Places and peoples: The new American mosaic

Charles Hirschman, Douglas S. Massey

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

72 Scopus citations


The magnitude and character of recent immigration to the United States, popularly known as the post-1965 wave of immigration, continue to surprise policymakers and many experts. The first surprise was that it happened at all. The 1965 amendments to the Immigration and Nationality Act, also known as the Hart-Celler Law, were a product of the civil rights era of the 1960s. Ending the infamous national-origin quotas enacted in the 1920s-the central objective of the 1965 amendments-was a high priority for members of Congress, many of whom were the children and grandchildren of Southern and Eastern European immigrants who had been excluded early in the twentieth century. The expectation was that there would be a small blip in arrivals from Italy, Greece, and a few other European countries as families divided by the immigration restrictions of the 1920s were allowed to be reunited, but that no long-term increase would result (Reimers 1998, chapter 3). This expectation was not borne out, however. Almost 5 million immigrants came to the United States during the 1970s-the highest level of immigration, in both absolute and relative terms, since the early decades of the twentieth century (U.S. Department of Homeland Security 2003, 11). The 1970s were only the tip of the iceberg, however. The number of immigrants who arrived in the 1980s exceeded that of the 1970s, and both numbers were surpassed by arrivals in the 1990s. Not only were the numbers far higher than anyone expected, but the new immigrants came not so much from Europe but mainly from Latin America and Asia- regions that were not on the national agenda as sources for a major wave of immigration. The new criteria for admission under the 1965 act were family reunification and scarce occupational skills (Keely 1979). The new preference system allowed highly skilled professionals-primarily doctors, nurses, and engineers from Asian countries-to immigrate and eventually to sponsor the entry of their family members. About the same time, and largely independent of the 1965 Immigration Act, immigration from Latin America began to rise. Legal and undocumented migration from Mexico surged after a temporary-farm-worker program known as the Bracero Program was shut down in 1964 (Massey, Durand, and Malone 2002). Migration from Cuba arose from the tumult of Fidel Castro's revolution, as first elites and then professional, middle-class, and, finally, working class families fled persecution and the imposition of socialism in the 1960s and 1970s. During the 1980s, the Cubans were joined by refugees from Central American nations such as Nicaragua, El Salvador, and Guatemala (Lundquist and Massey 2005); and the collapse of the United States-backed government in South Vietnam after 1975 sent successive waves into the United States from Indochina (Massey 1995). In recent years, the "immigration problem," as it has been widely labeled, has been the subject of repeated national commissions, investigative reports, and congressional legislation (Smith and Edmonston 1997, chapter 2). Although the apparent goal of American policy has been to cap or reduce immigration, the opposite has occurred. By 2000, there were over 30 million foreign-born persons in the United States, almost one third of whom arrived in the prior decade. Adding together these immigrants and their children (the second generation), more than 60 million people-or one in five Americans-have recent roots in other countries (U.S. Census Bureau 2005). In the middle decades of the twentieth century, the era of mass immigration was a distant memory for most Americans, but by the end of the century, immigration had become a major population trend shaping American society. Immigrants and the children of immigrants are a visible presence in American educational institutions, from kindergartens to graduate schools. Many businesses, including food processing, taxi driving, custodial services, construction, and, of course, agriculture and domestic service, are dependent on immigrant labor. All political parties are wooing Hispanic and Asian voters, many of whom are newly naturalized immigrants. Immigration is very likely to be a continuing influence on the size, shape, and composition of the American population for the foreseeable future. The latest surprise has been the shift in the geography of the new immigration (Singer 2004). One of the standard findings of research on the post- 1965 immigration wave during the 1970s and 1980s was its concentration in the states of New York, California, Texas, Florida, and Illinois, generally within a handful of "gateway" metropolitan areas such as New York, Los Angeles, Houston, Miami, and Chicago (Portes and Rumbaut 1996, chapter 2). Although different nationalities may have been concentrated in different areas (Puerto Ricans in New York, Cubans in Miami, Mexicans in Los Angeles, etc.) there was a common pattern and interpretation. Once immigrant pioneers had established a beachhead with ethnic neighborhoods and economic niches in certain industries, later immigrants flowed to the same places (Waldinger 1996; Waldinger and Lichter 2003). Migrants were drawn to immigrant-ethnic communities that could offer assistance to newcomers seeking housing, jobs, and the warmth of familiarity (Massey 1985). The majority of new immigrants still settle in the traditional gateway cities; but as Douglas Massey and Chiara Capoferro show in chapter 2 of this volume, California and New York became much less dominant in the 1990s and during the early years of the new century than they were during the 1970s and 1980s. Immigrants now settle in small towns as well as large cities and in the interior as well as on the coasts. Immigrants have discovered the Middle West (see chapters 7 and 8 of this volume, by Katherine Fennelly and David Griffith, respectively) and the South (see chapter 6, by Katherine Donato and Carl L. Bankston III; chapter 9, by Helen B. Morrow; and chapter 10, by Jamie Winders) as well as traditional gateways in the East and West (see chapter 11, by Debra Lattanzi Shutika, and chapter 12, by Michael Jones-Correa). Given the virtual absence of immigrants in many regions of the United States up to 1990, even a small shift away from traditional gateways implied huge relative increases at new destinations. The absolute numbers of new immigrants arriving in Georgia, North Carolina, and Nevada may number only in the hundreds of thousands, but in relative terms the growth of immigrant communities in these areas is frequently off the charts. The increasing diversity of immigrant settlements is inextricably bound up with the growing volume of immigration. Even if there had been no proportional shift in destination patterns, there would have been sizable increases in the absolute numbers of immigrants going to new destinations. The doubling of immigration from the 1970s to the 1990s remains a fundamental reason why the presence of immigrants is evident in so many places with little history of recent immigration. However, the growing volume of immigration has also had additional indirect effects on the destination choices of new and secondary migrants, as immigrant niches in gateway cities become saturated, making labor-market opportunities in other areas seem more attractive (Light 2006). This volume offers new analyses and interpretations of the growth and settlement of immigrants in new destination areas. Drawing upon the empirical analyses assembled here, we can begin to see why immigration has become a national phenomenon and why immigrants are increasingly drawn to small and medium size towns throughout the United States. The studies reported here also offer tentative conclusions about the economic, social, political, and cultural responses to immigrant communities in new destinations. With their distinctive languages, appearances, and cultures, the new immigrants, along with their American-born children, at times encounter indifference and even hostility on occasion, but the dominant response still appears to be incorporation within the larger American "nation of immigrants.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationNew faces in New Places
Subtitle of host publicationThe Changing Geography of American Immigration
PublisherRussell Sage Foundation
Number of pages21
ISBN (Electronic)9781610443814
ISBN (Print)9780871545862
StatePublished - 2008

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Social Sciences


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