Colorful Animation Visualizes 200 Years of Immigration to the U.S. (1820-Present)

Many of us, whether born there, residing there, or just interested in the place, describe the United States of America as “a nation of immigrants.” What exactly that phrase means has in recent times become the subject of heated public debate. As this year’s presidential candidates strain to appeal to voters with a wide variety of views on the question of what role immigration should play in America’s future (to say nothing of what’s going on in Britain right now), it might help to look at what role immigration has played in its past, and a new animated infographic of who has immigrated from where since 1820 gives the clearest possible look at the whole picture.

“Through most of the 1800s, immigration came predominantly from Western Europe (Ireland, Germany, the U.K.),” writes the data visualization’s creator Max Galka at Metrocosm. “Toward the end of the century, countries further east in Europe (Italy, Russia, Hungary) took over as the largest source of migration. Beginning in the early 1900’s, most immigrants arrived from the Americas (Canada, Mexico). And the last few decades have seen a rise in migration from Asia.”

Each colored dot flying toward the U.S. represents a part of that country’s population, and the brightness of a country’s color on the map corresponds to its total migration to the U.S. at that particular time. Galka provides other charts that show immigration flows by country of origin over time, which makes immigration look higher than ever, and then the same data as a percentage of the total population of the United States, which makes it look almost lower than ever. (And as an American who moved to Korea last year, I can’t help but ask whether we should now give as much thought to emigration out of the U.S. as we have to immigration into it.)

To really feel the advantages and complications of the nation of immigrants first-hand, you’ll want to spend time in a major American city, those always vibrant, often troubled places that people like The Wire creator David Simon have dedicated themselves to observing. “You look at what New Orleans is capable of, as a product of the American melting pot, and it’s glorious,” he once said. “It’s in the friction and in the dynamic between the various groups that inhabit a city that creativity really happens. What makes cities work is a level of tolerance and human endeavor and wit that is absolutely required on the part of all people. Whether or not we succeed as an urban people is the only question worth asking.” And in America, an urban people has always been a diverse people.

via Mental Floss

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities and culture. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer, the video series The City in Cinema, the crowdfunded journalism project Where Is the City of the Future?, and the Los Angeles Review of Books’ Korea Blog. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

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