Below are some photographs of the “Monument to the Immigrant,” which is located along the Mississippi River in New Orleans (yes–we used a similar image for our website header). The statue, dedicated in 1995, commemorates New Orleans as an immigration hub, especially for Italians. German, Irish, and Jewish American organizations also contributed to the construction of the statue.
In many ways, this statute speaks to ethnic revivalism, which appears in the late 1960s, and its 1980s offshoot, multiculturalism. As argued by Matthew Frye Jacobson in Roots Too, the celebration of the U.S. as a “nation of immigrants” emerges at a particular time when Americans are becoming increasingly aware of the role of race and ethnicity in our history.
Interestingly, most–if not all–of the organizations listed on the pedestal of the “Monument to the Immigrant” pre-date the ethnic revival (and later multicultural) moment and speak to a much more complicated notion of racial/ethnic identity and history in a city such as New Orleans. The creation of organizations by immigrant groups has a long history in the United States, and includes public performances of heritage. True, the components of heritage celebration (and the ideas behind them) have changed over time, but the practice has persisted nevertheless. Perhaps the role of racial/ethnic identity in the late 20th century should be seen more as a continuation of the the ways in which immigrants and their descendants imagined and celebrated their heritage as well as a break from the past?