In order to understand the immigrant neighborhoods, one will first have to look at what was happening in the nation, beginning in the early 1900’s to the early 1950’s. Arguably, the events leading up to and after the Great Depression has what reshaped the future of the immigrant story. Leading up the Great Depression, the push to create and shape immigrants into true American molds was rapidly increasing. The idea of Americanization, stemming from young radicals, was to encompass and provide a new way of life for certain immigrants. These neighborhoods that were then formed by certain immigrant groups encompassed their ideas and identify.
New immigrants moved to communities with like-minded similar people, creating a series of chain migrations leading to large ethnic neighborhoods. While others were forced into certain living situations due to their job and furthermore, based on who they were. However, within these neighborhoods, these people could practice the traditions and eat the traditional foods without being judged by the surrounding civilians. Throughout American history, neighborhoods have played a large role in the shaping ethnic cultures, leading to the general assumptions and new traditions based off these groups’ pasts.
During the years leading up to the Great Depression, immigrants were not all seen as the social outcasts that they were in years prior. While ethnic culture was still prevalent in neighborhoods, the idea for young generational immigrants to write their own future was there. Furthermore, with stories about the harmful immigrant work conditions it became a priority to change how immigrants were viewed and finally accept them into American culture. The first way, to make this possible, was by the neighborhoods that these immigrants lived in.
As the immigrant neighborhoods became the prime location o infiltrate true American ideas into. This process was called Americanization and was completed by creating a system of education, and with programs called settlement houses. Houses that were set up in the middle of immigrant neighborhoods, college educated radical women provided classes for women. It was in the hopes that the women would bring back the education to their families. By teaching these women traditions, ideals and delicacies of America it was hoped that their ethnic past would “melt away”. Thus, the idea of the melting pot was created.
This was the idea that if immigrants were handled the correct way, their ethnic pasts would “melt” or disappear creating protestant, Anglo-Saxon molds of true Americans. As more and more of these radical movements took place, the more people that paid attention and the more it became accepted that Immigrants could become true Americans. However, not all immigrants were included in this transformation of immigrant culture, especially the Chinese. Due to the Exclusion Act of 1882, the Chinese that stayed in America ended up becoming the lowest from on the social class ladder, and their neighborhoods were no different.
The neighborhoods that the Chinese lived in, especially in larger cities, were called Chinatowns. As could be assumed, these neighborhoods were not going to be the places of social reform, due to the fact that most Americans did not want them, or their diseases here and referred to them as the “heathen Chinese” (Lui, 2) Furthermore, the idea of settlement houses was also out of the question has Chinese woman were, in the past, usually assumed prostitutes.
These women, whom would then become mothers, were looked at as unfit entities as mother figures for their children. Lui, 147) This contributed to the Page Act of 1875, which stopped the immigration of unmarried women into the United States, in hopes that it would stop the prostitution. Therefore, the idea of settlement houses would not have been something that social reformers wanted to help. Instead of helping, a mindset was pushed that the Chinese and these neighborhoods were bad and unfit places for people to be involved in. These women who ignored the assumptions and were a part of interracial marriages with the Chinese revoked their citizenship due to the 1907 Expatriation Act.
This act stated that if a women citizens were to marry a non-citizen, she would lose her citizenship, therefore, discouraging interracial marriages. However, this would all change after the Great Depression as The Chinese Exclusion Repeal Act of 1943 which allowed them to be able to immigrant into America. Much like the Chinese, the Mexican migrant workers, were not involved in the social reconstruction of American Immigrants. The main reason behind this was that they were migrant workers, meaning that they were below the law and below the social status of immigrants.
At first, these workers traveled from Mexico to work every day, leaving there to be no form of a Mexican neighborhood. However, as more and more job opportunities were opened due to immigrant restrictions more and more Mexican workers came up into America. As they were used as the solution for the high demand of cheap labor. (Innis, 35) However, due to their label as migrant workers, they were considered to be below the law and therefore received some of the harshest work conditions.
Leaving the Mexicans to subjected to gasoline baths and other sterilization processes. While the ones that decided to stay and work in America ended up living where they worked creating some of the first Mexican neighborhoods on work camps. Again not an ideal situation for any immigrant. The early 20th centuries’ ideas began to change as the Great Depression unfolded. As it was no longer the ways of social reformers to change how immigrants were viewed, but the American government.
Due to the lack of job thought to be crippling the American economy, the New Deal offered Public Works in order to put its’ citizens to work. This program, among others, was government mandated and had to be inclusive of all the people, including immigrants. These programs allowed for the majority of the workforce that had lost their jobs to begin to regain their financial standings and work side by side with others from varying backgrounds. By creating programs that were inclusive to mostly all, it allowed immigrants to feel excepted in their own skin.
However, not all immigrants were treated with such open arms, especially the minorities as the low paying work that they once depended on was given to the mass of unemployed. One specific example is the Mexican – American immigrants and migrant workers. It was thought that the reasoning behind the depression was a lack of jobs, and in order to fix this issue, getting rid of those who had their jobs was the answer. In order to fix the issue at hand, jobs had to be taken back, especially from the Mexicans.
This was called repatriation, and it was forcibly taking all Mexican migrant workers and transporting them back to Mexico. Law enforcement would come through Mexican neighborhoods and conduct large sweeps of these people, the only way to stay was to prove you were a citizen. Yet, many did not have documentation on hand, therefore leaving many migrant workers and immigrants to be deported alike. Leading into the years of and after World War II, American immigrants and their neighborhoods, became a subject of normality.
The Chinese were once again allowed to immigrant into America due to the repeal of the Exclusion Act of 1882. While the Mexicans, who were pushed out of their homes years prior were coming back to take the jobs of African Americans, in the cities. However, for the Mexican people, work conditions and treatments did not get any better. As segregation and discrimination within the workforce and then neighborhoods was apparent. The Mexicans had become the new minority immigrat group, much like the Irish were in the 19th centuray, and were subjected to similar treatements.
Yet citizens were encouraged to travel to big cities and see the way of the worlds throughout these neighborhoods. The idea of a melting pot was no longer and was replaced by celebrating immigrants as both their ethnic culture and as American. Festivals, where immigrants such as the Irish, would parade down the streets celebrating their ancestors as well as new found American customs. Furthermore, it was pushed that these immigrants, especially those deemed unfit to be citizens in the past, were no different than everyone else and we all could be found on common grounds.
Also, many things that we have today, such as sports teams started in these immigrant neighborhoods, as it was neighborhood vs. neighborhood. This ideology of inclusion seemed to be followed, but as years passed, segregation of many races and ethnic backgrounds began to grow and cause an uproar in many of these same neighborhoods. As the inclusion that was held for a few years disapperead and old views created social injustices, that needed to be addressed for all walks of life.