Cultural Representations/Entertainment

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The Immigration Gateway

This source is a small portion of a play that shows the experiences that immigrants had at Ellis Island and Angel Island when coming into the United States. When entering the country, immigrants were asked questions designed to see if they were “fit” to come into America (Hing 1997). They were asked if they could read, write, if they were healthy, if they had family here, and how much money they had with them upon arrival (Hing 1997). This information shows the difficulty immigrants faced in coming into the country, and the ways in which nativism exacerbated these challenges. This source can be seen as a pre-curser to the Emergency Immigration Act of 1921, as it was already not allowing many immigrants to come into America based on their answers to the questions. This tactic was a way of limiting the number of immigrants that came into the country, once again giving power to American people. While many were let in, there were so many immigrants that were denied entrance based on one wrong answer. The people in charge of allowing immigrants in only wanted the best of the best, figuring if they had to have people enter their country, they must be able to contribute.

To whom are you going in Buffalo? I am going to my sister.
What is her name and address? Jane Brown, 1011Atlantic Ave.
How long has your sister been in the United States? Eight years.
What does she do for a living? She’s a governess.
Is she able to care for you in case you should be sick or out of work? Yes, she says so in her letters.
Where are you expecting to meet your sister? Here at Ellis Island.
I shall have to detain you until the arrival of your sister. If your sister is found to be a suitable guardian for you, you shall be admitted in her care.
(Inspector pins detention card on immigrant and orders:)
Guard, place this girl in the Detention room.

Some questions that immigrants were asked by people at Ellis and Angel Island in order to see if they were good additions to America. Full play found at:

Don’t Bite the Hand That’s Feeding You

This source is a song written right before the United States entered World War I, at a time where immigration was very prominent. The song describes “Uncle Sam” allowing people to come into the United States from their home countries to escape the problems they faced. At the start of the 1900s, there were a lot of political and social problems in Europe as World War I was beginning, which caused mass immigration to the United States, as seen in the previous source, as America had not yet entered the war. Because of this, many Americans were led to believe that their country was superior, as it was the place that many immigrants were fleeing to (Higham 1985). However, nativists believed that immigrants in this period were not respectful of the United States and did not appreciate everything that this country was giving them. This belief created a stronger nativist presence in the United States, as American citizens were unable to notice that many of the foreigners that came into the country were not complaining, further pushing the idea of American superiority.

Audio of “Dont Bite the Hand That’s Feeding You”.