20 November 2007

Overview of Southern Immigration

The latest issue of Southern Culture (vol. 13, no. 4, pp. 24-44; Project Muse subscription required) contains an article by Carl L. Bankston entitled New People in the New South: An Overview of Southern Immigration (voluntary immigrants only; not slaves). Here are a few excerpts that caught my eye.

Old South
In 1850 Louisiana had the largest concentration of immigrants in the South, about 75,000 people and approximately one-quarter of Louisiana's free population. New Orleans, the largest port in the South and the second largest in the nation after New York, was a natural point of entry for people from other countries. Between 1820 and 1860, over half a million immigrants arrived in Louisiana. Given Louisiana's French history and the large French-speaking population in the state during the nineteenth century, it is easy to assume that France would be the place of origin for most of the state's foreign-born residents. Many immigrants to Louisiana were, in fact, from France. About 15,000 people in Louisiana in 1850, or one out of five immigrants in the state, gave France as their birthplace. The largest immigrant group in Louisiana, though, came from Ireland. An estimated 26,580 Louisianans, or nearly 38 percent of the state's immigrants, were born in Ireland in 1850. The Irish are generally described as having arrived in Louisiana in two waves. Those known as the "Old Irish" came primarily from the northern part of Ireland between 1803 and 1830. These earlier immigrants became part of the middle classes of New Orleans. The "New Irish," consisting mainly of peasants, left their homes because of poverty and famine, particularly after the potato blight, which hit Ireland about 1845 and lasted into the following decade, leaving Ireland devastated. They settled in the area known as the City of Lafayette, which was later incorporated into New Orleans and is still identified as the Irish Channel. The New Irish provided much of New Orleans's low-paying manual labor.

Germans made up the second largest immigrant nationality in antebellum Louisiana. Over 20,000 people in the state in 1850, or 28 percent of all immigrants, had been born in Germany. Germans first arrived at the port of New Orleans when Louisiana was a French colony. Many settled just north of New Orleans in the Parishes of St. John and St. Charles, in an area known as the Côte des Allemands, or German Coast. A second wave of peasant German workers followed the first wave of German settlers between 1820 and 1850.
New South
As a consequence of geographic access, Texas's main immigrant population is Hispanic or Latino, yet Texas also has a substantial Asian minority (see Table 1), attributable to some extent to the general rise in Asian migration around the United States and to the booming economy in Texas cities such as Houston. In 2000 the Vietnamese were Texas's single largest Asian immigrant group, accounting for one out of every four foreign-born Asian Texans, and the state had the second largest Vietnamese population in the United States, after California, with 12 percent of all Vietnamese in the United States.

The case of the Vietnamese illustrates the importance of Texas as a point of access even for members of these more distant national-origin groups. Initial U.S. government resettlement efforts in 1975 had planted Vietnamese communities in the cities of Dallas and Houston. Additional Vietnamese Americans were drawn to Texas by the existing ethnic communities, combined with the availability of jobs in that state. Shrimping became something of an ethnic specialty for Vietnamese Americans along the Gulf Coast of Texas and other states....

As a world center, Atlanta has attracted a diverse Asian population. The largest grouping of Atlanta's Asians in 2000 consisted of people from the South Asian subcontinent, with just under 36,000 Asian Indians, over 1,000 Bangladeshis, and well over 3,000 Pakistanis. At that time, Atlanta was also home to nearly 25,000 Vietnamese, close to 22,000 Koreans, and just under 21,500 Chinese. Largely members of an educated work force, the South Asian migrants were drawn to this international-airport-hub city by its professional, white-collar opportunities in professional, scientific, and technical industries, which in 2000 employed one in five of the Asian Indians in the metropolis.

As in Texas, the Vietnamese first came to Atlanta as part of government resettlement efforts, and the initial Vietnamese communities provided bases for secondary migration from other parts of the country while Vietnamese job seekers looked for work. They found it in the blue-collar sector, with nearly one-third of Atlanta Vietnamese occupied in the city's manufacturing industry in 2000. Koreans, as in New York and Los Angeles, became the small shopkeepers of Greater Atlanta, with about 22 percent of Koreans in retail trade. Chinese, like the South Asians, had often come with educational credentials to seek jobs in professional, scientific, and technical fields, which held 17 percent of the area's Chinese workers. Other Chinese migrants tended to go in to restaurant and related work, as accommodations and food services held 16 percent of the city's Chinese workers. A diversified metropolitan economy with global connections had pulled in workers from all over the world into a mosaic of national-origin specializations.

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