Detroit’s Immigrant Workers

Immigrant Workers, photo by Ryan Southen

3 out of 4 people in 1910 were immigrants or the children of immigrants. Wow. Ryan shared this photo on Facebook and wrote:

I stumbled upon this stone along the riverfront this afternoon. This region is what it is today because people came here seeking opportunity, or refuge and we are absolutely better for it. Something to ponder the next time you find yourself discussing immigration.

As the descendent of immigrants to the Detroit area, I completely agree. Crain’s Detroit Business has a nice feature by about how foreign-born workers have been an integral part of Detroit’s history, economy. It says in part:

Detroit once was the third-largest U.S. settlement for immigrants, said Kurt Metzger, the retired founder of Data Driven Detroit who spent nearly 40 years compiling information and statistical analysis locally.

“In 1930, the foreign-born accounted for almost 30 percent of Detroit’s population. The data show that more immigrants settled in Detroit between 1900 and 1920 than any other city but Chicago and New York,” Metzger said via email.

“The makeup of Detroit — European (Poles, Germans, Ukrainians, etc.) was heavily influenced by the national quota system that either forbid certain groups (Asians, for instance) or maintained extremely small quotas.”

The second, much broader and more diverse wave of immigration began around 1970 after Washington relaxed the quota system on a wide variety of groups, he said.

“We began to see large flows of Chaldeans from Iraq, Muslims from Lebanon and other areas of the Middle East, Asians from Taiwan, India, the Philippines, Albanians, Puerto Ricans and Mexicans,” he said. “Since that time, we have added, through war and displacement, Hmong, Cambodian and Vietnamese, Chaldeans, Syrians, Yemeni, and many more.

…Foreign-born workers and their families helped swell Detroit’s population to nearly 2 million people at its 1950 peak.

Ryan doesn’t have this pic on his Flickr, but you can see a lot of great shots from Detroit and elsewhere there and by following Ryan Southen Photography on Facebook.

6 thoughts on “Detroit’s Immigrant Workers

  1. Tell the rest of the story. Henry Ford required immigrants to learn to speak English, become American citizens, stay out of trouble and have their homes inspected without warning to insure they were clean and not carrying on illegal activities. That is how immigrants became part of America.


    1. Don’t tell the Purple Gang about your theories Al. They were mostly immigrants. Also, the concept of Americanization by surprise inspection sounds nightmarish.


  2. Seriously Al? Everyone in all the americas who doesn’t trace to first nation peoples is decended from an immigrant, including those who were forced in chains. And every first nation person outside their traditional tribal territory is also of immigrant stock. Immigrants and the diversity they brought are key to what once made the USA great. People who come seeking refuge or opportunity are quick to give their loyalty to their hosts and their children grow up with the social and cultural values of their peers (the local children) – in your case – US citizens. Aside from the odd rotten apple, and the US is chocka block full of them already, migrants will only become a problem if they are disenfranchised or stigmatised by a community that refuses to treat them fairly. Even then as a minority they will do all they can to avoid trouble. You really don’t need to be afraid of migrants.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Immigration is wonderful and we have open arms for them, as long as they are here legally. Times have changed, sorry to say, we now have to deal with criminals and terrorists even home grown ones that our schools are teaching to hate America 🇺🇸 .


  4. Great work on acknowledging the role immigrants played in the structure of the city. The Detroit region is of particular interest because I live in the area and write about what is going on in the city on my blog. I may have some information that you may find useful about what is happening in the city.


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