In order to understand the various ramifications of immigration into the American society, one of the best approaches is to compare and contrast the immigration history of two ethnic groups. For the purpose of this paper, Jewish and Mexican immigration to the United States will be analyzed and compared. The comparison will be on the following aspects such as origins; flow or direction; socio-economic incorporation; and Takaki’s view.
A significant number of Jewish immigrants are from Europe. It is necessary to highlight that this particular group originates from the Middle East, specifically from the nation of Israel. Large numbers of Jewish people were forced to migrate from their homeland to the neighboring regions in Europe and, finally, across the Atlantic Ocean to settle in America. Such active migration might mean that Jews are either enterprising people or victims of persecution.
The origins and circumstances surrounding the immigration of Jews from Europe contrast sharply to the immigration of Mexicans from their homeland to the United States. The push and pull factors of Jewish immigration are characterized by the persecution whereas economic reasons perpetuate Mexican immigration to the nearby U.S. territories. One of the main differences is that European Jews came to the U.S. as refugees, but the initial entry of Mexicans into America was via the migrant workers pathway.
Jewish migration to the U.S. mainland started in earnest at the turn of the 20th century. Pogroms in Russia demonstrated the wickedness of state-sponsored persecution of a minority people group. It did not take long before Russian Jews realized that they could never call the adopted country as their home. Mexicans, on the other hand, were driven to the U.S. through a different route. The combined effect of colonization and corporate expansion of the American companies paved the way for the movement of Mexican workers to the U.S. However, poor economic conditions in Mexico, coupled with the rapid growth of the American economy, created powerful forces that compelled Mexicans from all walks of life to leave their homeland and seek a better life.
Flow and Direction
In the latter part of the 19th century, the Mexican government collaborated with U.S. corporations and made it possible for businessmen to acquire lands that used to belong to Mexican peasant farmers. When ordinary people lost their traditional sources of income, they were forced to move out from rural areas into urbanized centers. After some time, former peasant farmers and their families decided to leave Mexican cities and proceeded to the U.S. mainland.
Jews also experienced economic hardships but not because of land-grabbing and corporate greed. Jews were unable to make decent profits or earn decent wages because of persecution. Jews needed a country that would not discriminate them on the basis of race and religion. Therefore, the flow of migration was towards an affluent country with a relative level of tolerance for the persecuted people. In the case of Jews and Mexicans, the United States is one of the most attractive migration destinations in the world.
European Jews liked what they saw in America because it is a country built by immigrants. Nevertheless, Russian and European Jews had other options. The same assertion is not applicable to Mexican Americans in the early part of the 20th century. Mexicans had to contend with limited natural resources and relatively low literacy rates. Therefore, Mexican immigrants found it practical to migrate to the United States.
A lot of Jewish immigrants landed in New York due to logistics as the majority of European travelers ended up in New York after their journey across the Atlantic. Most Mexican immigrants went to California, Texas, Arizona, and New Mexico.
The typical migration process is characterized by the migration of the poor to an area with more economic opportunities. Thus, in an ideal setting, the elite members of society, the rich, the professionals and the intellectuals will not leave their homeland. For example, the upper class members of Mexican society will never dare to attempt a perilous crossing from Mexico to the United States. Mexican intellectuals will find little incentive to join the mass migration of poor Mexicans to the U.S.
The social demographics of Mexican immigrants contrasted sharply with the social demographics of Jewish immigrants. A significant percentage of Jewish immigrants were intellectuals. Many were highly proficient in their chosen tradecraft. As a result, Jewish immigrants made significant contributions to the positive transformation of their adopted country; specifically the communities where they have landed after disembarking from the ships that brought them from Europe. For instance, Jewish immigrants brought technology and skills to the weaving and clothing manufacturing industry of New York.
The socio-economic demographics of Mexican immigrants contrast sharply with those of Jewish immigrants (Borjas 109). People who came from Mexico were hired as blue-collar workers, and only six percent of the total population of Mexican immigrants were able to get white-collar jobs. From the point of view of nation-building and social development, it seems that Mexican immigrants contributed little into the enhancement of the American way of life. Whereas Mexican immigrants were attracted to construction jobs, a significant number of Jewish immigrants were able to enhance the commercial environment of the cities they had entered. It is not uncommon for the European Jews to open a store or bring in a new technology to the United States. Some of them became newspaper publishers, authors, and business owners.
Jewish immigrants were able to provide a better future for their respective families. The early wave of Mexican immigrants was not as fortunate when it comes to improving their economic conditions. They also struggled to make their voices heard regarding the social issues. Nevertheless, both migrant groups suffered greatly in the first few years after their entry into the United States. Historians describe the poverty, filth, and other signs of misery inside the Jewish ghettos in New York in the early 1900s. The same thing can be said of the slums and dilapidated buildings that Mexican immigrants called home.
It is easy to understand Takaki’s view that Mexicans are passive victims. This conclusion is based on the analysis of the impact of the economic conditions of Mexico. As a result, Mexican immigrants were not driven by choice, they were compelled to leave Mexico and go to the United States for the sake of self-preservation. The Jews are different because they had other options. Prior to the start of World War II, Jews felt safe in key European cities. A significant number of Jews were skilled workers with a focus towards a particular trade. Therefore, they had the money to book a passage across the Atlantic or start a small business in America.
Mexican immigrants were not as fortunate. They did not have access to resources. At the same time, they did not possess the skills and the mental acuity to challenge their American detractors. Therefore, they were unable to fight against oppressors.
Although it is easy to defend Takaki’s opinion, there are those who challenge his viewpoint regarding Mexican immigrants. For example, Mario Garcia made a rebuttal saying that Mexicans adopted survival strategies, and, therefore, they accepted lower wages and poor housing conditions not because they were passive victims. They were able to go through this ordeal because they knew that their sacrifices were made for the greater good.
Takaki’s views about Jewish immigrants are not flattering. Takaki says that Jews, in general, are non-conformists. At the same time, Jewish values are in conflict with the American middle-class values. Nevertheless, Jewish idiosyncrasies did not make Jewish immigrants look inferior to the native-born Americans. In fact, they utilized these differences to succeed in life.
There is a big difference that exists between Jewish and Mexican immigrants. The key difference can be found in the origins and the socio-economic profiles of the immigrants. Due to the absence of economic opportunities, a Mexican immigrant will discover that the odds are stacked against him. A Jewish immigrant may face the same problem, but the Jew is not easily overwhelmed by the problem. Jewish immigrants were careful not to offend anyone. Nevertheless, the same group demonstrated their commitment to old-world traditions and other beliefs. It can be argued that Takaki was not criticizing the failure of Mexican immigrants to fight against oppressors. It can also be argued that Takaki understood the proposition of Mario Garcia. However, he wanted the world to know that even if a group is faced with tremendous problems it must rise up to the occasion. From Takaki’s point of view, Mexican immigrants are playing it safe. The author also believes that it is not the best way to improve the plight of Mexican immigrants in the country. Thus, they must learn to understand how the Jews valued their commitment to traditions and the learning process, which, as a result, has led to a far greater success compared to their Mexican counterparts.
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