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The United States has long been a destination for immigrants from around the world.

Immigrants are people who leave one country to settle in another and New York City has a rich tradition of welcoming people from other lands. Ellis Island and Castle Garden were the first stops for immigrants coming from Europe and other distant regions.




The first major wave of immigration started in 1815 after a long series of wars ended in Europe. Millions of people, most of them from Germany, Great Britain and Ireland, came to New York, eager to escape their unstable homelands.



Another wave of immigration took place in the late 1840s, as the result of the Irish potato famine. A famine is a drastic and wide-reaching food shortage.

Potatoes were the primary source of food for most of the Irish population, but in the 1840s a disease spread across the Country, causing potato plants to turn black and rot. The famine lasted for five years, from 1845 through 1849. During this period, approximately one million Irish died of starvation and disease. And nearly a million came to America to begin new lives. For decades after the famine, Irish Americans

would tell stories of starving women and children, whose mouths were green from eating grass. Life for these new Americans would be considerably better in New York.


Soon immigrants from Norway and Sweden began to arrive and Chinese immigrants also came to the US in great numbers.



A second major wave of immigration to New York began around 1880 and the people came from eastern and Southern Europe, seeking economic opportunity. Large numbers of Italian, Poles and Hungarians came to the United States.

And Eastern European Jews came in search of religious freedom.

Between 1880 and1920 4.1 million Italians entered the US and Italian population in New York exploded, with more than 2,000 community organization in the City alone. 

The population of Eastern European Jews also grew at amazing rate. They were more likely to stay in the US than other groups. By 1920, half of the Jewish population in the US lived in New York City.



Most immigrants had similar experiences during their journey to US: they travelled by ship. The poor passengers spent the journey in steerage, a section near the bottom of the ship that provided the cheapest accommodation. They endured cramped quarters and weeks of sickness while crossing rough Atlantic waters.



Upon arrival, steerage and third-class passengers were sent to the immigration stations Castle Garden or Ellis Island.

Here they went a medical exam and legal inspection. Those who had contagious diseases or legal problems were sent back to their homelands. About 2 percent

were excluded for these reasons. But most immigrants were allowed to enter the US to begin their new lives and face a new set of obstacles and hardships.



Many thought they ad left behind prejudice and discrimination, only to experience it again in the US. Irish were frequently singled out because they were Catholic. 

In 1831 Protestant set St. Mary’s catholic Church in New York City on fire. 

Discrimination agains Chinese was even more common. Largely due to US government policies: in 1880 the Chinese Exclusion Act made il illegal for Chinese immigrants to enter the Country and those already in the US were not eligible for citizenship. The law stopped the growth of the Chinese community in New York. 



Employment was also a problem. Greedy factory owners often took advantage of the immigrants poverty and poor language skills to get cheap labor.

Often men, women and children would work long hours in sweatshops or factories with low wages and dirty and dangerous working conditions.

Children were socially at risk: child labor was usually the result of kidnapping or an arrangement with desperately poor parents. Sometimes children were sent out as beggars, roaming the streets of New York City.



The living conditions for many immigrants were equally horrifying. All too often crowd slums were the only housing a family could afford. These tenements were known for their crowded and dirty conditions. And violence was common. The “Five Points Area” of New York City was notorious for the large number of gangs and frequent riots.



But the immigrants’ experience is not just about hardship and discrimination: many established new successful lives here. Immigrants have been coming to New York fro centuries and they continue to arrive every day.


After watching the video, answer the following questions:

  1. Give a definition of “Immigrant”
  2. When did the first major wave of immigration start?
  3. Where were these first immigrants from?
  4. What is a famine?
  5. When did the Irish potato famine take place?
  6. Name two consequences of this famine.
  7. How many Italians entered the US between 1880 and 1920?
  8. Name three other groups of people who came to the US during the second wave of immigration 
  9. How did the immigrants get from Europe to New York?
  10. What are Castle Garden and Ellis Island?
  11. What happened to steerage and third-class passengers at Ellis Island?
  12. What percentage of immigrants was rejected?
  13. Name two communities of immigrants who underwent harsh discrimination in the USA
  14. Find three adjectives to describe immigrants’ work conditions in the US.
  15. Find two adjectives to describe immigrants’ housing conditions.




Tag(s) : #Culture and civilization, #Immigration, #Ellis Island, #New York
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