A NATION OF STRANGERS by Ellis Cose

A NATION OF STRANGERS

Prejudice, Politics, and the Populating of America

KIRKUS REVIEW

 Melting pot or salad? Whichever metaphor one prefers for American society, Cose (The Press, 1989) shows in this sobering, well-researched account that racial prejudice, fear, and xenophobia have been constants in America's more than 200 years of receiving immigrants from foreign lands. Cose points out that racism, though incompatible with the promise of the Declaration of Independence, lay explicitly at the core of America's immigration policy from its inception. The first US naturalization law (1790) reserved citizenship for those ``aliens being free white persons.'' Naturalization statues continued to express preferences for European immigrants until the passage of the McCarran-Walter Act in 1952, and necessitated formal adjudications of racial identity. Already settled Americans, Cose says, came to regard many European immigrants, who came in hordes from Ireland, Germany, and Italy during the 19th century, as inferior breeds that could not be easily assimilated and that threatened American society. Cose describes in detail the paranoid and often violent reactions through the years to waves of Chinese, Japanese, Jewish, and Latin American immigration, and shows that the unease many Americans feel today with our nation's increasingly multicultural society is nothing new. Nonetheless, after devoting nearly half his account to tracing the tortuous legislative histories of Congress's bewildered responses to the massive Asian, Haitian, and Latin American immigrations of recent years--LBJ's immigration bill, Simpson-Mazzoli, and the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986--Cose concludes that ``America is in the process of assembling an array of ethnicities and races unlike anything previously assembled.'' He argues that racial animosity, while not displayed as nakedly today as in earlier periods, is a pervasive part of American life, and pleads ``for confronting America's racial sickness with candor, determination, and intelligence.'' A first-rate history.

Pub Date: March 25th, 1992
ISBN: 0-688-09337-X
Page count: 288pp
Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1st, 1992




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