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Between and , more than 25 million foreigners arrived on American shores, transforming the country. The immigrant surge of the lateth and earlyth centuries was distinctive in its size, its demographics, and its impact upon American culture and society. Italians, Poles, Jews, and Slavs—ethnic groups rarely encountered en masse earlier in American history—arrived in large numbers.
They also departed in large numbers. These immigrants, mostly male and mostly young, hoped to earn enough money during a temporary stay in America to be able to afford an increased standard of living upon returning to their homeland. Immigrants in these bustling cities tended to congregate together with their countrymen: Immigrants, many speaking little or no English, settled together with their compatriots and forged close-knit communities, often boasting ethnic shops, ethnic markets, ethnic banks, ethnic clubs, ethnic cinemas, and even ethnic radio stations, broadcasting in the mother tongue.
These invaluable, if insular, community institutions only lost their grip on ethnic populations when overwhelmed by the spread of American mass culture during the s.
The Great Migration and the Harlem Renaissance The patterns of migration and settlement common to the New Immigrants were in some ways mirrored by those of American Blacks.
In the cities of the North, Blacks built their own ethnic communities, not unlike those of their immigrant counterparts.
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African Americans rallied around Marcus Garvey—himself an immigrant from Jamaica—to create the Universal Negro Improvement Association, the most assertive Black political movement seen to date in the United States. Nativist Backlash The development of large, thriving communities of immigrants and minorities generated a considerable backlash among native-born Americans who feared they were losing their cities to "undesirable" newcomers.
These old-line Americans, mostly fair-skinned and Protestant, tended to view the darker-complected, mostly Catholic or Jewish New Immigrants as not just different but "inferior"—members of lesser races, likely lacking the Anglo-Saxon temperament many believed necessary to maintain a free society.
The New Immigrants generated a renewed nativism in hostile reaction to their arrival on American shores. Americanization Campaigns Stir the Melting Pot The most benign strain of that nativist sentiment came in the form of aggressive "Americanization" campaigns, efforts to remake the immigrants into good Americans through work, education, and social reform.
Henry Ford was a leading exponent of the movement, declaring that "these men of many nations must be taught American ways, the English language, and the right way to live. Prior to , with one exception—the Chinese Exclusion Act of —immigration into the United States had never been systematically restricted by federal law.
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That changed with the Emergency Quota Act and the Immigration Act, which imposed for the first time, a limit on the number of immigrants allowed to enter the United States. The two laws were targeted squarely at the New Immigrants: The effect was startling. Prior to the quota, immigrants were arriving at a rate of more than , per year, with just under , of those coming from Southern and Eastern Europe and only , coming from Northern and Western Europe.
The strict act imposed a very mild restriction on immigration from Northern and Western Europe, still allowing , arrivals per year from those countries.