What's New about the Newest Immigration? Two Centuries of Perspective

Walter Kamphoefner, Texas A&M University

.For a historian of immigration observing current debates, less disturbing than what people don’t know about immigration history, are the things they “know” that simply aren’t true. Recent immigrants are often held up to an impossible standard of the melting pot that, as my lecture will demonstrate, was a much slower and more messy process than it appears in the romanticized hindsight of public memory. Even with European ethnics, heritage languages persisted longer than most people realize, but that in no way undermined political loyalty to the United States. With extensive comparative research concentrating on German immigrants (the nation’s largest language minority for more than a century), with a career path leading via the immigrant centers of Los Angeles and Miami to Texas, I offer an overview of the process of negotiation and mutual accommodation that has always figured prominently in the integration of immigrants into our society over the past two centuries. Except for the origins of immigrants, little has changed over the last two centuries. English is alive and well, even on the Mexican border and the West Coast. In Amy Tan’s autobiographical novel, The Joy Luck Club, an immigrant mother laments that her daughter’s Chinese vocabulary hardly extends beyond “pee-pee” and “choo-choo train,” asking plaintively, “How can she be her own person? When did I give her up?” Immigrant parents have been asking that question for a long time. Some things never change.

No extended abstract or paper available

 Presented in Session 189. Immigrants Then and Now