Immigration in America: A History of Inclusion and Exclusion
with Mae M. Ngai
Offered in partnership with Columbia University
Monday, May 21, 2018

We often say that America is a “nation of immigrants,” but our historical experience is more complicated. Indigenous people, of course, were not immigrants, but neither were English colonists or enslaved Africans. And although “nation of immigrants” suggests acceptance and inclusion, American politics and law have frequently been hostile and exclusionary. What explains the divergence? This master class will  focus on two distinct, yet connected, periods. We’ll begin in the late 19th and early 20th centuries and consider the immigration to the United States of many Chinese and eastern and southern Europeans. Next, we’ll explore the decades following 1965, when the demographic makeup of America changed greatly as immigrants came increasingly from elsewhere in the world. We will consider similarities and differences between these two historical periods with regard to ethnicity and race, work and family life, nativism, legal and illegal migration, and immigrant activism and reform.

Mae M. Ngai, Columbia University, is an historian interested in questions of immigration, citizenship, and nationalism. She is author of the award winning Impossible Subjects: Illegal Aliens and the Making of Modern America and The Lucky Ones: One Family and the Extraordinary Invention of Chinese America.  Ngai has written on immigration history and policy for The Washington Post, The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, The Nation, and The Boston Review. Before becoming a historian she was a labor-union organizer and educator in New York City, working for District 65-UAW and the Consortium for Worker Education.  Her next book will be a study of Chinese gold miners and racial politics in the nineteenth-century California, the Australian colony of Victoria, and the South African Transvaal.