cover image America for Americans: A History of Xenophobia in the United States

America for Americans: A History of Xenophobia in the United States

Erika Lee. Basic, $32 (432p) ISBN 978-1-5416-7260-4

As University of Minnesota historian Lee (The Making of Asian America) demonstrates in this fascinating but disturbing study, xenophobia is not “an exception to America’s immigration tradition” but is as American as apple pie. Moreover, hostility to migrants, she argues, has derived far more from racist ideologies than it has from anxieties about foreign policy or economic concerns. Lee takes a chronological approach to this topic, starting with Benjamin Franklin’s fears regarding newly arrived Germans in pre-Revolutionary Pennsylvania and moving on to the mid-19th-century “Know Nothing” party’s hatred for Irish Catholics, the federal government’s exclusion of Chinese migrants at the end of the 19th century, the Bostonian intellectual elite’s early-20th-century dismissal of Jews and Eastern Europeans as “beaten men from beaten races” in the early 20th century, and the demonization of Japanese immigrants for decades prior to Pearl Harbor. While readers might be tempted to see these events as dark but foregone moments in the nation’s history, Lee’s later sections make it clear that similar anxieties continue to legitimize fear and hatred of Mexicans and Muslims, and even of “model minority” groups of Asian Americans. She persuasively expresses that current hostilities over national borders are no exception to the nation’s history. This clearly organized and lucidly written book should be read by a wide audience. (Nov.)