What It Means to Be American
A National Conversation

Explore : immigration

Ideas

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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Identities

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

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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Journeys

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

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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Places

A Family Saloon Serving Stiff Drinks and Second Chances

Generations of Immigrants Sought Refuge in Grand Rapids, Michigan Taverns. So Did We.

A. Wolfe, Mike Konkle, bar

By A. Wolfe
March 24, 2015

I grew up in my family’s dive bar in Grand Rapids, Michigan, a city now affectionately and appropriately called Beer City, U.S.A. I was surrounded by a makeshift family of beer-swilling, goodhearted customers with crooked jaws and scars across their cheeks, people who hopped up on their stools at 6 a.m. and stayed until the afternoon girl counted in her till.

I thought Cheers was a family sitcom. I saw the know-it-all postman, the work-averse accountant, and the salty server in …

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Identities

How America Invented St. Patrick’s Day

Immigration and Nativism Transformed a Quiet Religious Celebration into a Day of Raucous Parades and Shamrock Shakes

By Mike Cronin
March 17, 2015

When I was growing up in Britain in the 1970s, St. Patrick’s Day didn’t exist. The conflict in Northern Ireland was at its bloodiest, and it was not a time when British cities would open their civic spaces for a celebration of things Irish. My sense of what St. Patrick’s Day looked like was informed by the odd news story about celebrations in the U.S. The day appeared as something that was more about Irish America than it was about …

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Engagements

When Homework Is a Matter of Life and Death

My Parents Fled Iran Because They Were Forbidden From Getting an Education There. I’ve Spent Over One-Third of My Life on a University Campus.

By Roxana Daneshjou
March 6, 2015

The first hint of sunlight glows off the horizon as I rush toward Stanford Hospital from the parking garage, white coat in hand, stethoscope bouncing against my chest. Every few steps, the diaphragm of my stethoscope ricochets off the silver pendant my mother gave me—a nine-pointed star etched with a symbol of my Bahá’í faith. My mother escaped Iran at 17 as the country was on the cusp of revolution—a revolution that would create a society where, to this day, …

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Artifacts

Your Chinese Menu Is Really a Time Machine

Sweet and Sour Pork and Chop Suey Aren’t Just Delicious; They Also Tell Stories of Waves of Immigration from China

Cedric Yeh, pig, Chinese New Year, Chinese food, Chinese restaurant

By Cedric Yeh
February 19, 2015

I grew up in a Chinese restaurant called the Peking Restaurant in rural New England during the 1970s and ’80s. I was that kid you saw running around the tables and through the waiters’ legs, and playing with whatever I could get my hands on. I had access to some cool things—pupu platters for my birthdays, all the fortune cookies I could eat, the pleasure of celebrating two different new year’s days every year with treats like a roasted pig …

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Engagements

Undocumented, and Riding Shotgun

I Thought I Was an Average American Teen Until I Tried to Get a Driver’s License

Janine Joseph, Golden Gate Bridge, immigration, undocumented

By Janine Joseph
January 13, 2015

Up until my early 20s, I rode shotgun. With my high school and college sweetheart, I flipped through the soft sleeves of our shared CD binder in search of the right music. I double-checked our drive-through orders for extra ketchup; I pointed out the sights only I caught in time. With my friends, I was the one who tuned the radio through static and made sure everyone in the backseat had enough air.

I was born in the Philippines. My cousins, …

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Identities

Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Persian Food

My Iranian Mother Wanted Me to Cook Recipes from the Motherland. I Wanted to Be Independent.

Advieh, spices, Iranian spices, Persian cooking

By Orly Minazad
January 6, 2015

My cavalier cooking practices have been a cause for shame and concern for my Iranian mother. To me, eating is just something you do to stay alive; for her and her legion of friends and family that grew up in the Motherland, cooking is a rite of passage to womanhood, the foundation of family and all things good in the world.

You know, everything a ready-made, heart attack-inducing Doritos Locos Taco is not.

So it comes as no surprise to find my …

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Journeys

Somersaulting into America

As a Top Japanese Gymnast, My Dad’s Future Was Laid Out for Him. He Opted for Adventure in the U.S. Instead.

Yoshi Hayasaki, gymnastics

By Erika Hayasaki
January 2, 2015

The letter that would change my father’s life—and eventually lead to his recent induction into the USA Gymnastics Hall of Fame—arrived in 1964, at his high school in Nara, Japan. Addressed to Yoshi Hayasaki, it was from an American.

My father, 17 at the time, could not make out a single sentence typed by Eric Hughes, a professor at the University of Washington in Seattle. He asked a campus English teacher to translate. “It sounds like he is trying to invite …

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