Immigration and Race Attitudes

Chapter 1: The Immigration Problem

Emory S. Bogardus

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A migrating person is interesting. He is more than flesh and bones, more than clothes, a bundle on his back, and a satchel in his hand -he is a culture medium, and a part of all human life that has preceded him. In one sense he is an emigrant, trying to get away from something; from another viewpoint, he is an immigrant, trying to get into new situations. It is in the latter rôle that he will be considered here. In the next few pages he will be viewed as a composite of many immigrants from many climes.[1]

The immigrant is a moving event in a long concourse. He is possessed of a fascinating set of behavior patterns and an elaborate kit of attitudes and values. Some of these patterns and attitudes have been relatively fixed; others are fluid; all have originated in response to psychosocial stimuli, and all are subject to change, but in varying degrees and under different conditions.

As a person on the move, the immigrant is characterized by mental mobility. He is troubled by dissatisfactions and unmet longings which have driven him forth. His face is set forward with anticipations. Even his fixations of action have their vulnerable spots.

The immigrant is a native on the march; he is a native of one country, trying to become a part of another country. He is a native, carrying evidences of his habitat not only on his back but in his sentiments, in his attitudes, and in his hopes. He is a native seeking " a more stately mansion "

( 4) for his soul and the souls of those who are a part of him. He is a normal human being with loves and hates, fears and suspicions---in turmoil.

The immigrant dimly anticipates the necessity of making major changes and recoils. Grave rumors stare him in the face, but certain minor adjustments he takes as a matter of course. Letters from relatives or friends have partially prepared him, but the " worst " is often magnified, and the "best" does not materialize. He is shuttled back and forth between high hopes and dread fears. Now he is expansive, and soon a defense attitude develops.

The culture-change process begins when the immigrant decides to move. Promptly upon casting the die, upon seeing himself in a " breaking-loose " capacity, the old order grows more precious. The conflict of deciding pales before the conflict of breaking old ties. The first centers in the future, with its unknown elements; the second rocks the past, with its sentiments.

Personality-culture change is stimulated and jolted by the necessity of " selling out," of buying tickets, of saying good-bye to familiar scenes and one's beloved, with the piercing thought that this may be a final good-bye, and that " you can never tell what may happen." Time and again sentiment is wrenched. Personality meets the tests, now with defense reactions and now with stoicism. There is a mental clinging to the old and a running forward to the new. The whole structure of personality culture is shaken loose from its established moorings.

Then comes " the putting out to sea." It is too late to recant. The familiar faces stand out, in memory. The crowd of strangers jostles. Here and there episodes occur that challenge the attention of even a forlorn and stormtossed mariner on new culture waves.

The immigrant arrives. So many things seem different; expectations are shocked. At first he sees things as differ

( 5) -ent, and then he is made to seem different. He is different. This awareness is isolating. He left the old and is now in the new - but lo, he turns out to be new, different, peculiar, an object of mirth.

The journey, throbbing with new experiences, is ended. Unpleasant temporary adjustments have been faced; the steerage has been endured. Confidence in human nature, built up in a peasant primary group, has been jarred; contacts with blasé strangers have been made. The mother tongue has failed, and exploitation has stalked across the immigrant's pathway.

Arrival is a great shaking-up time. The expected does not turn up, and the unexpected lurks around nearly every corner. The new culture ways are puzzling, and often upsetting. Conflict rages in the mind of the immigrant; disillusionment develops, and restlessness ensues. Personality is disorganized.

The immigrant, now a stranger, does not receive so extensive a welcome as he anticipated. He may even be the butt of jokes and sneers. From an important person in a native village to a " nobody " in a strange mass is a " come-down." His sense of personal dignity and racial pride is treated lightly. His people and their ways are not on the pedestal; they are viewed as inferior, and he falls within the shadow. Another culture is on the throne. But to have his own culture unjustly berated is first baffling and then irritating. Resentment mingles with disappointment.

1. It is, indeed, a great disappointment to me, and it breaks my heart to think that many of the good Americans who have been in my country have misrepresented my people to their own people. I have seen exhibitions in museums and in the windows of banks and big stores of the primitive utensils, furniture, implements, etc., of the backward and ignorant Filipinos. Some books are full of the pictures of the naked Igorots and their primitive ways of living -people who number about one-twentieth of the whole population. Even the missionaries themselves,

( 6) in their lectures and in their articles published in the papers, talk of the dark side of the Filipino life. Through all of these the American people in this country have formed the opinion that the Filipinos are, nothing but backward, wild, uncivilized, and naked people.[2]

The conflict stages resulting from the immigrant's experiences may be slow in developing. His social expectations may be so dynamic and well organized, and his understanding of the new culture ways so imperfect, that many slighting actions and even insults " pass over his head." Or in certain cases, he may be so mentally prepared that he overlooks insults, because they come from people who " do not understand."

On the other hand, mental conflicts may grow apace, and the disappointments end in the immigrant's return to the homeland. The conditions in the new environment may prove, on the whole, less satisfactory than those in " the old country." Assimilation does not get under way. Isolation, both ways, occurs; and social distances remain unbridged.

2. I am disappointed in the United States. Since I was a very small girl I had heard of the wonder and freeness of the States, and at an early age I determined to leave the country of oppression and revolutions - my country, Mexico - and come to a place where all are equal and where all have peace and happiness. I find that this is only theoretically true of the United States.

My father was a landowner, and I had all the advantages of education through the grades and even high school. I attended the university for two years, but my father died, and I was compelled to cease further educational activities. At the time I did not feel badly over this, for I knew that it meant my realizing my ideal at least two years earlier - coming to the United States.

I had an uncle in the United States, who had written many interesting letters about his adopted country, so I immediately began preparations to join him. This I did, and as I landed in

( 7) L., I thought surely Paradise could not be more wonderful. I had at last reached my " Mecca."

My first undertaking was to attempt to secure a position, as after my father's death the revolutionists had left us practically penniless. For weeks I went from door to door of the business houses, but to no avail, because I could not speak English. I enrolled in an evening school and with the assistance of my uncle soon had. a fair command of practical English. However, by this time my dream country was beginning to hold less charm for me. All about me I could see trouble and disappointment on the faces of my fellow countrymen.

Then one day, being greatly discouraged, I went into a dirty restaurant and asked for a position. I had not the least idea what I could do in a restaurant, as I had never had a position in all my life. But to my astonishment the manager, who was a Mexican of the better class, employed me as a cashier. I worked at this for two months and then gave up the position to marry - my manager.

Being a more or less successful business man, he had accumulated a considerable bank account. My hopes were now for a home - a comfortable home like my father's had been, -so we set out to buy a place in a nice, clean, residential district. We were turned down on every side because we were not Americans. As a free, unbiased country my dream land began to fade in the background, and all I could realize was that I was a Mexican.

We tried other sections of L., but always the same obstacle arose, and more and more. I was aware that my ideal was nothing more than an illusion.

My husband, a very kind man, has business interests here, and does not wish to leave. But I am entirely isolated from all that interests me. I have no friends, as I live in a neighborhood of Armenians and Russians who cannot speak English nor Spanish, and we have little in common.

Mr. L. and I are American citizens, but in name only, as there are many rights that we cannot share. I do not like America, and I hope some day to return to the land of my birth -the land I really love .[3]

Immigrants heavily laden with a foreign culture may arrive in large numbers in a new culture area and settle

(8) together or settle with fellow countrymen who have preceded them, and thus live in a protecting culture situation. The children first of all, then the men, and latest of all the women make contacts with the surrounding natives. As long as the invaders remain " in their place," all goes well, even though their numbers increase rapidly.

But the presence of large numbers of " foreigners " represents an underlying competition. Immigrant children do not create a problem unless they reach a considerable percentage in the schools of the better-class neighborhoods or unless they are older or larger in size than the nativeborn children in given grades.

Numbers of unassimilated foreign women do not arouse race conflict attitudes, except indirectly through a high birth rate. Their many children may be pictured as a future menace. Slums are sometimes railed against and immigrants blamed. Sometimes slums are accepted as necessary evils; the denizens are pitied and even scorned.

' Immigrants are treated as economic commodities because of the work they can do. As long as they remain docile and do not react against untoward conditions, they are tolerated in large numbers./ For instance, despite large numbers of Mexicans in the Southwest today, no Americans are particularly disturbed by the presence of these noticeably different peoples. In fact, still larger numbers are being sought. BAs long as unskilled immigrant laborers, of any race, remain " in their place," amenable to control, all goes well./ But let a few of the more energetic of their number climb industrially, start a labor union, or lead a strike; let a few of the families move out from the immigrant neighborhood into a better-class neighborhood; let a few of their children take prizes or class offices at school - and straightway the underlying competition is recognized and socialconflicts are stimulated./ Immigrants, who have been encouraged because of the work they can do, are viewed

( 9) in a new light as potential competitors for rank, position, status. The slogan is raised: " We are going to be overrun." The press carries antirace propaganda. Native children quickly reflect the rising antirace feelings of their parents. The culture of the " invaded " area is in danger, and many are the defenders.

The industry and frugality of immigrants are dangerous to the status of the native group. Their potential abilities are feared. Many of their cultural ways are not understood, and misunderstandings create prejudices. Antirace propaganda is both subtly and openly spread, and an overt race conflict is at hand. In consequence, immigrants who are slowly becoming unconsciously assimilated are suddenly made race conscious. The chasm between the immigrant's culture and the native culture is reopened and becomes even wider than before.

Assimilation processes are easily halted and turned back upon themselves. The immigrant who was unconsciously losing his own culture traits through modification is aroused by an adverse law or an adverse current of public opinion. It is announced, perhaps, that he must not use his own language or that he is to be "Americanized," and he promptly discovers that his homeland culture possesses an unsuspected preciousness. Indignant feelings and angry emotions lead to retaliative attitudes. A race clash or riot may break out, and racial antipathies may be greatly augmented. He may return in significant numbers to his native land.

Sometimes the immigrant who returns home has unconsciously changed. The " old " does not satisfy as it once did. And so he returns once more to the new culture area, this time to stay.

3. When I asked the Mexican women why they have returned to the United States, they told u s that. they "do not like to wash on "stones." In other words, when they get back to Mexico, the

( 10) conditions seem unbearable. After having used washtubs in the United States, for instance, they cannot put up with the washing on stones, and so they struggle back to the United States .[4]

In a study of a considerable number of race conflicts, a lack of understanding and fellow feeling is usually found. This is social distance. If the factors giving rise to different degrees and grades of social distance can be described, then progress can be made in dissolving or even in preventing race conflicts. If these degrees and grades can be measured, then race attitudes, particularly those of antipathy and friendliness, can be analyzed and changes noted. Likewise, a scientific approach to the study of public opinion may be expected. Experimentation in measuring social distance has not yet reached the point of standardization.[5]

Race antipathy is a judgment, usually a prejudgment with an adverse emotional content. It is a defense reaction, a defense of one's status or of the status of one's group. Prejudice, at best, is a means, not always rational, of protecting social values; at worst, of destroying more social values than are protected. Prejudice is " a conviction held by the other fellow." My conviction regarding the shortcomings of any race is viewed by the members of that race as a race prejudice of mine. Prejudice tends to maintain social distance.

Racial friendliness means that a person understands or at least sympathizes with other races and would admit their representatives into status in his own groups. As understanding and sympathy grow, racial friendliness increases. The rise of racial good will is a natural process, subject to the laws of stimulus and response, and possibly of personal and social control.

To understand race attitudes it is necessary to know the

( 11) conditions under which they arise, develop, and change .[6] The essence of these conditions is usually found in personal experiences, and in the psychological and cultural backgrounds which influence a person's interpretations of these experiences. Neither the immigrant nor the native may understand his racial experiences, nor the backgrounds in psychological and cultural processes, and hence it is necessary that all these be analyzed by research methods.


1. Have you or your parents ever moved from one part of this country to another part, involving extensive changes and taking considerable risk? If so, describe fully the mental conflicts, anticipations, disappointments, adjustments.

2. Interview an immigrant who has been in this country some years without making the major cultural adjustments involved in assimilation, and prepare a written account of the major problems he has experienced.

3. Interview at length an immigrant who has become assimilated, and describe the changes involved in his assimilation.

4. Select a race besides your own with whose members you have had social contacts, and write out a complete account of all your main experiences with them, favorable and unfavorable, in as detailed and natural order as possible.

5. Describe fully a social situation in which the " natives " have become aware that the immigrant " invaders " are showing signs of getting " out of their place."

6. Reconstruct the argument advanced by Boas in The Mind of Primitive Man, showing the essential unity of the human mind.

7. In your own language describe at length " the soul of an immigrant," basing your essay on a book by that title, written by Constantine Panunzio.

8. Have you ever been abroad? State exactly the experiences which you had while there that influenced your attitude toward the foreign country or people that you visited.

( 12)


ABBOTT, GRACE, The Immigrant and the Community, Chap. I. Century, 1917.

BOGARDUS, E. S., "The Mexican Immigrant," Journal of Applied Sociology, Vol. XI, pp. 470-84.

BRECKINRIDGE, S. P., New Homes for Old, Chap. I. Harper, 1921.

DAVIS, JEROME, The Russian Immigrant, Chap. III. Macmillan, 1922.

JENKS, J. W., AND LAUCK, W. J., The Immigration Problem, Chaps. XIV-XVII. Funk and Wagnalls, 6th edit., 1926.
PARK, R. E., AND MILLER, H. A., Old World Traits Transplanted, Chaps. I-II. Harper, 1921.

RAVAGE, M. E., An American in the Making, Part I. Harper, 1917.

STEINER, E. A., On the Trail of the Immigrant, Chaps. I-XXI. Revell, 1906.


  1. Based on a range of data secured by interview and life-history method. A statistical treatment will be given later.
  2. Pacific Coast Race Relations Survey (unpublished manuscripts), Log Angeles, 1925.
  3. Mexican Immigration Survey of the Southwest (unpublished manuscripts), Los Angeles, 1927.
  4. Mexican Immigrant Survey of the Southwest.
  5. For some time the writer has been engaged in experimentation upon social-distance data and expects later to make a full report.
  6. Throughout this report the terms, "race attitudes " and " racial attitudes," will be used interchangeably, despite the fact that in some sections of the united States, "race problem " usually refers to the Negro problem, and that "racial problem " is a broader term.

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