Immigration Policy

Virtual Tenement Talk: Three Historians Walk Into a Saloon – 1882


Enjoy a scholarly discussion on the rising anti-immigrant sentiment of the 19th century, streamed live from our recreated 1880s lager beer saloon. In 1855, New York City became a majority-immigrant city for the first time, with Irish and German immigrants making up the most populous of the city’s newcomers. Though immigration and the growth of the economy propelled New York into a metropolis, and the fourth-largest city in the world, not everyone welcomed the immigrants.

The Know Nothing Party, for example, feared Catholicism and proposed a 25-year wait time before immigrants could become citizens. The Republicans passed temperance laws that threatened lager beer saloons, striking at the heart of German economic, social and political life. By the 1880s, nativists directed their venom at Chinese immigrants, resulting in the Chinese Exclusion Act.

Historian Tyler Anbinder, author of the City of Dreams, joins Professor Ngai, author of The Chinese Question, and Tenement Museum President Annie Polland in a conversation on exclusion and inclusion, discrimination and prejudice, and how it impacted immigrants and migrants in similar and different ways.

Three Historians Walk Into a Saloon is a three-part virtual Tenement Talk Series. Set in our 19th century recreated lager beer saloon, where tenement dwellers gathered to read newspapers and debate the headlines, this series features today’s leading historians reliving some of the topics discussed long ago and delving into important turning points in our country’s history.

Award-winning historian Mae Ngai, Professor of History and Asian American Studies at Columbia University, hosts a rotating set of colleagues for rousing conversations about how immigration and migration help us understand the sweep of American history at critical moments, including the Civil War, the industrialization and urbanization of the late 19th century, and the emergence of the US as a global power after World War One. In a recent Atlantic article, Professor Ngai observed: “Americans are still struggling over competing versions of what this country should be.”

This series looks at past debates in the hope that analyzing past struggles will help shed insight on today’s questions.

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