“Americans have always been ambivalent about immigration and ethnic diversity. Some have valued the contribution immigrants made to economic growth. It was for this reason that Midwestern states attempted to recruit newcomers in the 19th century. Others, however, feared for the future of American institutions and imagined that strange newcomers wound not exhibit the same devotion to the value of democracy and freedom as the native born.” - John Bodnar, author of "Ethnic History in American and Indiana” in Peopling Indiana: The Ethnic Experience published by IHS Press.
Ways of Thinking About Immigration
Over the past two centuries, we have developed many different theories about immigration. One early theory, called the melting pot, implies that immigrant groups would amalgamate or blend into a new and distinct group of people who would all be known as Americans. This idea is generally considered to be out of date, even though we may share a common language and many common beliefs. Another theory suggests that immigrant groups living in the United States experience a process of acculturation, which is sometimes called “Americanization,” where the new immigrant would cast off almost all traces of their homeland in terms of personal, social and cultural differences. Until recently, it was widely expressed that an ideal immigrant should become Americanized as soon as possible. However, many of these “old country” traits are still a part of our lives.
A complex mix of long-standing traditions makes Indiana unique. Our immigrant heritage is alive in regional celebrations, in our different styles of dress, our religions and even in treasured family recipes. This perspective is called pluralism, which celebrates and accepts our immigrant roots and our ethnic diversity as an integral part of who we are as Americans.
Seven Questions, Plus!
As you study immigration history, it’s important think about the BIG picture. Keep these seven questions in mind as you read through this website:
- Who moved here? What specific immigrant communities came to Indiana?
- When, why, how and where did they settle?
- What traditions, beliefs, languages and values did they bring with them?
- How did other Hoosier communities respond to newcomers?
- How did state and federal governments respond to immigration?
- How were and are different immigrant groups portrayed by the media?
- What else was going on in the world that could affect immigration patterns and policies?
What would you add to this list?
For Further Reading
Download the full text of Ethnic History in America and Indiana by John Bodnar.