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

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Rare Audio: Albert Ein­stein Explains “Why I Am an Amer­i­can” on Day He Pass­es Cit­i­zen­ship Test (1940)

Noam Chom­sky on Whether the Rise of Trump Resem­bles the Rise of Fas­cism in 1930s Ger­many

Brex­it 101: The UK’s Stun­ning Vote Explained in 4 Min­utes

The Syr­i­an Con­flict & The Euro­pean Refugee Cri­sis Explained in an Ani­mat­ed Primer

John Green’s Crash Course in U.S. His­to­ry: From Colo­nial­ism to Oba­ma in 47 Videos

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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