Adaptation and Assimilation
The Irish immigrants left a rural lifestyle in a nation lacking
modern industry. Many immigrants found themselves unprepared for
the industrialized, urban centers in the United States. Though
these immigrants were not the poorest people in Ireland (the poorest
were unable to raise the required sum for steerage passage on
a ship to America), by American standards, they were destitute.
They often had no money beyond
the fare for their passage, and, thus, settled in the ports of their
debarkation. In time, the sum total of Irish-Americans exceeded
the entire population of Ireland. New York City boasted more Irishmen
than Dublin, Ireland!
The Irish established patterns that
newcomers to the United States continue to follow today. Housing
choices, occupations entered, financial support to families remaining
in the homeland, and chain immigrations which brought additional
relatives to America, are some of these patterns.
Irish immigrants often crowded into subdivided
homes that were intended for single families, living in tiny,
cramped spaces. Cellars, attics and make-do spaces in alleys became
home. Not only were many immigrants unable to afford better housing,
but the mud huts in which many had lived in Ireland had lowered
A lack of adequate sewage and running water
in these places made cleanliness next to impossible. Disease of
all kinds (including cholera, typhus, tuberculosis, and mental
illness) resulted from these miserable living conditions. Thus,
when the Irish families moved into neighborhoods, other families
often moved out fearing the real or imagined dangers of disease,
fire hazards, unsanitary conditions and the social problems of
violence, alcoholism and crime.
How might the living conditions of
the Irish have influenced their acceptance in the United States?
How do living patterns of new immigrant groups affect their acceptance
in the United States today? Who determines these patterns or conditions?