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Making Americans: Immigration, Race, and the…

Making Americans: Immigration, Race, and the Origins of the Diverse…

by Desmond King

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I awarded two stars not because it is horrible but because it is disappointing. There's a lot of critical consideration of other writers on the same or related topics, somewhat less historical data, and a lot less actual presentation and discussion of the thesis. That means there's a fair amount of padding, but mainly there's a lot of repetition.

The thesis discussion is divided among the first 9 chapters, so you really do have to read the entire thing to get the entire argument. Each chapter's new bit is buried within the critique, data, padding, and repetition, though. I suppose that does make it a faster read than it would seem at first, but at the risk of getting careless and skipping over the new bits.

Each chapter is ostensibly about a different aspect of the subject, but really each is a rehash of the overall thesis with a different emphasis, rather like this:

Wow, that was neat.
Wow, that was neat.
Wow, that was neat.
Wow, that was neat.

Each new emphasis does enlarge on the thesis somewhat, and adduce some relevant data, but not nearly enough of either to warrant the roughly 30 pages that each chapter gets. With all of the critical evaluation of other scholars' work, it reminds me of nothing so much as a bunch of separate but related grad-school papers (not even a thesis in the other sense) between two covers.

This is all so disappointing because the thesis of the book is very good, deserving of greater attention and greater development, and there was a lot of new-to-me history. This book should be so much better! Why isn't it?

My other big complaint, related to the above but standing out given the topic, is that there is no unified discussion of specifics of immigration legislation. I reached Chapter 9 before discovering that there was an appendix that laid all this out, but the text did not refer to it, and it should at least have done that. As it was I felt lost by some of the arguments because they seemed to assume knowledge of the legislation that I did not have; thanks to context and Wikipedia I was able to work through my difficulties, but there is no good reason not to make that information crystal clear, one way or the other, at the beginning of the text. ( )
  drbubbles | Aug 11, 2010 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 067400812X, Paperback)

In the nineteenth century, virtually anyone could get into the United States. But by the 1920s, U.S. immigration policy had become a finely filtered regime of selection. Desmond King looks at this dramatic shift, and the debates behind it, for what they reveal about the construction of an "American" identity.

Specifically, the debates in the three decades leading up to 1929 were conceived in terms of desirable versus undesirable immigrants. This not only cemented judgments about specific European groups but reinforced prevailing biases against groups already present in the United States, particularly African Americans, whose inferior status and second-class citizenship--enshrined in Jim Crow laws and embedded in pseudo-scientific arguments about racial classifications--appear to have been consolidated in these decades. Although the values of different groups have always been recognized in the United States, King gives the most thorough account yet of how eugenic arguments were used to establish barriers and to favor an Anglo-Saxon conception of American identity, rejecting claims of other traditions. Thus the immigration controversy emerges here as a significant precursor to recent multicultural debates.

Making Americans shows how the choices made about immigration policy in the 1920s played a fundamental role in shaping democracy and ideas about group rights in America.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:20:33 -0400)

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