1924 — Present: The Ongoing Story of American Immigration

The ongoing final chapter of this story takes us from 1924 through today. The Museum will portray the changes that mark the dynamic rich mixture of people that we label ’American’ continues to evolve.

Immigration slowed to a trickle after 1924 until the end of World War II due to the imposition of quotas. These quotas were based on already existing subpopulations of the United States. While it remained relatively easy to emigrate from Western Europe, those from Eastern and Southern Europe, Africa and Asia had a much more difficult time immigrating to this nation. This slowdown was helped by the Great Depression and there was even a net emigration from the U.S. during the deepest four years of the Depressions.

Following the Second World War, America became the home for refugees from Europe, including Holocaust survivors. During the period, from 1941 to 1987, the U.S. accepted 4.4 million immigrants from Europe, 4.3 million from Asia, 5.5 million from Latin America and the Caribbean, including Mexico.

In the post-War years, immigration from Mexico and Puerto Rico became major parts of this story. From 1948 through 1980, some 2.3 million persons were admitted to the U.S. as humanitarian and political refugees, including about 450,000 persons displaced after World War II from 1948 through 1952; 692,000 Cubans from 1962-79; and about 400,000 Vietnamese, Cambodians and Laotians from 1975-79.

This chapter will continue the story of migrations within the country including the continued westward movement, the movement of African Americans from the South to the industrialized north as well as the internment of Japanese during World War II, the movement of vast numbers of Americans from cities to suburbs, and the current movement of young people back to cities.

During recent years, dominant immigrant groups have included Chinese, Japanese, Filipinos, Koreans, Indians from India, and Vietnamese. Others have included Caribbeans, Central Americans, Soviet Jews, Dominicans, Haitians, Africans, and a variety of Europeans. Over the last few decades, one of the biggest national stories has been the steady flow of immigrants, both documented and undocumented, from Mexico. The compelling story of new immigrants to our nation is still writing itself.

NOTE: The material herein is based largely on two books that tell part of this story, 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus by Charles C. Mann, and Coming to America: A History of Immigration and Ethnicity in American Life by Roger Daniels. Ideas and material from both authors are presented here to give readers a sense of the story. Leading scholars would be expected to develop a detailed outline of the Museum’s story following the establishment of the Museum.