New In America.
The 1900s saw the advent of mass migration from Europe to America. Every day, Ellis Island, in New York, would be inundated with hundreds of migrants seeking a higher quality of life in the United States of America. This new country posed fantastic opportunities to gain a fresh start and hundreds tried to gain permission every day. This fascination began when between 1880 and 1890, 5.3 million immigrants had come to America’s shores; another 3.7 million arrived between 1890 and 1900: “By 1900, America’s population was about 76 million, double what it had been just thirty years earlier, and almost one-third of the population were immigrants or children of immigrants.” (Callan, 2005, p 8) These staggering statistics were part of how America became the melting pot that we know and love today but their presence changed the face of America forever. Within the course of this essay, I will discuss the migrant influence of Arab Americans and over geography, ethnicity, politics and how for some, their ways and customs are yet to be integrated into mainstream American life.
Arab Americans are a much-overlooked ethnic group living in America today. However, they have been a fundamental part of American society since the mass immigration intake of the early 1900s. The Lebanese were among the earliest people to migrate to America and began to form the largest Arab ethnic group in the country. A lot of Lebanese/Syrian immigrants settled in Michigan. (Hassoun, 2005, p 58) Before World War One, Arab Americans preferred to think of themselves as ‘sojourners’ (temporary immigrants who go to America to earn money in order to return to their home country with riches.). They did not integrate with American culture and preferred to maintain their own politics “in substance and style.” (Suleiman, 1999, p 4)
There were two major migration periods for Arab Americans: the 1900s and World War Two until the present. (Suleiman, 1999, p 1) These two groups encountered various different adversities due to the different socioeconomic statuses of America and its attitude towards immigrants. The different factions of Arab Americans were separated according to their religion and politics, but following the 1967 Arab-Israeli war, they began to see themselves as one community (Soleiman, 1999, p 1), presumably realizing that their differences were not so great after all. Immigrants would often establish their own religions and places of worship such as the Lebanese-run American Druze Foundation in Flint. (Hassoun, 2005, p 59)
African American immigration grew, largely, out of the slave trade. Following its abolition, between 1900 and 1960, 6 million blacks migrated from the South to the North, in the hopes of finding their fortune, which is reflected in the migrations figures’ correlation with American economy figures. (Sioux, 2004, p 17) Generally, they settled in the cities working in factories which made supplies for the American war effort. African American culture is something which gradually became more integrated over time. Because of the level of racism in the U.S., African American communities were very close-knit and were based upon support, unification and networking: “African American social networks quickly nullified the need for further recruitment.” (Frazier & Tetty-Fio, 2006, p 83) Until the Civil Rights movement on the 1960s, African Americans were still treated unfairly as racism was rife. Their African American culture is richer today than ever before, but it has taken a long time to get there.
With the advent of civil rights, African Americans began to move to the suburbs where, in the 1970s, this was the subject of a number of studies which showed an increased desire to be out of the cities. (Frazier & Tetty-Fio, 2006, p 84) Earlier in the century, the suburbanization of America began to grow with more and more people building their own homes: African American people found plenty of employment through these means, along with blue collar workers, securing their working class status. In the 1940s, studies showed that as a demographic, African Americans placed more importance on home ownership than most other classes and ethnicities, including the white middle classes. (Frazier & Tetty-Fio, 2006, p 84) This demonstrates their desire to integrate peacefully within American culture.
The growth of cultural racism caused there to be a power struggle between ethnic groups: “discrepancies in social achievement among ethnic groups are the result of cultural differences rather than biogenetic ones.” (Marger, 2008, p 25) This links to the ‘power/conflict’ theory which discusses the idea that if one socioeconomic group is less successful than the majority, then they bring the whole utopian image of a society crashing down. For immigrants, the majority of people worked extremely hard and were keen to preserve the positive image of the migrant workforce. However, others were less successful with work and as such; their failures influenced the opinion held about migrants. This caused a lot of conflict between migrant groups. The sense of pride held in a lot of Arab religions and beliefs would be undermined by the less hard-working migrants.
While America is perceived as being a melting pot of cultures, belief systems, ethnicity and class, there are a number of cultures which were never incorporated into mainstream American culture. Arab Americans still, to this day, tend to live in close-knit communities because of their religious systems. A lot of their beliefs don’t allow them to fully integrate with American culture but then, arguably, that is the true definition of multiculturalism: different people from different cultures co-habiting peacefully. For the African American community, they are ostensibly, one of the most integrated cultures within America. Following the Civil Rights movement, their lifestyle went from strength to strength and today, America is proud to have a black president in President Obama. In the more liberal states, African American people are generally just thought of as American citizens: regardless of colour, race or creed. For many modern day Americans, their traditional culture has become eclipsed by increasingly American trends and the need for their identity to fit in to American public schools and jobs. For many cultures and religions in the 1900s, they were simply swept up in the tide of immigration and mixed up in the big melting pot stew of American multiculturalism. This is much the case today as many young Americans from different ethnicities and backgrounds, choose to ‘blend in’ with society more. In the 1900s, many social groups tended to stay together and towns would become primarily occupied by one singular group: for example, the Arab nations in Michigan. America’s melting pot left little room for individuality and instead, it resulted in a country that is divided up by religion, class, ethnicity and culture.
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