04 May / One Mighty and Irresistible Tide: The Epic Struggle over American Immigration, 1924–1965 by Jia Lynn Yang [in Booklist]
Pulitzer Prized NYT editor/journalist Jia Lynn Yang makes history intimately personal: “This book is an attempt to fuse my family’s history to the history of the country that found a place for us … I feel duty bound to name and understand those who fought to allow my family into this country in the 1970s, when so many others have been denied, then and now.” That “now” underscores the immediacy as to why Yang’s stupendous research, essential stories, and contextual insight – all presented with layman’s clarity – should be required reading.
Prolific Laural Merlington narrates with careful proficiency, enhanced with appropriate urgency. Although racist immigration laws began in 1882, few arrivals were turned back before WWI. In 1924, Johnson-Reed Act bill sponsor David Reed gloated, “We no longer are to be a haven, a refuge for oppressed the whole world over.” The resulting draconian quotas didn’t lift until the Immigration Act of 1965, which finally reopened U.S. borders, especially to Asian, Middle Eastern, Latin American, and African arrivals – including Yang’s Chinese/Taiwanese family.
Challenging the notion of immigration as “feats of will and strokes of destiny,” Yang methodically exposes the absolute power of politics in who gets to be American.