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Almost All Aliens: Immigration, Race, and Colonialism in American History and Identity. By Paul Spickard. New York: Routledge, 2007. 744 pp. $95.00 (cloth); $39.95 (paper).

With this book, Paul Spickard has produced the best single-volume study of American immigration history available today. Using the latest scholarship in a variety of overlapping fields, Spickard provides both an overview of immigration history from initial contact to the present and a revision of the standard approach to American immigration history, the East Coast–based model of European arrival and eventual assimilation. Instead, Spickard provides three models that can be used to interpret the history of immigration, race, and ethnicity in American society: the immigrant assimilation model, the transnational diasporic model, and the panethnic formation model. In each of these models, Spickard points out that "race" and "race-making" are vital to the understanding of how we interpret immigrants and their experience in the United States, while also paying attention to the impact of American colonialism on why and how certain immigrants arrive at our shores. In other words, Spickard rejects the time-worn model of American immigration history as mainly the story of Europeans who came here willingly and eventually discarded their foreignness to become "Americans." By insisting that immigration history take the issues of slavery, racism, exclusion, and colonialism seriously, Spickard paints a much more complex and truthful portrait of the making of America.

At the heart of Spickard's approach to studying American immigration history is his insistence that we depart from the notion that immigration history is primarily about Europeans coming to America, and that "American" denotes an "Anglo-conformity" or "Anglo-normativity." Spickard's first challenge to the older paradigms of immigration history is to present a well-argued chapter that depicts the many indigenous groups living in North America when Europeans first arrived. Using a wide array of photographs, maps, and charts, he clearly demonstrates the diversity of the native population during the pre-Columbian period. (The entire book is graced with a wonderful selection of visuals and information-packed charts and tables.) Once establishing that European, and later Asian, immigrants or settlers did not arrive to a "virgin land," Spickard moves to a discussion of slavery and how it affected the construction of race and racism in America. From there, he explains how naturalization legislation favored white males, thus disenfranchising women, blacks, Native Americans, and Asians. At the same time, immigration from Great Britain, Ireland, and northern [End Page 282] Europe created a society that privileged whiteness, which in turn held nonwhite newcomers or those already in the country in contempt.

In addition to blacks, Native Americans, Asians, and Mexicans, many Americans held disparaging views of those whom they encountered through conquest, such as Hawaiians and Filipinos, while bringing them under American colonial rule. At the same time, immigrants were arriving from China and Japan, causing more turmoil to the American conception of racial hierarchies. Spickard deftly ties these racial and class tensions to the rise of American capitalism and the conflicts between race, labor, and management. The racial and class conflicts gave rise to exclusionary legislation and the codification of whiteness as the basis for citizenship. In the course of this discussion, he covers the exclusion of Chinese and other Asian immigrants, the passage of the 1924 Immigration Act, which created national quotas for all sending countries and declared that those who were ineligible for citizenship could not immigrate. This law drastically reduced the number of immigrants from eastern and southern Europe because of their countries' low annual quotas for immigrants and nearly eliminated all immigration from Asia because they were ineligible for naturalization. Hence, as Spickard points out, by the first third of the twentieth century, the racial hierarchy that determined citizenship and who could become an American was "cemented" through law and exclusionary practices.

The cracks in this cement, however, began to show with the impact of World War II. Japanese Americans were rounded up and incarcerated for the duration of the war, but Mexicans were recruited to fill the labor shortage resulting from the war. In the postwar period, returning African American soldiers and military...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1527-8050
Print ISSN
1045-6007
Pages
pp. 282-284
Launched on MUSE
2009-06-20
Open Access
No
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