What It Means to Be American
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Explore : immigration


With Crocheting Needles, My Immigrant Grandmother Wove a New Life in America

A 16th-Century Folk Art Was Her Passport from Sicily to Upstate New York

The author’s grandmothers, circa 1940. Left, Angelina Ferrara Palleschi (maternal grandmother), and Teresa Munafo Salamone (paternal grandmother). Photo courtesy of Kathleen Garrett.

By Kathleen Garrett
June 8, 2017

The winter rains had subsided for the moment, but the coastal night air remained chilly and damp. My rent-controlled apartment, with its lack of insulation, mirrored the outside evening temperature, as I sat at my desk struggling to meet a self-imposed deadline. Shoes aren’t allowed in my home, not even for me, and with porous window seals in this old building and its wooden floors, my cold feet needed something warm to cover them.

I’d been away from Santa Monica …

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The Lawyer Who Beat Back a Racist Law, One Loophole at a Time

Y.C. Hong Helped Chinese Immigrants Stay in America by Gaming a System Designed to Deport Them

Yang on Hong LEAD WIMTBA

By Li Wei Yang
April 5, 2016

Recent politics is full of debates about erecting walls on the U.S.-Mexican border or barring Muslims from entering the U.S. But excluding groups of immigrants based on a particular background is nothing new—though the targets may change. It was in 1882 that Congress, for the first time in the history of the United States, passed legislation to prevent a specific ethnic group from entering the country. In effect from 1882 to 1943, the Chinese Exclusion Act forbade Chinese residents from …

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The Japanese-American Officer Who Helped Take Down and Then Rebuild Japan

Born in Seattle in 1920, Harry Fukuhara Was Fully Bicultural, Bilingual, and Binational

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By Pamela Rotner Sakamoto
January 28, 2016

When I first met Harry Fukuhara, in 1994, he was orchestrating a Tokyo press conference for Japanese Foreign Ministry officials, former Jewish refugees from the Holocaust, and veterans of the Japanese-American 442nd Regimental Combat Team. The groups were there to commemorate the separate threads connecting them to the Holocaust. The Foreign Ministry officials were belatedly acknowledging a renegade consul, Chiune Sugihara, who had issued approximately two thousand transit visas to desperate Jewish refugees in Kaunas, Lithuania, when he was stationed …

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The Japanese-American Flower Growers Who Made Phoenix Bloom

Post-WWII Gardens Like My Family’s Found Beauty in Stony Ground

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By Kathy Nakagawa
January 14, 2016

When my high school orchestra teacher found out my family owned a Japanese flower garden in Phoenix, Arizona, he made a confession: He had once snuck into those fields. He stole flowers to propose to his wife. To this day, I meet other people who share with me equally vivid memories of the farms. One friend told me: “I would drive my mom there every weekend!” Although all of the flower fields are gone now, they’re still an important part …

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How a Refugee from the Nazis Became the Father of Video Games

Ralph Baer's Life Is a Classic Tale of Scrappiness and Perseverance

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By Arthur Molella
December 11, 2015

It’s perhaps fitting that the man recognized as the father of the video game, that quintessential American invention, was a refugee from Hitler’s Germany, whose personal story converged with America’s at a critical time in the nation’s history.

“I had the misfortune of being born in a horrendous situation,” Ralph Baer told the Computer History Museum, of his birth to Jewish parents in 1922 in southwestern Germany. When the Nazis came to power, Baer was still a young child. They …

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America Needs an Integration Policy

We Can't Take For Granted that Our Country Will Continue to Successfully Incorporate Newcomers

Alba Foner esl class

By Richard Alba and Nancy Foner
September 29, 2015

The United States takes in far more legal immigrants each year than any other nation on Earth, more than a million. We Americans have a great deal of confidence in our ability to welcome and integrate these newcomers and their children. Indeed, we consider it one of our defining traits as a people, and as a nation.

But our successful integration of immigrants is less exceptional—whether we take that word to mean unique or excellent—than we often think when compared …

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America’s Immigration Policy Needs Less Emotion and More Reason

U.S. Policymaking Should Be Rooted in Geographic, Demographic, and Economic Considerations, Not in Our Hopes and Fears

Immigrants wave flags following a U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services ceremony in Oakland, California August 13, 2014. About 1,000 immigrants from 97 countries attended the ceremony. REUTERS/Robert Galbraith  (UNITED STATES - Tags: POLITICS SOCIETY IMMIGRATION) - RTR42BW2

By Douglas S. Massey
September 29, 2015

Whether you agree or disagree with America’s current or past immigration policies, it’s hard not to shake your head at one distinctively American aspect of immigration policymaking—how it tends to disregard social and economic dynamics that drive migratory flows and patterns. America’s immigration policy seems to be set in some aspirational abstract, focused on the type of country we want to be, but detached from real-world considerations.

Such was the case in 1965 when Congress undertook a major overhaul of …

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The Contradictory Legacy of the 1965 Immigration Act

A Law Designed to Repair Flaws in the Fabric of American Justice Also Created New Ones


By Erika Lee
September 29, 2015

At a time when immigration has become a polarizing and toxic topic in our politics, it’s worth remembering that 50 years ago this week President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Immigration and Nationality Act into law at the foot of the Statue of Liberty. Part of the trilogy of civil rights acts that outlawed discrimination in American life, the 1965 Immigration Act transformed America. Record numbers of new immigrants have arrived in the subsequent five decades—along with border fences, detention …

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Chinese Immigrants Now Make Up the Largest Group of New Arrivals to the U.S.

Once Excluded and Now Admired, Their Families Could See a Newfound Status in America Complicated by China's Rise

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By Erika Lee
July 7, 2015

Once singled out for exclusion by law from the United States, Chinese immigrants now make up the largest single group of arrivals a year into this country. A recent report by the Census Bureau reported that China replaced Mexico as the top country of origin for immigrants to the U.S. in 2013, and another report has found that China sends more students to the U.S. than any other country. What’s equally improbable, given the history, is that Chinese immigrants are …

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Searching for Mozzarella in the Land of Processed Cheese

Growing Up in Suburban Virginia, Our Italian-American Family Relied on My Grandmother to Bring Us the Foods We Craved From the Bronx

Searching for Mozzarella

By Gina DePalma
April 21, 2015

My grandmother’s visits from New York City always began with what I call The Great Unpacking, which took place on our dining room table the very second she crossed our threshold. I always wondered if her fellow travelers knew what my nonni was carting in her assortment of tote bags, not to mention the gigantic piece of luggage that was stuffed solely with food. As an Italian-American family living in Virginia in the 1970s, our only chance of getting what …

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