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Toward a better life : America's new…

Toward a better life : America's new immigrants in their own words : from…

by Peter Morton Coan

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This book has some interesting features. In the introduction, Mr. Coan provides a brief history of immigration into the United States. Then the book is divided into two parts: Ellis Island-Era Immigrants, 1892-1954; and America’s New Immigrants, 1954-2010. Each chapter covers one decade from the 1890s through the 2000s, and follows the same formula: short introductory paragraph, list of key historical events impacting immigration, migration flows (including total legal U.S. immigration during the decade and top ten countries from which people immigrated giving the numbers from each), list of immigrants who became famous, and the stories of a few immigrants. For the early immigrants usually only two stories are given, and they are usually based on interviews conducted by the National Park Service although the author re-interviewed the people. Three personal accounts are usually provided for the post-Ellis Island immigrants.

Surprisingly, as a whole I found the introductory material more interesting than the personal accounts. Many of the personal accounts of the early immigrants were relatively short, and the immigrants often talked more about what life was like in the “old” country than in the United States. The accounts of the later immigrants were more focused on experiences in this country, but tended to get too long and detailed.
The selection of immigrants included was somewhat surprising when one considers the relatively small total number. For example, two members of the von Trapp family were included in the chapter for the 1930s, and two French chefs (Jacques Pepin in the 1950s and Andre Soltner in the 1960s) were included which I felt was one too many.

I found the lists of immigrants from the earlier periods more interesting than the latest lists. The earlier lists included immigrants from many fields of endeavor, and included people the reader might not have been aware were immigrants. Of course, for the last couple of decades the immigrants have not had very long to become famous, but they included mostly actors, actresses, and athletes many of whom were already well-known when they arrived. ( )
  sallylou61 | Jan 20, 2014 |
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