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Reviewed by:
  • Migrations and Cultures: A World View
  • Leslie Page Moch
Migrations and Cultures: A World View. By Thomas Sowell (New York: Basic Books Inc. 1996. xii plus 516pp.).

Thomas Sowell’s publicity claims that he has taken a “sweeping historical and global look” at international migrations in order to place the current American debate on immigration policy in proper perspective. Author of Race and [End Page 209] Culture: A World View, and The Vision of the Anointed: Self-Congratulation as a Basis for Social Policy, Sowell opens with a general chapter which discusses differences among migrants and changing patterns of movement. He promises to investigate the history of six immigrant groups in order to provide insights into “the role of culture in the economic and social fates of peoples” (p. 49) and, more generally, to “assess what impact their migrations have had on the history of the world.” (p. 38) Although culture is central to the book, Sowell does not discuss definitions, but rather cuts to six histories of migration that provide the core of his material, illustrating a variety of migrant cultures.

In the first three historical portraits (titled Germans, Japanese, and Italians around the world) Sowell describes global historical movements with broad strokes. The opening chapter on Germans emphasizes their superiority over many of the peoples with whom they settled, in Russia as well as in the Western Hemisphere and Australia; it celebrates German capacity for innovation. Sowell observes that few people have made so significant social and economic contributions world wide as have German peoples. In his history of Japanese migration to the Western Hemisphere, Sowell takes some pains to put forth the rather simplistic notion that the cruelty of Japanese in the Pacific contrasts with their behavior in the U.S. because the cruelty was caused by the nationalist fanaticism to which Japanese were exposed in the 1912—1924 period—and that immigrants to the U.S. were from a cohort that was not exposed to these politics. The year 1941 was a dark one for both Germans and Japanese, notes Sowell, for the punitive injustices visited upon them in the U.S. and in the U.S.S.R. Nonetheless, the Japanese capacity for discipline and hard work has paid off in astonishing postwar mobility in the U.S. Sowell infers from this that a people’s behavior and performance are more important to overcoming prejudices than “moral crusades or emotional denunciations;” this theme is enlarged as the book continues. The poor and illiterate Italians are heros as well—especially those who suffer in the regional contrast between the rather advanced North and the South of the country. In Europe, the Western Hemisphere (including Argentina and the U.S.), and Australia, Italian immigrants demonstrate diligence, sobriety, and hard work in combination with a lack of initiative or interest in education. They manifest an ennobling “quiet dignity and self-sacrifice” which is also a “rebuke to those who whine over less formidable problems.” (p. 173)

The virtues of enduring hardship and persecution without complaint are a primary inference drawn by the author from his history of the overseas Chinese. This is the first of three chapters on “middleman minority” immigrant groups which are in the main tales of cruelty and persecution. The history of the overseas Chinese opens with the hard work of this people in South East Asia—Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, the Philippines and Indochina. The history of Chinese in the Western Hemisphere is also one of persecution, especially the brutal coolie trade and pernicious living conditions and work in Peruvian guano caves and on Cuban sugar plantations. After the period of exclusion from the U.S. (1892—1943) began a period of upward mobility in the U.S. At first, Chinese immigrants were worse off than other immigrants, indicates Sowell, [End Page 210] then rose faster to current prosperity; one must observe that Chinese fared the worst in Indonesia, where their engagement in politics suggests that political action does not pay and recent politics bode ill for their future. “Jews of the Diaspora” takes history from ancient times and the middle ages, tracing, as with the Chinese, the dual thread of immigrants...

Additional Information

ISSN
1527-1897
Print ISSN
0022-4529
Pages
pp. 209-211
Launched on MUSE
1999-09-01
Open Access
No
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