For decades, New York was the main port of entry for most immigrants arriving in the US, as people flocked to the city to escape persecution and pursue the American Dream. New York City was built by immigrants and over the years they’ve created their own unique neighborhoods where multiculturalism thrives. We dive into New York’s history and find out how it became the cultural capital of the United States, and explore some of the city’s vibrant ethnic neighborhoods.
FROM NEW AMSTERDAM TO NEW YORK
On 8 September 1664, the Dutch surrendered New Amsterdam to the British. They renamed it New York after the Duke of York, who would go on to be King James II of England and Ireland and King James VII of Scotland. This arrangement was formalised after the Second Anglo-Dutch War, when England and the United Provinces of the Netherlands created the Treaty of Breda, agreeing that England would keep New York and the island of Manhattan. Today, New Amsterdam is now New York City’s downtown, known as Lower Manhattan.
CEMENTING NEW YORK AS A COSMOPOLITAN CENTRE
NEW YORK BECOMES A HUB OF IMMIGRATION
As the population grew, so did the development of the city. The Commissioners’ Plan of 1811 expanded the city street grid across Manhattan, while the 1825 opening the Erie Canal connected the city to the markets of the Midwestern United States and Canada. In 1835, New York eclipsed Philadelphia as the largest US city and has remained the largest city in the US since then.
THE GREAT IRISH FAMINE
THE STATUE OF LIBERTY AND THE AMERICAN DREAM
An immigrant processing station opened at Ellis Island in 1892 under the shadow of Lady Liberty, and in 1883 Emma Lazarus donated her poem “The New Colossus” to raise funds for the construction of the pedestal of the Statue. The poem depicts the State as offering safe haven to new immigrants escaping persecution and violence. In 1903 the poem was engraved on a bronze plaque and put on the base of the Statue. It reads:
“Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore, send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
IMMIGRATION IN THE EARLY 20TH CENTURY
By 1925, New York superseded London as the world’s most populous city, a position London had held for over a century. The Great Depression and the Wall Street Crash came in 1929, and while these were difficult years, the city kept on building. During the 1930s, some of the world’s tallest skyscrapers were built in New York, including the iconic Empire State Building, 30 Rockefeller Plaza, and the Chrysler Building. Then came World War II, which lead to another boom in immigrants from Europe. The city also welcomed a large number of African American migrants from the American South during the Great Migration of the 1940s.
AFTER WORLD WAR II
Many unique ethnic neighborhoods continued to be established with the arrival of Asian and Latin American immigrants throughout New York’s history. In 1989, the city elected its its first African American Mayor, David Dinkins.
MULTICULTURALISM IN NEW YORK CITY TODAY
There’s Jackson Heights in Queens, where around 63% of the population are foreign born and 167 different languages are spoken. In Brighton Beach in Brooklyn, over 72% of residents are foreign born and the majority of the population speaks multiple languages.
In Chinatown in Manhattan, you’ll find immigrants from not only China, but Thailand, Vietnam, Japan, Korea, Taiwan, Indonesia, and more. Over in Woodside in Queens, you’ll find incredible Thai, Filipino and South American cuisine and culture, including Little Manila, where 15% of the population hail from the Philippines. Meanwhile, Woodlawn in the Bronx is an enclasive for Irish immigrants and Irish Americans, along with a community of Italian Americans.