Curatorial Director Dave answers your questions. To submit a question, write in the comments or on our Facebook wall.
In what percentages did immigrants return to their home lands? Are there differences if looked at by time period and ethnicities?
Many immigrants came to America with the ultimate intention of returning to their home countries after earning enough money to buy land or houses. Between 1900 and 1920, 36 percent of immigrants arriving in the United States returned home.
In turn-of-the-century New York, the degree to which Russian Jews became permanent settlers was remarkable. Escaping virulent anti-Semitism and political oppression, many emigrated with no intention of returning. Nevertheless, many more went back than is ordinarily assumed. Between 1880 and 1900, 15 to 20 percent returned to their homes. After 1900, however, return migration dropped off as political upheaval and religious oppression intensified.
In contrast to Russian Jews, the return rate among Italians reached 50 percent in some years -— of every 10 Italians who left for the U.S. between 1880 and World War I, five returned home. Sometimes called “birds of passage,” many of the first Italian immigrants were young men who came to America with the intention of earning enough money to return to Italy, buy land, and raise a family.
According to Nancy Foner, author of From Ellis Island to JFK: New York’s Two Great Waves of Immigration, “Italians called the United States ‘the workshop’; many arrived in March, April, and May and returned in October, November, and December, when layoffs were most numerous… For many Italian men, navigating freely between their villages and America became a way of life.”
Nevertheless, many returnees or ritornati chose to re-migrate to the United States.