This Land Is Our Land: A History of American Immigration -Linda Barrett Osborne

Award Nominee, nonfiction

In This Land Is Our Land the topic of immigration is covered from Jamestown to today.  Osborne does a clear job in defining terms, organizing chapters both chronologically and by groups of people, and balances information and images in an expert fashion to keep attention on the book without growing bored with one set topic or group of people.  Each group of people are addressed respectfully, showing value in both cultures as well as the struggles immigrants had upon arrival.  She clearly states how the true “Americans” were the Native Americans on this land before English settlers and uses her own family ancestry to show the reader that all of us here today came to be because our ancestors were immigrants.  She shows the struggles immigrants faced, but also mentions how they have helped the country throughout history, such as serving in the American Civil War, become successful elected officials, assisting in factories, and helping the economy.

Osborne also addresses the way nativists and government officials tried to decrease the number of immigrants entering the country through such early measures in the 1900s as mandating a “literacy test” as well as enforcing an annual quota of immigrants through Ellis Island each year.  She shows how laws aimed at preserving a false idea of “America” were actually tools of prejudice, limiting not only the number of immigrants that could enter, but selecting which groups were allowed at all (1924 Immigration Act).  Other unfair treatments, such as not allowing Asian immigrants to ever become citizens are mentioned as well.

She discusses the different groups and how racism and prejudice was shown to each group by the nativists who believed they were the true Americans. Thus, showing the long voyage to America was not where the troubles and difficulties ended for those seeking more opportunity or a better life.  Immigrants faced challenges not only due to being from a different country, but also religious prejudice, and limitations on housing and opportunity.  The challenge on keeping one’s culture and heritage while trying to live in a better environment and country is seen throughout This Land Is Our Land and leaves a lasting impact.

Osborne writes in the introduction how she wants this book to be a conversation starter on the broader topic of immigration and with her research and her respect given to this country’s past, I believe it is the perfect conversation starter to be available to children and teens in class, in the library, or at home.  It’s organized beautifully with many primary resources, and while the research is great, I find the gem of this book is the inclusion of all the groups of people that shaped the America we have today: Germans, Irish, Italians, Jews, people from Eastern European, Asia, Latin America.  She offers a special chapter on refugees and how seeking safety is different than simply immigrating.

Author notes, bibliography, citations, and index are included.

My interview with Linda Barrett Osborne for The Hub is coming soon!