Japanese “picture brides,” wearing traditional and western clothing, arriving at Angel Island in San Francisco Harbor, 1925. They will meet their husbands for the first time when they arrive in San Francisco.
There isn’t one immigrant story: famines, wars, persecution, but also economic opportunity and adventure encouraged individuals to leave their homeland. In Ireland, families fled the Great Famine of 1845-51, Jews escaped the Russian pogroms beginning in 1881, and Southern Italians came hoping to earn enough money to return to Italy and buy land. More recently, Haitians have left due to the political/economic collapse of their country. It should be remembered that Africans were forcibly take from their homelands and enslaved in the United States and the colonies that preceded it.Arrival
An Asian family at the International Arrivals area, Kennedy Airport, 1996
Those who made the journey were not the poorest of the poor, but the ones who could afford to leave, who often had greater job skills or education than those who remained behind. Whatever the reasons for leaving, immigrants came as part of networks of family and communities, whether Poles settling in Polish Hill in Pittsburgh in the late 19th century or Dominicans moving to Washington Heights today. The networks give people an address – a place to go and a friend or family to take them in for a while.Arrival
Three immigrants from Guadeloupe arrive at Ellis Island, c. 1900.
Immigration reached its peak at the turn of the 20th century and Ellis Island – organized in 1892 to replace Castle Garden in Manhattan – processed the largest number of immigrants. More than 12 million people came through its doors, most having traveled steerage in a not very sanitary ship. On arrival, they faced a physical examination to ensure they carried no communicable diseases and an interview to determine that they were not illegal contract laborers and would not become a public charge. Two percent of immigrants failed and were sent back.
The passage of the National Origins Act in 1924 slashed the number of immigrants, especially those from Southern and Eastern Europe. The Hart-Celler Act of 1965 changed that by allowing entrance from countries earlier excluded, especially in Asia. But the era of the steamship had ended. Immigrants from overseas now arrive in airports – still drawn by a network of family and community connected between the homeland and the United States.