Thursday, April 17, 2014

Our Changing Face of Immigration: A Regional Look at 100 Years of Foreign Born Populations

The role of international immigration for our area is something I have recently been posting about. Like the country as a whole, our communities have long been refuges for those seeking a change in their lives as they left their loved ones, their homes and their cultures to seek a new beginning in a foreign land.

The percentage of our regional population that was foreign born reached its peak in the early part of the 1900s. Around 1920 nearly 50,000 people who lived in Herkimer and Oneida Counties had been born in another country. From that decade through 1990, the area saw a continuing decline of foreign immigrants – in 1990 only around 10,000 people living here had been born abroad.  The percent of population that was foreign born went from nearly 20% in 1920 to less than 5% by 1990.
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European immigration had long fueled our area with new community members. From the turn of the last century through the first decade of this one, people emigrating from the “old Continent” to our region have made up the majority of those settling in Herkimer and Oneida Counties. In 1900 more than 31,000 residents were foreign born, and 90% of them came here from Europe.  In particular, the vast majority of foreign born Europeans living here in 1900 came from the northern and western countries of the continent: places like England, Ireland, France and Germany were typical “motherlands”.  Of note is that many immigrants in the area also called Italy, a part of Southern Europe, home.  

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This flow of people mainly from the Northern and Western European countries has changed in the last 100 years however. No longer are those regions contributing nearly what they once had. While Europe as a continent still is where more than 40% of our foreign born population comes from, it is no longer dominated by countries in the north and west; former residents of countries like Ukraine, Bosnia and Belarus now make up more than 70% of the Eastern Europeans that have recently migrated from that continent. So there has been both a decline in the number and percentage of Europeans immigrating to our region, as well as a change in what countries those Europeans are originating from as they have make their way to Herkimer and Oneida Counties.

If European immigration is only currently accounting for around 40% of our foreign born population, where is the rest coming from? In the past, the small percentage of non-European immigrants came from places like Canada; in the last decade, what we now see is considerable immigration from south of our border, as well as from the west, in Asia.

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In 2000 more than one in ten (12%) foreign born residents came from the Caribbean, Central America, or South America. By 2010, that percentage had climbed to around 18%. Even more noteworthy, one in five (20%) foreign born people in the region were from Asia according to the 2000 Census. In 2010, a full third (33%) of immigrants were of Asian heritage.  Combined then, more than half of the foreign born members of our communities are now from somewhere other than Europe – versus  100 years ago when 90% of international immigrants came from there.  

International migration in our region has changed considerably in the last 100 years then. We have gone from having a very Euro-centric foreign born immigrant population to one that is much more blended with Latin American, South American, Mexican and Asian cultures all competing to become the next versions of our region's proud Italian, Polish, German and other successful ethnic communities.