationality and race changes or familiar claims. The book shows the how the confusing and expansive policies were manipulated by those who had to enforce them and who the laws were intended for.