Fear of the Foreign

Fear of the Foreign

The United States has a long history of xenophobia, or fear of anything “foreign.” In the 1700s, Benjamin Franklin complained that Germans refused to learn English and insisted on their own customs, and therefore could never become true Americans. Later, other people used the same basic arguments, with slight modifications, to oppose immigration from Ireland and Eastern Europe.

The same script was reused against Chinese and Japanese immigrants, but with an added racial element. In 1882, Senator John F. Miller declared that Asians were “degraded and inferior” and must be kept out of America for the public good.

Today, open xenophobia is less socially acceptable, but it still remains a powerful force in the United States. Crises like the COVID-19 pandemic often result in these prejudices surging to the surface.

 

Watch a short film created by Densho about the history of xenophobia in the United States, based on the book America for Americans by Erika Lee.

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This 1921 cartoon depicts the fears of some Americans that the country would soon be flooded with immigrants. Their solution? To limit the number of people who could enter.

Image courtesy of the Library of Congress

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Politicians and other upper-class people often used anti-Asian rhetoric to unite the working classes in a common hatred.

Image courtesy of the Library of Congress

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Some people thought that almost all immigrants were dangerous criminals, and thought they should be excluded the way Chinese laborers were after 1882. 

Image courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division

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In the early 1900s, immigrants from Asia were not allowed to naturalize, and therefore could not vote. This made them convenient political targets.

Image courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division