Cover image for America for Americans : a history of xenophobia in the United States
America for Americans : a history of xenophobia in the United States
1st ed.
Physical Description:
vii, 416 pages : illustrations ; 25 cm.
"Strangers to our language and constitutions" -- "Americans must rule America" -- "The Chinese are no more" -- The "inferior races" of Europe -- "Getting rid of the Mexicans" -- "Military necessity" -- Xenophobia and civil rights -- "Save our state" -- Islamophobia.
Many of us like to think of the United States as a nation of immigrants. We pride ourselves on our history of welcoming foreigners and believe this sets our nation apart from every other. But the phrase 'a nation of immigrants' only dates from the mid-twentieth century, and has served to paper over a much darker history of hatred of -- and violence against -- foreigners arriving on our shores. As the acclaimed historian Erika Lee shows in America for Americans, the recent spasm of xenophobic policy and treatment of immigrants -- from the abuses of ICE to the Muslim ban to the proposed border wall -- is only the latest manifestation of another, less known but even more influential American creed. As Lee argues, an intense fear of strangers based on their race, religion, ethnicity, or national origin has always been at the heart of the American project. From Benjamin Franklin calling German immigrants 'swarthy' aliens to the anti-Chinese exclusion movement in 1876 San Francisco to modern paranoia over Mexican immigration and the 'browning of America,' xenophobia has been an ideological force working hand-in-hand with American nationalism, capitalism, and racism. Offering a new framework and theory of xenophobia to explain what it is, what it does, and how it works, Lee shows that more often than not in our nation's history, xenophobia has been the rule -- not the exception. At the same time, she reveals why we cannot understand institutionalized racism, sexism, classism without first examining the role of xenophobia in creating these related problems. Forcing us to reckon with the less palatable side of American history and beliefs, America for Americans is a necessary corrective and ultimately a spur to action for any concerned citizen. --


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Book 305.800973 LEE 1 1
Book 305.800973 LEE 1 1
Book 305.800973 LEE 1 1

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An award-winning historian reframes our continuing debate over immigration with a compelling history of xenophobia in the United States and its devastating impact
The United States is known as a nation of immigrants. But it is also a nation of xenophobia. In America for Americans , Erika Lee shows that an irrational fear, hatred, and hostility toward immigrants has been a defining feature of our nation from the colonial era to the Trump era. Benjamin Franklin ridiculed Germans for their "strange and foreign ways." Americans' anxiety over Irish Catholics turned xenophobia into a national political movement. Chinese immigrants were excluded, Japanese incarcerated, and Mexicans deported. Today, Americans fear Muslims, Latinos, and the so-called browning of America.
Forcing us to confront this history, America for Americans explains how xenophobia works, why it has endured, and how it threatens America. It is a necessary corrective and spur to action for any concerned citizen.

Author Notes

Erika Lee is a Regents Professor, the Rudolph J. Vecoli Chair in Immigration History, director of the Immigration History Research Center at the University of Minnesota, and Andrew Carnegie Fellow. The author of The Making of Asian America and other award-winning books, Lee lives in Minneapolis, MN.

Reviews 3

Publisher's Weekly Review

As University of Minnesota historian Lee (The Making of Asian America) demonstrates in this fascinating but disturbing study, xenophobia is not "an exception to America's immigration tradition" but is as American as apple pie. Moreover, hostility to migrants, she argues, has derived far more from racist ideologies than it has from anxieties about foreign policy or economic concerns. Lee takes a chronological approach to this topic, starting with Benjamin Franklin's fears regarding newly arrived Germans in pre-Revolutionary Pennsylvania and moving on to the mid-19th-century "Know Nothing" party's hatred for Irish Catholics, the federal government's exclusion of Chinese migrants at the end of the 19th century, the Bostonian intellectual elite's early-20th-century dismissal of Jews and Eastern Europeans as "beaten men from beaten races" in the early 20th century, and the demonization of Japanese immigrants for decades prior to Pearl Harbor. While readers might be tempted to see these events as dark but foregone moments in the nation's history, Lee's later sections make it clear that similar anxieties continue to legitimize fear and hatred of Mexicans and Muslims, and even of "model minority" groups of Asian Americans. She persuasively expresses that current hostilities over national borders are no exception to the nation's history. This clearly organized and lucidly written book should be read by a wide audience. (Nov.)

Kirkus Review

Thoroughgoing survey of an old strain in American history: racial and cultural animus toward newly arrived non-Americans."The target of our xenophobia may have changed from decade to decade, but our fear and hatred of foreigners has not." So writes Lee (Chair, Immigration History/Univ. of Minnesota; The Making of Asian America: A History, 2015, etc.), opening her discussion with examples from the last electoral cycle and the current occupant of the White Housewho, though his statements are "either patently false or grossly misleading," nevertheless cannily taps into that ancient fear. Xenophobia is a powerful motivating factor in American politics, writes Lee, even if it goes against the equally powerful notion that the U.S. is a nation of immigrants. "Even as it has welcomed millions from around the world," she observes, "it has also deported more immigrants than any other nationover fifty-five million since 1882." Even as the current administration is widening its field of targets to include legal as well as illegal immigrants and to curtail both, it draws on former movements: the Know-Nothings of the 19th century, for instance, who "argued that Catholicism and Catholics were dangerous to American values and institutions"and it's no accident that the Hispanic migrants are mostly Catholic, even as Islam is also singled out for exclusion today. Lee charts various movements in the nation's history, from Benjamin Franklin's lament even before the Revolution that German immigrants would not be able to assimilate to anti-Irish measures in the years around the Civil War, and then the fervor those very Irish exercised in opposing immigration by Italians, Asians, and Jews. Throughout, the author notes that xenophobia is good business for its purveyorspoliticians, TV commentators, radio hosts, and the likeand it is likely to remain a point for those people to flog in the coming election, as the president proclaims, "Our country is full."A carefully constructed history of wide interest to students of American politics. Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Library Journal Review

Part of the American mythos is that America is a nation of immigrants. While there is truth in that, Lee (history, Univ of Minnesota; The Making of Asian America: A History) exposes another truth: America is also a nation of xenophobes. This book examines different episodes of xenophobia in American history, from Benjamin Franklin's writings against German immigrants in the mid-18th century and the Know Nothings' campaigns against Irish immigrants and the Chinese Exclusion Act of the 19th century to the 1924 Immigration Act and Japanese-American internment of the early 20th century, discrimination against Mexican and Muslim immigrants in recent decades, and more. Immigration restriction is a central hallmark of President Trump's administration. Lee reveals that the rhetoric Trump and his supporters employ when speaking about immigration and immigrants--fears about bringing crime, taking away jobs, failing to assimilate--has long been part of American political discourse from Colonial times to the present. VERDICT This thoroughly researched, informative, and lucid work is essential reading for anyone interested in the history of anti-immigrant sentiment in the United States, and how it influences the current political environment.--Joshua Wallace, Tarleton State Univ. Lib. Stephenville, TX

Table of Contents

Introductionp. 1
Chapter 1 "Strangers to Our Language and Constitutions"p. 17
Chapter 2 "Americans Must Rule America"p. 39
Chapter 3 "The Chinese Are No More"p. 75
Chapter 4 The "Inferior Races" of Europep. 113
Chapter 5 "Getting Rid of the Mexicans"p. 147
Chapter 6 "Military Necessity"p. 183
Chapter 7 Xenophobia and Civil Rightsp. 221
Chapter 8 "Save Our State"p. 251
Chapter 9 Islamophobiap. 289
Conclusionp. 321
Acknowledgmentsp. 339
Archives and Collectionsp. 345
Notesp. 347
Indexp. 397