Education: Heritage Discovery Center

Johnstown Area Heritage Association
Johnstown Heritage Discovery Center

Through Immigrants' Eyes

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Choose between three thematic threads to tailor your class visit to the exhibit "Through Immigrants' Eyes" to meet your instructional goals. Each thread includes discussion topics, primary sources, and learning activities for before your visit, during your visit, and further exploration after your visit.  Referenced PA Standards are available for each thread.

Push-and-Pull of Immigration

Historians use the words "push" and "pull" when they study migration. Something "pushes" immigrants away from their original homes. Something "pulls" them to their new home.

If everything is going well at home, most people don't want to leave. Something must "push" them to make such a big change. Even then, there are also good reasons to stay. People must decide if what they gain is worth what they must give up.

The other side of the immigration equation is "pull": immigrants decide where to move. Something about a place must attract them. Most migrants choose a place where they know they can find work, practice their religion, or express their opinions in a democracy.

This thread explores the push-pull engine that drives immigration and the American Dream that fuels it.

Making a Life: Creating Community

New immigrants making the adjustment to their new American communities sought refuge from communities of their own. Churches, synagogues, and social clubs where they could speak their own language and practice their own traditions bound them together as "ethnic groups" for the first time.

The children of immigrants often felt caught between these two worlds: Their American communities and the "Old Country" that they had never seen.

Eventually, as generations passed, the ethnic communities became absorbed into the larger community. But sharped-eyed historian-detectives can learn how to decipher clues of their past importance on the streets of Johnstown.

Making a Living: Work and Labor

Putting food on the table is at the root of most immigrants' reasons for leaving home and settling in a new place. And work is what puts food on the table and a roof over family. In the "Old Country" often as not, future immigrants were peasant farmers who literally grew the food their family needed to live.

Little of their old lives prepared former peasants for the work they would do in America. The mills and mines ran around the clock, never stopping for nightfall or holidays. Noise, heat, dark, and danger, were hallmarks of industrialized work. The new "greenhorns" would be taken advantage of at first. Eventually, though, they learned to organize to negotiate with the Boss, as the labor movement gained steam.

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