American Immigration: Our History, Our Stories

Book review by
Kyle Jackson, Common Sense Media
American Immigration: Our History, Our Stories Book Poster Image
Tales of inspiring people, awful racism in nuanced history.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Detailed overview of many of the most important events in the history of U.S. immigration, including major legislation and incidences of nativist violence.

Positive Messages

America is "what it is today because of immigrants."

Positive Role Models

Dozens of brief profiles of prominent immigrants and their children provide incredible stories of resilience and reinvention.

Violence & Scariness

There are some brief mentions of anti-immigrant attacks, such as anti-Chinese mob violence, the brutal internment of Japanese Americans during World War II, and other examples of assault, lynching, and murder.

Language

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that American Immigration: Our History, Our Stories, by from award-winning author Kathleen Krull, is a sweeping, fact-filled overview of the long and often troubled history of immigration to the United States, spanning from the British colonial era to the heated political controversies of the present day. The book doesn't shy away from the ugly sides of American xenophobia (fear and hatred of strangers or foreigners or of anything strange or foreign) and racism, but it does emphasize the positive achievements of immigrant communities and prominent migrants. There are some brief mentions of anti-immigrant attacks, such as anti-Chinese mob violence, the brutal internment of Japanese Americans during World War II, and other examples of assault, lynching, and murder.

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What's the story?

AMERICAN IMMIGRATION: OUR HISTORY, OUR STORIES, is a nuanced look at the remarkable story of immigration throughout American history. Embracing the concept of the United States as a "nation of immigrants," author Kathleen Krull traces the major waves and floods of immigration from countries around the world to a new republic that styled itself as a welcoming safe harbor for refugees and opportunity-seekers. At the same time, she reveals how, at every step of the way, there were many powerful voices who raised objections to newcomers based on their ethnicity, religion, and nationality. Often backed by the courts and politicians, so-called "nativists" waged vigilante violence against foreign arrivals and promoted widespread discrimination against anyone perceived as non-White, mirroring the longstanding prejudice and violence towards Indigenous peoples and African Americans. This sordid history is emphasized by block quotes that interject throughout the main narrative of the book to make crystal clear the prejudiced views of countless anti-immigrant advocates across the past three centuries. Despicable moments of federally sanctioned racism -- from the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act, to Japanese internment, to the anti-Mexican crackdown "Operation Wetback" after World War II, to the Trump Administration's "Muslim ban" -- are all criticized and analyzed in terms of how they fail to live up to the ideals set forth in the U.S. Constitution. 

Nevertheless, the primary focus of the book is on the immense contributions to American life that individual immigrants and their communities have made. Food, music, technology, business, art, activism -- every realm of American life has been fundamentally shaped by immigrants and their descendents. Profiles of influential immigrants' stories help to humanize this complex history, reminding us just how substantial the impact of immigration has been. These mini-bios cover an eclectic array of innovators and achievers from around the world, further underscoring the immense diversity within the American mosaic.

Is it any good?

As an introduction to U.S. immigration history, this book succeeds in both presenting an accurate overview and advancing a moral critique. Kathleen Krull's gift as a storyteller shines through in the brief profiles of fascinating figures like Serbian American inventor, electrical engineer, and mechanical engineer Nikola Tesla and German American businessman Levi Strauss, who founded the first company to manufacture blue jeans. While her skills as a historian are on display when she unpacks the logic of pro- and anti-immigration stances at various points throughout the nation's troubled past. Photographs, drawings, and political cartoons add an element of visual culture that help readers envision the propaganda used to stereotype immigrant communities.

While some young readers may be disturbed to learn about the darker elements of U.S. immigration history, telling the truth about xenophobia and racism is critically important if kids want to understand how the past informs our contemporary debates. While it's possible to quibble with which details are included and which are left out -- the U.S. role in creating or making worse many refugee crises around the world, for example -- American Immigration is an earnest attempt to open up an honest and nuanced conversation about the inspiring but disturbing history of immigration.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the achivements of immigrants shown in American Immigration: Our History, Our Stories. Do you find them inspiring? What drives people to come to the United States seeking a better life for themselves and their families? 

  • How does the complicated history of immigration revealed in this book help us understand the current debate over immigration and undocumented persons?

  • Who are some famous immigrants to the United States in film, television, and other realms of entertainment?

Book details

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For kids who love to learn about diversity in American history

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