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Delaney Demaret Blog Post for 10/5

While the two chapters in How the Other Half Lives feature extremely problematic viewpoints on immigration and a dangerous amount of generalization of communities, a reader can use it in conjunction with other sources to draw conclusions on the political and economic climate of the time. For example, the chapter on Chinatown complains about the lack of typical family structure among Chinese immigrants in the city, yet in Dr. Bezio’s podcast, she notes that the government essentially banned Chinese women from immigrating with the Page Act of 1875. Here, a conclusion may be drawn on the active involvement of governmental authorities in harming immigrant communities. American policies on immigration face constant evolution, but I think it would be hard to find a time where preserving the togetherness of an immigrant family has been the ultimate priority. One piece of consistency in American immigration policy has been the idea of capitalist expansion and the exploitation of immigrant labor. 

In the chapter on the Italian-American immigrant community, a similar conclusion can be drawn in the way of government (this time local) involvement. The padrones and contractors worked with the city to effectively create a labor market that stifled the ability for Italian workers to participate in the aspects of a laissez-faire economy that could benefit them. They were pushed by contract policies that the city and ladrones worked together to make, into sections of the market that eliminated their access to worker resistance and wage competition. This effectively institutionalized immigrant poverty. Even worse, exploitation facilitated through the language barrier continued through generations of Italian-American families, creating a cycle of inopportunity. 

I think there is a reckoning to be had on what the sentiment of American Immigration policy is versus what the true priorities behind the structure are. The history of exploitation of immigrant communities in the labor markets is too strong to ignore and place behind the “melting pot” theory. Is there a time in the history of the United States where the paramount interest behind immigration structures was not to advance capitalistic expansion? 


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  1. Elina Bhagwat Elina Bhagwat

    I also related some of the readings back to the podcast and more specifically the discussion of citizenship tests. It seemed to me that these tests were meant to make it hard for immigrants to be accepted into America, similar to how language barriers are used to ostracize immigrant groups. Because languages are so different between Americans and several immigrant groups it makes it hard to integrate immigrants which to some people serves as justification for treating them differently.

  2. Olivia Cranshaw Olivia Cranshaw

    I think that is an interesting parallel you made about the ban of Chinese women that I didn’t think about before. I agree, I think we need to have a more national conversation about the effect past immigration policies have had on current Americans because the exploration of the melting pot idea has endured for too long.

  3. Maggie Otradovec Maggie Otradovec

    It’s crazy to think that, despite the fact that it has been over a hundred years since the Page Act, and later the Chinese Exclusion Act, that the effects are still noticeable. My cousin’s wife is half Chinese, and told me about her grandparents were separated because of these policies. It doesn’t seem so far removed when you think about it from that perspective.

  4. Pierce Kaliner Pierce Kaliner

    I also found the perpetual and institutionalized poverty among the Italian Americans to be interesting as well. The elimination of wage competition created real problems for the Italian American community and I’m sure that those problems can still be seen today in the Italian areas of major industrial cities like New York and Philadelphia.

  5. Thomas Bennett Thomas Bennett

    While “How the Other Half Lives” is filled with stereotypes and discriminatory language, it was actually a progressive piece of work for its time. Jacob Riis, its author, was actually an immigrant himself. The book shed light on a serious wealth disparity in New York City and actually helped inspire legislation that helped impoverished immigrant communities.

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