points of origins

You know those stories about immigrants having their names changed, not by their own choice, upon arrival at Ellis Island or other points of entry? I hadn’t given them much thought, but it turns out that most of the stories, at least in simplest form, are very unlikely to be true. As the U.S. National Archives blog points out, most of the arrival records for immigrants – passenger manifests and the like – were produced before departure; these records may have contained errors that were reproduced in the U.S., but they were not created by Ellis Island officials.

This is not to say that immigrants didn’t have their names changed, just that – as this article linked in the comments to the archives’ post explains in more detail – the stories behind those changes are more complicated.

the fabric of society

It seems like Cory Booker is channeling Randolph Bourne (via):

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From Bourne’s “Trans-National America” (in the July 1916 Atlantic):

The foreign cultures have not been melted down or run together, made into some homogeneous Americanism, but have remained distinct but cooperating to the greater glory and benefit not only of themselves but of all the native ‘Americanism’ around them.

What we emphatically do not want is that these distinctive qualities should be washed out into a tasteless, colorless fluid of uniformity.

Bourne’s prefers the metaphor of a weave to food; he comes out against gluttony:

Only America, by reason of the unique liberty of opportunity and traditional isolation for which she seems to stand, can lead in this cosmopolitan enterprise. Only the American — and in this category I include the migratory alien who has lived with us and caught the pioneer spirit and a sense of new social vistas — has the chance to become that citizen of the world. America is coming to be, not a nationality but a trans- nationality, a weaving back and forth, with the other lands, of many threads of all sizes and colors. Any movement which attempts to thwart this weaving, or to dye the fabric any one color, or disentangle the threads of the strands, is false to this cosmopolitan vision. I do not mean that we shall necessarily glut ourselves with the raw product of humanity. It would be folly to absorb the nations faster than we could weave them. We have no duty either to admit or reject. It is purely a question of expediency. What concerns us is the fact that the strands are here. We must have a policy and an ideal for an actual situation. Our question is, What shall we do with our America?

only in America a democracy

With the talk of Obama’s election being something that could only happen in America, it’s no surprise to find people pointing out that, well, not only could “it” – meaning a similar electoral victory, of course – happen elsewhere, but “it” has in some cases already happened elsewhere. But this piece in Slate is a bit confused about what “it” is.

On one side, there are some good examples*:

The truth is that Obama-style chiefs of state—people who came out of stigmatized ethnic minorities or “foreign” enclaves to lead their governments—are an uncommon but regularly recurring part of history. Alberto Fujimori, who held both Peruvian and Japanese citizenship, was elected president of Peru in 1990. Sonia Gandhi, born Edvige Antonia Albina Maino in northern Italy, led her Congress Party to a resounding victory in India’s 2004 elections. Daniel arap Moi is from the Kalenjin people, not the Luo or Kikuyu who are the nation’s largest ethnic groups and its centers of political gravity. But this did not bar him being president of Kenya from 1978 to 2002.

To them you could probably add Evo Morales in Bolivia. And going back to the 19th century, there’s Benjamin Disraeli’s selection as Prime Minister of the UK.

But on the other side are the poor examples:

Last week, the New York Times told us Europe would not soon—indeed might never—see a political triumph like Obama’s. It described British politics as though Disraeli had never existed and painted a similar picture of mono-ethnic France.

Desolé, cher collegues, but one year after the far-off, sunny isle of Corsica was acquired by France in 1768, there was born there one Napoleon Bonaparte, whose heavy Italian accent made him seem even more exotic to la France profonde than his strange name.

I guess Napoleon did win a lot of campaigns.

Next up:

And speaking of German accents, the Times thumb-sucker also foresaw that there would be no German Obama any time soon. Bad timing for them: Three days later, Germany’s Greens elected Cem Ozdemir, an ethnic Turk, as their new leader.

And the Greens, being the ruling party of Germany, must make their leader the Chancellor, right? At least that example is still within the realm of electoral politics. Unlike, say,

Stalin, of course, wasn’t Russian.

Stalin vetted his advisers very thoroughly, it should be noted. And he rose from being just a humble secretary too.


It’s a matter of some debate whether Alexander the Great was ethnically Greek.

Some said he was too Greek; others, not Greek enough. And Greece was the birthplace of democracy, so he must have been elected.

That not enough for you? The path of liberty soon turned west from Greece. And what do we find?

Quite a few rulers of the Roman Empire came from underprivileged, barbarian families in North Africa, Syria, and the Balkans. The Times‘ portrait of ethnically blinkered European politics would have surprised not only Disraeli and Napoleon, but also, inter alios, such second- and third-century Roman emperors as Philippus (known as Philip the Arab for his ethnicity), Septimius Severus (father Roman, mother North African), and Diocletian (humble stock from Dalmatia, present-day Croatia).

Hey, did you know that the Mongols weren’t Chinese, and yet they ruled China for a while? And the Qing ruled China for even longer, and they weren’t Chinese either! And yet we call their emperors emperors of China.

But why stop there? What about Carl XIV Johan, King of Sweden and Norway, born Jean-Baptiste Bernadotte and once Marshal of France (more French than Napoleon, who appointed him)? And the 19th century Greek monarchy had not just the House of Wittelsbach but the House of Glücksburg (in fairness, the later monarchs seem to have been Greece-born).

Or maybe it would be a good idea to just stop with the good examples, give a bit more depth to the comparisons, and acknowledge that Obama’s victory was not unique, but still quite rare.


*Unfortunately, many of these leaders were more successful in elections than in governing.

grandmother clause

My Swiss-born grandmother came to the US in the 1920s when she was a kid. Some of her relatives were already in the US; not all of them stayed for their entire lives. She went back to Europe at least once, possibly twice in the late 1920s/early 1930s to visit relatives. As far as I know, she did not leave the US again until the 1970s when she discovered, after applying for a US passport, that she was not a citizen. She had been voting since the 1930s. She was able to get naturalized without too many problems.

A few weeks ago, I was looking at the Ellis Island ship manifests, which I recently learned have been made available online, and I found what seems to be the only manifest for my grandmother on file. I say “seems to be” because it says she arrived in 1921 at 11, but I remembered hearing that she came in 1922 at the age of 12. I probably remembered wrong. The ship is the Olympic, which is the ship she said she arrived on; she’s listed in first class, and she used to say that if she hadn’t been in first class her eye infection might have caused problems with the immigration agents; and Charles Schwab was on the same ship – I found his manifest – and she used to tell a story about meeting him on deck. Also, the passengers accompanying her happen to have her mother’s and one of her sisters’ names, they were coming from Switzerland (via Southampton), they listed the name of one of her brothers as their destination, and the address for that brother is in the city he lived in. So it must be her. Her later Atlantic crossings must have been either through other ports or after the Ellis Island/Port of New York procedures changed; at least, I couldn’t find them in the database. Her mother is listed once before, in 1914, and that listing has information that matches some things I know about my great-grandmother.

The funny thing is that the listing also indicates that my grandmother, her mother, and her sister intended to return to their home country. “Length of time alien intends to reside in the United States” for all three is listed as “6 mths.”* And there’s a stamp on each of the lines containing their information that appears to read “NON IMMIGRANT ALIEN.”

It’s possible that this was true to their intentions. When I told my dad about this he was surprised to learn that the sister listed, who was in her late 20s at the time, ever came to the US. Decades later my great-grandmother also returned to Switzerland, where a few relatives, probably including that sister, were still living. And of course I already know that my grandmother herself crossed the Atlantic more than once.

So maybe she and some of her relatives just overstayed their [historically appropriate equivalent of a visa] and no one noticed until the 1970s.** It’s also possible that her family really wanted to immigrate – I remember hearing that they put a substantial amount of their resources into being able to cross in first class – and thought this was the best, if not the most legal, way to do it. What I do know is that by the mid-1920s she was living in Wisconsin and learning English from nuns at a boarding school who, though they knew German, would not speak it with their students.


*Technically, it reads “6 mths” for her mother and “do” – which I take to mean “ditto” – for my grandmother and her sister.

**I should look up that brother’s records some day, but haven’t yet. I believe he was the first of the family to immigrate and it might not have been intentional. At the same time, he must have arrived when immigration laws were less restrictive. There’s a story that he gambled himself out of a position with a traveling symphony while in the US. Probably shouldn’t have bet his violin.

Categorized as migration

in search of a better wage

I guess some American workers are going abroad, after all:

As a restricted free agent in a market where nobody has cap space, he had no way to earn more than the midlevel exemption unless Atlanta decided to feel generous. So he took an offer from Olympiakos in Greece that’s worth more.

Categorized as migration

the other side of outsourcing

Following up on my recent immigration/emigration post: it appears that the U.S. economic slowdown is leading American jobs lost overseas to be lost – overseas:

That does not mean the emerging world is buffered completely, particularly if both the United States and Europe slip into recession or if the financial crisis in the United States claims more and bigger financial institutions. And without question, sectors of emerging economies are already being stung.

There is growing fear especially in the fastest-growing Indian technology markets, which include outsourcing, back-office operations and call centers. Those sectors are 70 percent dependent on the United States. Several Indian technology companies have slowed their hiring because of the U.S. economy’s slowdown. In May, industrial output was up 3.3 percent, half the 6 percent increase in May 2007.

“I will have to lay off more if things don’t pick up,” said Rajiv Prem, a clothing manufacturer for U.S. retailers, including Anthropologie and Motherworks, who said the drop in orders has meant he had to close two of his three factories outside New Delhi.

Exports in China — the darling of the 21st-century economy — are also being hammered by slackening demand caused by the global slowdown and rising labor and material costs. Chen Gong, who runs a factory that makes plastic cleaning devices in Ningbo, a manufacturing city near Shanghai in the Yangtze River delta, has seen profits slip partly from the yuan’s controlled but steady rise against the dollar. It has slashed profit margins for many mid-size manufacturers from 15 to 3 percent. Many factories in nearby Guangdong province have closed their doors, and thousands of workers have lost their jobs.

“We’ll just see who can survive this,” Chen said. Experts predict as many as one-third of export manufacturers will close in the next three years.

Ultimately, that might not turn out so bad for China

Chinese exports to the United States have been flat this year and will likely experience a rare, overall decline by year-end, said Arthur Kroeber, managing director at Dragonomics, a research firm in Beijing. Yet experts said that might be exactly what China needs. A global slowdown — if tempered — could help China stage a soft landing for its breakneck economic growth.

“In some ways, this is not only welcome but desired by the Chinese,” said Vikram Nehru, the World Bank‘s chief economist for East Asia and the Pacific.


Yet in Europe and Japan, the situation is decidedly more gloomy. In Japan, a new government forecast shows slowing economic growth and rising inflation in the coming year….

In Europe, which analysts once hoped would be a pillar of economic strength in the event of a U.S. recession, analysts are now warning of possible recession. The weakening dollar has made German chemicals and cars exceedingly expensive overseas — particularly in the United States — stinging the manufacturing industry in the euro zone’s largest economy. Spain, Ireland and Britain are mired in painful housing slumps with their financial institutions squeezed by the U.S.-sparked global credit crunch.

So to reiterate, chances of American emigration for better employment: still not likely.

a nation of immigrants

I’ve been wondering for some time if there’s a chance that if there’s a prolonged economic downturn, a significant number of Americans won’t just see their jobs moved overseas, they’ll begin to follow them. I’m sure it’s extremely unlikely: a significant depression in the US would almost certainly be accompanied by a more or less worldwide one. Anyway, it’s not like Americans left the country in huge numbers in the 1930s, and even if a depression were a push factor, there still would have to be some pull factors drawing people elsewhere.

That said, I found myself wondering about American emigration again when I read this:

Why does Germany have an engineering shortage while U.S. engineers are forced into “sales”? If our engineers didn’t go into sales, they’d be unemployed. It also puzzles me how, in 2008, German industry, with an ever higher euro, keeps outcompeting the U.S. in sales abroad. The Germans are actually looking for more than half a million skilled workers, including 100,000 engineers.

Of course unemployment in the US is still fairly low, sales can pay well enough, there are restrictions on Americans working in the EU, and Germany is attracting workers from other parts of the world who likely earn less than an American would ask for. So there are some pretty easy answers to the question: why aren’t American engineers trying for those jobs? And that’s before you get to the question of whether Americans are not inclined to emigrate, not even temporarily, with the intention of sending money back and eventually returning.**

*Though the article itself is actually on an entirely different topic from this post, by the way, namely: what effect will growing numbers of wealthy young wealth-managing liberals have on Democratic (and by extension, American,) politics?

**I know very little about American emigration history. I think quite a few Americans actually left for Canada in the late 19th and early 20th centuries when the American economy was growing rapidly (outside of panics/depressions). A chart in Eric‘s book indicates that the United States was second only to the British Isles as a source region for immigrants to Canada between 1891-1910 (figure 3.2, page 68). I wonder if that number includes immigrants to the United States who later went to Canada.