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“New” Immigrants and the Polish Community in Salem

Theme: Social Change and Social Reform
Topic: “New” Immigrants and the Polish Community in Salem
Date: 13 July 2006
Scholar: Stephen Pitti, Ph.D. Professor of History and American Studies, Yale University.

Overview | Required Reading | Recommended Reading | Reading Questions

Materials selected and syllabus compiled by Stephen Pitti, Ph.D. Professor of History and American Studies, Yale University.


This session attempts to introduce the demographic, cultural, and political importance of Latino immigration over the last fifty years, and to show how Latinos have been discussed in the recent past among historians and other scholars. We will read representative and highly regarded secondary works that have charted a course for the field of Latino history, and we will consider together some of the local (Boston-area, Northeastern), national and international ways of approaching the study of communities of Latin American descent.  In addition to secondary readings that describe the content of high  school textbooks, the Dominican community in Jamaica Plain, the state of the field of Latino and other immigration studies, the shifting  political  allegiances of Mexican immigrants, and other topics, we will explore a set of primary sources that raise questions about major themes, and the periodization, of Latino history. As you turn your attention to the primary sources, please pay special attention to the selection by Pearl Idelia Ellis (Americanization through Homemaking), the reading entitled El Cultivo de Betabel, and the stories by Tomas Rivera. We can look at the other documents during our session if time allows, and I offer them in advance for those who might want to use them as references.  I expect that these primary and secondary sources -- which include two memoirs, two government documents, a sociological study, and a newspaper article – will allow us to discuss the longer course of Latino immigration and work in the United States, and varying perspectives on the lives of those U.S. residents from the 1920s to the present.


Selection from Pearl Idealia Ellis, Americanization through Homemaking (1929) – a manual of sorts reaching out to Mexican immigrant women on the eve of the             Great Depression.

El Cultivo de Betabel (1929) – a short dictionary used by employers of Mexican  
Immigrants in the 1920s.

Selection from Tomas Rivera, Y no se lo trago la tierra/And the earth did not swallow him (1971) – a fictionalized memoir by a Mexican American author from Texas             who spent much of his childhood picking crops in the upper Midwest with other             families from Texas and Mexico. (p. 130-39)

Recommended Reading

Selection from Ernesto Galarza, Barrio Boy (1971) – memoir written by a Mexican immigrant who migrated to the U.S. during the 1910s; he later earned a PhD,             became a labor organizer, and was widely regarded as a leading intellectual             within Mexican American circles by the 1960s and 1970s. (p. 207-214)

J.C. Bailey, Statement before a U.S. Congressional Committee (1929) – A Colorado businessman argues for the need for Mexican workers in the sugar beet

“Testimony of Leo Rodriguez on Behalf of Those Employed in Sugar Beets (1933) –Statement of a Mexican worker before an Agricultural Adjustment Administration committee regarding wages and working conditions.

Selection from Manuel Gamio, Mexican Immigration to the United States (1929) – a Work of sociology by a Mexican social scientist interested in the recent departure of hundreds of thousands of his paisanos to the United States.

Julie Ann Lyman, “How Chicago Lives,” Chicago Tribune (5 April 1964) – a journalist’s Portrait of the Mexicanization of Chicago forty years ago.


1.  What dominant themes jump out of the historical readings that suggest critical topics for making analytical sense of Latino immigration, Latino communities, and Latino politics?

2.  How does all this compare?  Does Latino immigrant history seem consistent with broader patterns in U.S. immigration history? Does it challenge the ways we understand and teach about immigration?  What can be gained or lost from comparing recently-arrived Latino communities to European ethnic communities that arrived after 1965?

3.  In what ways did economic dynamics (i.e. social class) structure the history of Latino communities over the course of the 20th century?  How did race figure into the ways Latinos were understood by employers, by the courts, by schools, and so forth?  How did those factors influence the ways Latinos have understood themselves?

4.  Have Latin American “home countries” played a more or less active role than U.S. institutions in shaping Latino communities in the United States? To what extent do we need to pay attention to Latin American developments in making sense of Latinos in the U.S.?

5.  What do we learn about Latino politics in its broadest sense – the ways residents of Latin American descent view their world(s), establish affiliations with other people, protest in ways large and small, and establish meaningful cultural practices?

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