Why Immigrate?

Over the course of our unit on immigration, we have come across many origins of immigration into America. Asia, Africa, Europe, and South America have all sent immigrants to the United States. When looking at people of different origins, from all over the world, it is important that we understand why they are here (in America) in order to better understand our population, and the state of the world as a whole.

When looking back on the history of America, our nation was discovered by accident. Europeans made up the first wave of immigrants, as many hoped to find a better life in the new land. However, this initial wave of immigrants was accompanied by a forced migration, the transatlantic slave trade. In 1790, fourteen years after America achieved its independence, people of African origin made up the second largest population in the territorial United States, behind Europe. These African immigrants did not come to America of their own free will, rather were forced from their homes, their countries, their families, and sold into a life of slavery in the Caribbean and American south. The transatlantic slave trade is the single largest forced migration in world history, and whether we like it or not, defines the history of our nation and the Atlantic world, and explains, in large part, the diverse society that makes up the United States.

In my DPLA Primary Source project, I studied the immigration of Puerto Ricans into America in the 1950s and 60s. There were a few very clear factors that motivated many Puerto Ricans to come to the United States. In 1953, Puerto Rico had a suffocating population density of 646.6 persons per sq. mile, compared to 49.9 persons in the US. Just as air moves from higher to lower pressure, Puerto Ricans migrated to America to escape the high pressure of its population. In addition, this high population density was often worsened by the poor city slums and hillside farms which were comprised of the country’s poorest, condensed together. Puerto Rico also had very few resources. Its economy depends entirely on agricultural production, therefore during droughts, and off-season lulls, the majority of the population takes a financial hit, and many are left out of work. Inequality in land-ownership was deeply entrenched in Puerto Rican society, and was responsible for much of the hardships that its citizens faced. The sugar plantations and valuable, fertile, coastal land was owned by wealthy landowners, leaving most of the population landless, with no opportunity for career growth or increased land ownership. Thus through my research, I found that Puerto Ricans were likely migrating to America to escape the conditions at home, and find better work, living conditions, and financial opportunities.

In a way, the US population tells the story of the world. From the slave trade back in the 1700s-1800s, all the way through the modern Syrian refugee crisis, America represents a wide range of immigrants fleeing, searching, hoping, or even being forced into the world around us. To understand our nation, and its people, we cannot simply look at the stats, the pie charts, and the simple data surrounding where our people come from. Rather, we must investigate, to find WHY we came to this country, in order to better understand our past, as individuals, and as a country.


One thought on “Why Immigrate?

  1. Hi Owen! Your research project on Puerto Rican “immigration” into the US sounds interesting except, Puerto Rico is considered a US Territory. Therefore, can it be considered immigration? Wouldn’t this be similar to moving from the east coast to west coast? One could argue that they may face discrimination like an immigrate but I’m not sure we can categorize them as immigrants, because they are US citizens. I liked how you are seeking to understand reasons behind why people want to immigrate to the US. We have been learning a lot about the discrimination immigrants face, but it is interesting to find out why they want to come here in the first place. Interesting post!


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