First Generation: Oral Histories Of Twentieth-century American Immigrants

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by June Namias

Beacon Press, $10.95

Over 25,000,000 immigrants have entered the United States in this century—legally. No one knows the number of illegal ones.

To find out what the new immigrant experience has been like, June Namias, with a tape recorder and a nonjudgmental sympathy, has gathered the life stories of thirty-one first-generation immigrants. This is too small a sample, as she notes in her introduction, from which to generalize, but enough to suggest the complexities and pain of immigrating.

There are basic differences between these new immigrants and their predecessors. The newcomers tend to be better educated and more highly skilled. Nowadays, they usually arrive by plane, are met by friends, and are helped by sponsoring agencies. But adapting to new customs and confronting new prejudices is still an excruciating experience, even for those who eventually make it. As a young Korean said, “I thought I was really heading to heaven. But that’s wrong. You have to try to make heaven.”