"From Ellis Island to JFK" by Nancy Foner

From Ellis Island to JFK New York's Two Great Waves of Immigration Nancy Foner

Publication date:
11 Jan 2002
Yale University Press
352 pages: 235 x 156mm

In the history, the very personality, of New York City, few events loom larger than the wave of immigration at the turn of the last century. Today a similar influx of new immigrants is transforming the city again. Better than one in three New Yorkers is now an immigrant. From Ellis Island to JFK is the first in-depth study that compares these two huge social changes.

A key contribution of this book is Nancy Foner’s reassessment of the myths that have grown up around the earlier Jewish and Italian immigration—and that deeply color how today’s Asian, Latin American, and Caribbean arrivals are seen. Topic by topic, she reveals the often surprising realities of both immigrations. For example:
  • Education: Most Jews, despite the myth, were not exceptional students at first, while many immigrant children today do remarkably well.
  • Jobs: Immigrants of both eras came with more skills than is popularly supposed. Some today come off the plane with advanced degrees and capital to start new businesses.
  • Neighborhoods: Ethnic enclaves are still with us but they’re no longer always slums—today’s new immigrants are reviving many neighborhoods and some are moving to middle-class suburbs.
  • Gender: For married women a century ago, immigration often, surprisingly, meant less opportunity to work outside the home. Today, it’s just the opposite.
  • Race: We see Jews and Italians as whites today, but to turn-of-the-century scholars they were members of different, alien races. Immigrants today appear more racially diverse—but some (particularly Asians) may be changing the boundaries of current racial categories.
Drawing on a wealth of historical and contemporary research and written in a lively and entertaining style, the book opens a new chapter in the study of immigration—and the story of the nation’s gateway city.

Nancy Foner is Distinguished Professor of Sociology at Hunter College and the Graduate Center of the City University of New York.

Winner of the 2000 Theodore Saloutos Book Award of the Immigration and Ethnic History Society for the best book in American Immigration and Ethnic History

?Through her masterful comparison of the experience of immigrants in two historical eras, Foner challenges the doomsayers among us who argue that today?s newcomers are somehow ?different:? poorer, more desperate, less educated, racially distinct, and ultimately less assimilable. On the contrary, her analysis reveals a remarkable continuity in the underlying causes of immigration, the mechanisms that sustain it, and the motivations of those who cross boundaries in search of better lives. She shows that today?s immigrants, as a group, are better-educated, better-housed, and more prepared for the challenges of U.S. life than those of the past. Her lucid account suggests that the differences, to the extent that they exist, stem more from the changed nature of American society than from any transformation in the character or aspirations of immigrants.??Douglas S. Massey, Dorothy Swaine Thomas Professor of Sociology, University of Pennsylvania

?Nancy Foner?s new book is a thorough, comprehensive and carefully comparative analysis of the experience of the two big waves of immigration in New York City. By comparing the two, Foner has found a distinctive and enlightening way of describing the country?s recent racial and ethnic history. Her subject may be New York City, but Foner?s book is really about America. It should thus become essential reading for scholars, students, public officials and everyone else concerned with immigration as well as race and ethnicity in American life.??Herbert Gans, Columbia University

?Foner?s new book is a thorough, comprehensive and carefully comparative analysis of the experience of the two big waves of immigration in NYC. The book will be essential reading for scholars, students, public officials and everyone else concerned with immigration as well as race and ethnicity. Her subject may be NYC, but since the city is one of the country?s two major centers of immigration, Foner?s book is really about America. It should thus become a basic reference on immigration, race and ethnicity in American life. By comparing the two waves of immigration, Foner has found a distinctive and enlightening way of describing the country?s recent racial and ethnic history.??Herbert J. Gans, Robert S. Lynd Prof. of Sociology at Columbia University. Author of Popular Culture and High Culture 

?A fascinating guide to the place of immigrants in American society and history?unusually objective, lucid, and nuanced.??Reed Ueda, Tufts University

?Nancy Foner?s From Ellis Island to JFK demonstrates the essential truth at the core of Santayana?s famous dictum: those who fail to understand the past are condemned to misunderstand the present and future. With incisive analysis and telling examples, she brilliantly illuminates not only the ways in which the contemporary immigration to New York by groups such as Koreans and Dominicans may recapitulate some of the early 20th-century experiences of Italians and Jews but also the ways in which it is genuinely novel. The book?s many surprises include forgotten aspects of the European-American experience that Foner has unearthed with the skill of a detective.??Richard Alba, Professor of Sociology and Public Policy, State University of New York at Albany 

"How do the immigrants of today differ from those of the past? For answers, the place to start is Nancy Foner?s account of New York, now as then, the immigrant?s town. Steeped in relevant literature, always judicious, and yet never pulling a punch, Foner?s beautifully written book will surely be appreciated by scholars and students alike."?Roger Waldinger, University of California, Los Angeles

?Foner has produced a well-written and jargon-free scholarly study that is also accessibly to the general interest reader.??E. Hu-Dehart, Choice

?Move aside, Glazer and Moynihan! With From Ellis Island to JFK, we have a welcome replacement for Beyond the Melting Pot, the classic (if now dated) overview of New York City?s ethnic landscape. Author Nancy Foner accomplishes this via a readable and informative comparison of the ?old immigration? of 1880-1920 . . . and the ?new immigration? that followed from liberalization of the laws in 1965. . . . For a smart and fact-filled overview of the city?s two great immigrant streams and the New Yorkers they produced, there is no better place to start than From Ellis Island to JFK."?Roger Sanjek, City Limits

?For those many heritage-seekers who want to know more about the contours of the New York immigrant experience, past and present, as well as specialists in the field, Nancy Foner?s From Ellis Island to JFK, will be a most satisfying read.??Ethnic & Racial Studies

?[A] most satisfying read. . . . [I]t becomes clear that whether as editor or author, [Foner] is a major talent in her ability to compile, synthesize and clarify the meaning of the immigrant experience within the context of multi-ethnic New York, no matter what the time frame or period under construction."?Marilyn Halter, Ethnic and Racial Studies 

?Cutting through many myths and complicated issues, her main arguments are compelling and informative. From Ellis Island to JFK is a well-written and delightful book, one that should appeal to the general public.??David M. Reimers, International Migration Review  

?[A] panoramic view of the immigrant experience, fully justifying its focus on New York City as ?the quintessential immigrant gateway? to the United States. Nancy Foner?s book provides a treasure trove of information and insights on this gateway during the past century and is a work of feeling, of empathy for the immigrants and their struggles and aspirations.??Ira Gollobin, Jewish Currents

?From Ellis Island to JFK provides thoughtful comparisons and analyses. . . . Foner tries to clarify previous events and bring some reality into our understanding both of previous generations of immigrants and the newcomers amongst us today. Although not everyone will agree with her positions, there is no doubt that they will foment lively discussions among readers who assess immigrant experiences differently.??Journal of Social History

?[A]n important book which both clarifies and complicates our thinking about immigration in the United States. . . . I recommend From Ellis Island to JFK to one and all.??Rudolph Vecoli, Journall of American History

?A well-documented and scrupulously researched look at New York City?s two great waves of immigration. Foner compares and contrasts the experiences of the largely Jewish and Italian immigrants at the turn of the century with those of New York?s current Asian, Latin American, and West Indian newcomers. . . . As enlightening as it is entertaining: a worthwhile addition to the field of popular anthropology.??Kirkus Reviews

?[A] searching and highly readable comparative study. . . . A work that corrects much of what we?ve come to idealize about the last great wave of immigration and offers a better understanding of current immigration trends. Foner contributes to the dialogue of what it means to call America a nation of immigrants.??Publishers Weekly

?This is a necessary text for anyone interested in the lives of immigrants and the ways in which their pres