Evolution of Ethnic Identities

Irish American History

Irish American history started in the late 16th century when beggars and petty criminals were transported from Ireland to the West Indies. These two groups of what was known as low-class citizens later joined war prisoners who were deported from Ireland into the United States in the mid-17th century after the Oliver Cromwell’s led war that led to the defeat of Ireland. These prisoners were transported across the Atlantic in the Americas to provide cheap slave labor in many farms across the continent. 

Irish American History: 1720-1790

The first major wave of immigration from Ireland into the United States happened in the 1720s. This period saw the arrival of Scottish-Irish groups. The Scottish-Irish was a term used in the United States to refer to those individuals that came from Ireland but had strong Scottish Presbyterian ancestries. These migrants chose to settle in Philadelphia, mainly because of the cotton and linen trade routes that had already been established more than 100 years. These groups of immigrants then moved into the Ohio Valley, New England, the Appalachian regions, both North and South Carolinas, and Georgia. The 19th century saw many Catholic Irish immigrants stop farming but most Scots-Irish continued to make farming their main economic standings in society.

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The Scots-Irish continued to immigrate into the United States, as they sailed from the Irish ports of Kinsale and Cork and some settled communities in Virginia and Maryland. This led to an increase in the population of the Irish people in the United States, and in 1976, 20,000 Irish people departed to the United State. Other numbers of people were using other ports to travel to the United States and it is estimated that by 1960s, as many as 55,000 Irish people immigrated into the United States in that decade alone. The first five years of the 1970-decade saw the number of Irish people moving into the United States peak, with about 32,000 Scots-Irish leaving their country into the United States. By the start of 1790, the American population was estimated to be about 3,150,000, with 50% of this number about 487,000 estimated to have Irish ancestry. Out of the 487,000 Irish people in America at that time, about 66% of them had originated from the province of Ulster.

Irish American History: Post-Independence

After the United States gained independence from British colonizers, the number of Irish immigrants increased tenfold. It is estimated that between 1783 to 1844, the number of Irish people that entered the United States was about one million. The majority of Irish people immigrating into the country after 1820 were professionals and artisans, and this made it easy for them to assimilate into American society very easily. These people used to send letters and postcards home that informed many of them of the lavish lifestyles they lived in America. Many people in Ireland were poor, hence, these communications only led to an increase in the rate of immigration into the United States. Many families were working hard to save money for their fate to the United States. Many of these immigrants were not professionals or skilled in any artisan work; hence many of them ended up finding employment as farm laborers in America.  

Chinese Americans

The history of the Chinese Immigration timeline to America provides a detailed flow of Chinese people into the United States, and the role they played in the development of the adoptive country. Trade with China was very lucrative, which proved to be very important to both America and Europe. Trade agreements between China and America brought more wealth into the Asian country but due to its weak and backward technological advancement compared to Europe and America, it was exposed to exploitations that left it poorer and weaker. China was also faced with political unrest, which further weakened the country. Terrible famines, droughts, and floods led to millions of deaths and suffering, which many argue triggered immigration to other countries in search of greener pastures. In the 1840s, people started hearing of a gold rush that was happening in California in the United States. This news was first received around the ports of southern China and spread to other parts of the country fast, leading to a major migration of Chinese country.

After the American Civil War, Chinese immigrants started to troop into America again. In thirty years between 1870 and 1900, more than 12 million immigrants from China entered the United States. This was the highest recorded numbers of people from one country entering the United States within such a small window of time. It is important to mention that while many of the immigrants moving into the United States settled there permanently, many Chinese immigrants opted to work and return to China after saving enough money from their work. The main reason for this was that the majority of Chinese immigrants in America came here to work and they intended to return home with the money they had made and improve their family lives back in China.

The main reason why many Chinese nationals were attracted to the United States was the Californian gold rush. Many Chinese came to the country hoping to strike it rich by working on their mines or even working for others. The gold rush did not make many of them rich and some opted to open businesses like laundries, restaurants, and other personal service concerns. Others chose to work as laborers in agricultural farms, on railroad construction that was developing throughout the West, and in many low-paying industrial jobs across the country. 

1870 brought about hard economic times, which led to high competition in the job market. The hard economic times pushed other immigrants from European nations to start competing for jobs that were originally reserved for Chinese immigrants. The tough economic depression brought about the competition that resulted in dislike, hatred, racial suspicion. Many people in the country did want Chinese and this is what led to the anti-Chinese riots. These riots led to increased pressure that led to the exclusion of people from China from entering the United States. The government could not resist this pressure and in the end, Congress passed the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 This Act ended Chinese immigration for 50 years thereby slowing down the increase of Chinese nationals in the country.

Asian of Indian Decent

Most Asians of Indian decent started arriving in the United States in early 1820. However, considering the vast distance between India and the United States, as well as the restrictive immigration laws that had quotas, it is recorded that by the end of the 19th century, only less than 800 Indians had immigrated into the United States. The numbers of Asians of Indian decent arriving in the United States was so small to the extent that when four Sikhs were allowed to enter San Francisco in 1899, it was a news-worthy event in India and the United States. Small groups of Indians started to spring up along the West Coast as they engaged in economic activities such as opening small shops, farming, and other business activities such as the opening of restaurants. It is estimated that by around 1920, there was a group of about 100 Hindus working in the timber mill industry in Portland, Oregon. 

By the year 1840, a group of Indian people from East Asia had started immigrating to Hawaii, a region where American missionaries and capitalists had established settlements and large-scale plantations. Originating from India, Pakistan, and the Philippines, these early immigrant groups were largely contract workers, who worked in capitalist and missionaries plantations. The United States annexed Hawaii in 1893 and at the time, the area had a large number of Indian Asians, and many more Indians continued to immigrate and settle in the region. Taking refuge from political tension at home and the ever-increasing poverty, many Filipinos migrated in their thousands to the United States where they ended up working as laborers in the missionaries farms in the southern states.

Many of these laborers were from regions of Bengal and Punjab. A small number of Bengali Muslims arrived in New Orleans, where they were assimilated and integrated with the local communities of color in major cities such as New York, Detroit, and Baltimore. Around this period, many immigrants from the region of Punjab many of the Sikh men made their way into Canada where they faced anti-Asian sentiments making them decide to come to the United States where they created large communities of Asian of Indian decent along the Pacific Coast. A small group of political activists and students from Ceylon and British India also arrived directly into the United States between 1900 and 1905. Many of these immigrants were involved with the expatriate nationalist programs and organizations like the one led by Gadar Party in San Francisco. Another organization group they were involved in was the India Home Rule League of America that was agitating against the British Empire.

It is important to mention that the kind of lives many of these migrants led was just as difficult as they had left back home. They were facing legal discrimination, as well as extreme violence from the anti-Asiatic groups in the United States and Canada. They were unable to come to the United States with their wives and this led to interracial marriage with whites, which was against the law at that time thrive. They also chose to marry Catholic Mexican immigrant women.


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London, UK: ABC-CLIO.

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Washington, WS: University of Washington Press.

Dolan, Jones. (2015). The Irish Americans: A History. New York, NY: Bloomsbury Publishing


Hunsicker, Kleberg. (2016). Chinese Immigrants in America: An Interactive History Adventure

You Choose: History Series. New York, NY: Capstone.

Steve, Allison. (2017). Temporary Professional, Managerial, and Skilled Foreign Workers:

Policy and Trends CRS report for Congress. New York, NY: Independent Publishing Platform.

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Oxford University Press.

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