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

Forming the Italian American Table

The Italian portrayal on television shows tight knit family units made up of a head patriarch, father figure and his wife and companion mother figure who provide for the extended family and close relations through support and food. Food in the portray Italian Americans shows the connection food has to the Italian way of life, both on screen and in the kitchen. Self-identity and pride was shown through the food; special recipes and passed down traditions from the ‘homeland’ helped to define the early Italian migrants. Reasons this work was because of the power of food to create and support community and family of migrants coming from a nation that did not have much in the way of food identity. Second, food trade in the Italian economy was important to bringing ‘authentic’ foodstuffs to those in America and a reasons for migrating in the first place. It also moved the economy along for the rural Italian farmers at home. Lastly, self-representation when they did not have one prior to moving to America. Italians, and many others, did not bring with them nationalist views of their home countries, instead they learned their ethnicity in America while the early arrivals helped to shape it for those coming after.

Historical writing on the mass migration of Italian migrants does not vary the experiences they may have had including power struggles and assimilation. It also shows the creating of a national identity or cuisine. The common thought of Italian foods were not actually eaten in Italy but created later in America. The written history shows who was making the food. Many of the actually cooks were women, mothers and grandmothers, who stayed in the kitchens preparing meals for the families and communities. Though it is the male chiefs who reviewed the titles and recognition for the meals. Race and class show a literal hunger for food representation. Community and family is reflected through class, those who could afford to create their family identity, through food, did so through large weekly meals that reflect middle class values. These values include a quest for American whiteness. In the beginning the Italians were the ‘other’ European migrants but the migrations of blacks and Puerto Ricans in New York, the Italians had to portray the white values so as not to be seen the same as them. This was done by economic extensions of trade and business building. The focus on food as an identifier is important because it is so particular to migrants and ones who came without strong nationalist ties to home countries. Food is a way to show class differences also because of who was able to buy the food and claim it as their own.

Reading Response

Selling the ‘East’ in the South

The years after the 1965 Hart-Cellar Immigration Act sought to remedy what happened because of the immigration act. The 1965 Act brought in mostly skilled workers like engineers, doctors, and other middle class work from Asia. Prior to this the migration of South Asians in America were Bengali Muslim peddlers during the late 1800s on the East Coast and Punjabi migration who settled and participated in activism on the West Coast between 1904 and 1924. The Bengali Muslim men who migrated from India starting in 1880s did not stay in New York where they landed but travelled to New Jersey and then down south and into the African American communities in places like Charleston and New Orleans.

Bengali Muslim peddlers were popular, and usually unbothered even during immigration bands, because of what they were selling. During this time the idea and fantasies of ‘the East’ were popular for the elite class. These ‘Oriental goods’ included embroidered cotton, sild kerchiefs and tablecloths, small rugs and wall hangings. For the white, elite buyers of these products they were a sign of status. Before the Bengali peddlers, there was an interest in Chinese products but there were different levels or versions of available ‘Orientalism’ for sale depending on the class of who was buying ranging from, patrician, commercial, and political. ‘Commercial Orientalism’ was marked for the working class who wanted to imitate the pleasures of the upper class while ‘political orientalism’ is the work and labor put into the products that changed from awe and admiration to fear and loathing of the Chinese workers and products. The popularity of Indian products was because of the animosity for the Chinese migrants following the nineteenth century but people, white Americans, still wanted the ‘exotic, far east’ products. The popularity and intrigue with ‘Orientalism’ translated to mainstream entertainment also in the forms of plays, musicals, and dance, company names, and even burlesque shows and brothels. The goods had different meanings for men and women. For white American men it was a way to portray white masculinity of imperialism and play into the fantasy of far off lands. Women liked the fabrics, jewelry, and decorations they could by because it showed off a cosmopolitan independence, and sexual liberation they wanted.

The locations and travel patterns of the Bengali peddlers was interesting because it followed specific patterns. The peddlers would first arrive in New York but would not stay there and would instead go the boardwalk towns in New Jersey for the summers to then travel down south to places like New Orleans, Charleston living in the African American communities and ‘red districts’ of the towns. The pattern here is that they are following the American vacationers who are more likely to buy their products. During the off seasons in when the men would either travel down south or return to India to stock up on more products or train younger peddler men to come to America. This could be one reason they were unbothered by immigration laws; they did not stay long and if they did it was not in the same sphere as white Americans. Following the Second World War, peddlers were more likely to settle down, marry an African American woman, or open up shops. Those who stayed also sought citizenship. At the time citizen ship was only given to ‘free white persons’ and ‘persons of African American descent’. Interestingly, but also makes complete sense, the men would claim to be a ‘free white persons’ probably because it was easier to gain citizenship as a white person than black and to be seen as African American brought black problems. While in New Orleans, the growing popularity of the city and its centralized positon in tourism and exports, made it a popular destination for Bengali peddlers. The success of the peddlers in New Orleans depending on how well they could play into the American white fantasy and ideas of India and the ‘exotic East’. From New Orleans they were able to head even further south into places like Belize, Cuba, Honduras, and Panama.

The differences in treatment from Punjabi migrations to Bengali Muslim peddlers was the level of involvement they each had. The Punjabi migrations were more active in the public realm and came to stay in America. While the Bengali Muslim peddlers were trailing back and forth between American and India in smaller numbers, less political, and filled a specific niche in the tourism economy on the East Coast.

Reading Response

Nation of Migrations ‘Apart’ from History

It is important to actively try and decentralized America in immigration studies because the migration of immigrations happened all over and not just the United States. The story of immigration to the United States is also focus on the European migration and the ‘making’ of America. This has led to the European immigrations to become the norm story and experience for immigrants, though this is untrue and the immigration experience is different for each group that arrives, and leave, the United States. This line of thinking and study leaves out Asian, Latinos and non-European, and those who returned to their homes after staying in America for a certain amount of time. It is also important to talk about the difference in migration and immigration. To decentralize the American story, immigration history can then be looked at the migration patterns of those traveling instead or by region even. It is important to show American history more as a product, than leading producer in immigration history. Regional migration history allows the historian to look at those who would usually be excluded from the narrative also. Even more important is those who came then left the United States also. Whether it be by deportation, nativism, exclusion, interment, or forced internal migration is a way to rethink the immigrant experience because all who came to America were not treated the same. Lastly diplomatic and international policy is hugely important because that will determine who is even able to migrate to the United States and is a way of showing migration patterns around the world to see where they went instead or how those in the United States migrated because of policies.

The field of immigration studies reflects the problems of how to try and involve more people in the American and migration narrative. On one side, the question is whether or not to add the ‘new’ migrants into the same story as earlier ones and to study them the same way. The other side says to look at these newest arrivals as their own section of migrant history and should be studied in a new way to best represent the times and in the correct context, like race. One way to settle these issues is in including race into the discussion and how race played a part in immigration history and continues to play one. The overall ‘whiteness’ of the early migrants had become the norm and base for immigrants experience and stories. The ‘new’ migrants include Asian, Latino, and non-European migrants who have different experiences to the white or white passing early migrants. Asian migration shows many different stories and experiences. From the early migration were because of Spain and global trade routes to Mexico from Pacific Asia as early as 1565. This led to a forced or coerced migration of Chinese and South Asian migrations to South America. A big problem though for Asian migration is how all of Asia gets lumped together as one place and shared experiences, when there is not and how East Asians are tread differently than South or central Asians. International policy against Asian migrants, most Chinese and later Japanese, play a huge role in the Asian migration to America. These acts were based on race and a way to control the influx and persons moving to America. Another way race played into again migration is how Asian migrants could be ‘white passing’ or were accepted at certain intervals because of culture and a fabled ‘model minority’ that was placed on them. The experiences of Asian migrations shows examples of diplomatic, inter regain migration, leaving, interment, and a strange level of acceptance socially and in migration studies.