H-Net Review Publication: Wu on Gabaccia, 'Foreign Relations: American Immigration in Global Perspective'

Donna R. Gabaccia. Foreign Relations: American Immigration in Global Perspective. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2012. 288 pp. $29.95 (cloth), ISBN 978-0-691-13419-2.

Reviewed by Judy T. Wu (Ohio State University)

Published on H-Diplo (October, 2013)

Commissioned by Seth Offenbach

Immigrant Foreign Relations

In Foreign Relations: American Immigration in Global Perspective, Donna R. Gabaccia offers a bold new interpretation that brings diplomatic history into conversation with U.S. immigration history. While the former has traditionally focused on the actions of elite state actors, the latter has tended to offer social histories of immigrants, their families, and communities. Gabaccia examines instead the “intersection of transnational linkages created ‘from below’ by immigrants,” or what she describes as “immigrant foreign relations,” with “American international or foreign policies, created ‘from above’ by the federal government.” The result is a sweeping rereading of American history that emphasizes the need to understand immigration and the United States in global perspectives. As Gabaccia states, “Immigrants, much like diplomats and State Department officials in Washington, are deeply concerned with the world beyond U.S. borders” (p. 1). In addition, “no one understands better than immigrants the continuing power of national governments to draw borders and to set rules for crossing them. Immigrants experience the power of nation states in an extremely intimate fashion, sometimes on a daily basis” (pp. 2-3).

Gabaccia offers several intriguing insights in her study of American immigration and foreign relations. First, she expands the chronological timeline of most immigration histories. Instead of beginning in the mid-nineteenth century, with the arrival of the “first wave” of immigrants from western and northern Europe as well as Asia, Gabaccia starts with the colonial and early Republic periods to emphasize the ongoing connections that “Americans” had with the world. Her biographical account of Crevecoeur, author of the famous Letters from an American Farmer, reveals how his own life was at odds with the proclamation that the American is a “new man … who leaves behind him all his ancient prejudices and manners” (p. 28). Instead, Crevecoeur, like many other Americans of the early Republic period, lived in multiple countries, held multiple citizenships, and had kinship and economic ties across various borders. Although Crevecoeur helped to articulate an ideology of American exceptionalism and American isolationism, his life experiences, Gabaccia argues, is more representative of American immigrant experiences. Crevecoeur’s letters reveal how transnational “Americans” were from the beginning of the nation’s history.

Read full post here. (Originally posted October 28, 2013)

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