Throughout history, people have been moving to new places. There are many reasons why people move, or immigrate, to a new country to stay there permanently. Some move for new opportunities, better jobs, and a better life in general. Some move to escape wars, dictatorship, disease, and other horrible things that are happening in their country. Over time, the United States has welcomed many immigrants, and is now a country filled with diverse cultures and people. In this unit, students will learn about the history of immigration to the United States, and how our country came to be one of many unique people and traditions.
An immigrant is a person who leaves their country to live in another country. American immigration did not really begin until the late 1700s, when the United States became an independent nation. Before America was independent, people would come to America as settlers, such as the Europeans, or as enslaved people, such as the Africans.
Ellis Island was the largest immigration station in the United States for over 30 years during the late 1800s and early 1900s. During this time, the government wanted to take control of the situation so that they could be sure people coming in were not carrying diseases and were able to support and take care of themselves. Between 1892 and 1924, over 12 million people came through Ellis Island, and it was nicknamed the “Island of Hope.” After 1924, immigrants were inspected before boarding the boat, and those at Ellis Island only checked their papers. Over 2 million more people came through Ellis Island before it closed down in 1954.
Throughout history, the reasons for immigrating to a new country have not changed. One reason why someone would immigrate is in search of a better life. America is considered to be the land of opportunity, where there are more jobs and chances to succeed. This is an example of a pull towards a better place. Another reason why one would immigrate is to leave a place where life has become horrible. For example, one might leave a country that is at war, has little jobs, was a victim of natural disaster, or if one cannot practice religious freedom. This is an example of a push out of a place one no longer wants to be. One may also choose to immigrate for religious reasons, personal reasons (family, marriage, etc.), or resource reasons (lack of shelter, food, etc. in their old country).
Immigration has never been easy for many reasons. One reason is that when people immigrate, they leave behind not only their loved ones, but the culture that they have become so accustomed to. Oftentimes they have to sell their home and decide which belongings they will take and what they will have to leave behind. Another reason why immigration is difficult is because of the strict immigration laws that many countries have. For example, countries have certain restrictions and qualifications, and the process of becoming a citizen often takes many years and hard work. Perhaps one of the most difficult challenges immigrants face is learning the language and culture of their new home. Not being able to understand those around you or the new way of life is very uncomfortable at first. Imagine going into the grocery store and not being able to communicate what you are looking for? Or needing help and not knowing how to ask for it? It takes a long time to adapt to the language and ways of life in a new country.
The United States is full of immigrants and ancestors of immigrants, which is what makes it such a unique and wonderful place to live. The following activities will help students learn about and understand the history of immigration the challenges that their ancestors faced.