It is said that the United States is a nation of immigrants--the great melting pot. Except for Native Americans, everyone in America is an immigrant or the descendant of an immigrant.

The early colonists came from England, Holland, and France. Then came Scandinavians, Welsh, Scottish, Irish, and Germans. By the end of the 1800s, Italians, Polish, Armenians, Russians, Greeks, Hungarians, and Turks began to pour into America. Soon Chinese and Japanese immigrants arrived in great numbers.

Immigrants came for many reasons. They came in hopes of owning land or getting a better job. Some came for adventure or to avoid military service in their former country. Many came to escape persecution. Mostly they came for the hope of a better life.

People in the United States are descendants of one of the greatest migrations in human history. And that migration is not over. Even today, immigrants continue to come to America in large numbers. This mix of cultures and diverse ethnic ancestries is what helps make the United States an interesting and dynamic place to live. The Great Seal of the United States has featured on its face--E. Pluribus Unum--Out of Many, One. This reflects the cultural diversity and unity of America.

Sample some of the following activities to learn more about immigrants and immigration.


Places To Go    People To See    Things To Do    Teacher Resources    Bibliography

Places To Go

The following are places to go (some real and some virtual) to find out about immigrants and immigration.

Angel Island
Virtually visit Angel Island in San Francisco Bay. From 1910 to 1940, the island was used as a portal to process immigrants to the United States--most of them from Asia. Angel Island was called the "Ellis Island of the West".
Ellis Island
Travel to Ellis Island in New York Harbor. Between 1892 and 1954, more than 16 million people passed through Ellis Island, hoping to become Americans.
Immigrant Ships
The vast majority of immigrants coming to America traveled in steerage which was the area in the bottom of large ships where people were packed into rows of narrow bunk beds. There were no portholes to let in light, and the ceiling was usually only 6 to 8 feet high.
Lower Eastside Tenement
Visit an historic tenement building on the lower eastside of New York City where immigrants to the city lived in overcrowded conditions.
Manhattan Neighborhoods
Visit ethnic areas of Manhattan. Early immigrants in large cities faced many problems. They arrived with little money. They mostly spoke no English. They had no homes. They often lived in crowded apartments with relatives. They formed their own neighborhoods with such names as Little Italy and Chinatown. People there spoke a common language and shared common customs.  

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People To See

Emma Lazarus
Her famous poem, "The New Colossus", published in 1883, is on a bronze plaque at the base of The Statue of Liberty. In her later years, she wrote bold, powerful poetry and essays protesting the rise of anti-Semitism and arguing for Russian immigrants' rights.
Fiorello La Guardia
Meet Fiorello La Guardia. He was the mayor of New York City in the 1930s and 1940s. In his earlier years, before he became a lawyer and politician, he was an interpreter on Ellis Island.
Frédéric-Auguste Bartholdi
Meet Frédéric-Auguste Bartholdi. He designed the Statue of Liberty and presented it to the United States. The base of the statue is it is inscribed "The New Colossus," the famous sonnet of Emma Lazarus, welcoming immigrants to the United States.
History Channel: Ellis Island
Meet a few of the 12 million immigrants who passed through Ellis Island and read about their personal experiences.
Statue of Liberty 
Get to know the "Lady with the Torch". She has stood in upper New York Bay on a ten acre island since 1886. She was frequently one of the first sites that immigrants saw as they arrived on their ships and de boarded at Ellis Island.

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Things To Do

The Immigrant Journey
Follow the steps that a family went through to immigrate to America. From 1900 to 1910, almost 95 percent of the immigrants arriving at Ellis Island were joining either their family or a friend who had arrived before them.
Immigration and Naturalization Service
Discover what today's immigrants need to do to become citizens of the United States.
Immigration in American Memory
Learn about the earliest American immigrants, about the great surge of immigration which occurred between 1865 and 1920, and about immigration today.
Know Nothing Party
The Know Nothing Party was a political movement in the 1840s and 1850s. One of the goals of this movement was to restrict immigration and to encourage the election of only native-born Americans to office.
National Library of Medicine: Disease Control and Prevention
Learn about some of the diseases that could keep an immigrant from entering the United States. Trachoma was a common reason for immigrants to be sent back to their former countries. It was a contagious eye disease that was common in Europe and for which, at the time, there was no cure.
The Promise of Gold Mountain: Tucson's Chinese Heritage
Learn how Chinese immigrants helped build Tucson, Arizona. Many immigrants from China were railroad workers, and in southern Arizona, they worked on the Southern Pacific Railroad and earned $1.00 a day.

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Teacher Resources

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  • Andryszewski, Tricia. Immigration: Newcomers and Their Impact on the U.S. Brookfield, Conn.: Milbrook Press, c1995.
  • Bratman, Fred. Becoming a Citizen: Adopting a New Home. Austin, Tex. : Raintree Steck-Vaughn, c1993.
  • Jacobs, William Jay. Ellis Island: New Hope in a New Land. New York : C. Scribner's, c1990.
  • Koral, April. An Album of the Great Wave of Immigration. New York : F. Watts, c1992.
  • Levine, Ellen. If Your Name Was Changed at Ellis Island. New York : Scholastic Inc., c1993.
  • Maestro, Betsy. Coming to America: The Story of Immigration. New York: Scholastic, c1996.
  • Quiri, Patricia Ryon. Ellis Island. New York: Children's Press, c1998.
  • Reef, Catherine. Ellis Island. New York: Dillon Press; Toronto: Maxwell Macmillan Canada; New York: Maxwell Macmillan International, c1991.
  • Reimers, David M. A Land of Immigrants. New York: Chelsea House Publishers, c1996.
  • Sandler, Martin W. Immigrants: A Library of Congress Book. New York, NY: HarperCollins, c1995.
  • Takaki, Ronald T. Spacious Dreams: The First Wave of Asian Immigration. New York: Chelsea House Publishers, c1993.