Turkish Migration to the United States
From Ottoman Times to the Present
Edited by A. Deniz Balgamis and Kemal H. Karpat. Madison: The University of Wisconsin Press, 2008. 238 pp. $39.95, paper
Reviewed by Birol Yesilada
Portland State University
Middle East Quarterly
Very little is known about the history of migration from the Ottoman Empire and Turkey to the United States. Authors who contribute to this book provide rich insight into this topic through examination of historical archives in the United States as well as in Turkey and from the personal accounts of immigrants. As such, their valuable work provides an important contribution to the subject.
Readers learn that there have been three stages of immigration to the United States by Turkish speakers: 1820-1921, 1950-70, and post-1970s. The motives behind each phase are complex and were led by economic considerations and the search for a better life in a new world. Two factors served as vehicles in this process: missionary schools in the Ottoman Empire where American teachers and preachers provided support for bright students to pursue further education in the United States and connections among those born in the same township or village who often followed neighbors to America. Moreover, the early immigrants represented a mix of ethnicities of the Ottoman Empire with the smallest numbers being from among ethnic Turks (only 20,000 out of a half million). Most of these others were Greeks, Sephardic Jews, and Armenians. And most of the ethnic Turks, who worked mostly in unskilled jobs, eventually returned to Turkey; those who remained in the United States married Christian women and were assimilated into the local society.
The second phase immigrants consisted of those who defined themselves as Turks; they were few in numbers and were professionals with Western social values who assimilated into American society. It was not until the post-1970 period that significant numbers of Turks, roughly 200,000, representing the complex social mosaic of Turkish society, emigrated for the United States. Today's Turkish-Americans represent these newcomers as well as the second and third generation of descendents of professionals who emigrated in the second phase. Descendants of the first phase, however, have no link to these new Turkish-Americans due to the assimilation into American society of their grandfathers or great-grandfathers. These newer immigrants have organized a new network of American-Turkish associations and provide social support for their kin as well as a political lobbying network that has started to challenge the Greek and Armenian lobbies.
Related Topics: History, Immigration, Muslims in the United States, Turkey and Turks | Winter 2010 MEQ
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