Why We Stan Western Migration/Immigration in the United States

Why We Stan Westward Migration/Immigration in the US


The exhibits “The Gate Way Arch” and “The Immigrants” represent those who migrated/immigrated from other parts of the United States and other countries to the western half of the United States during the years of exploration, expedition, the expulsion of the Native Americans. Thousands of people during the 19th century were immigrating to the United States along with thousands of U.S. citizens looking for work post-first-industrial revolution. Because of the vast, western plains, Mississippi River, and alleged "gold" in California, a mass movement towards the Pacific coast emerged as an opportunity for people to start from scratch and build from the bottom up, aka "the American Dream". However, when most students, professors, and even historians reference "mass immigration" to the United States, Ellis Island is usually the first word that comes to mind. Historians refer to this time period of going west as "Manifest Destiny" rather than an immigration or migration movement. Manifest Destiny is an era (around mid-19th century) in which Americans were "destined—by God...to expand its dominion and spread democracy and capitalism across the entire North American continent", entailing that his mass migration/immigration movement was born from religious motives rather than economic motives (History.com). Because this is stereotyped as a religious, American movement, people are less likely to associate this era as a migration movement; therefore there are fewer monuments dedicated to moving west as an actual migration movement and more or less as a historical marker for the era of cowboys, Indians, and the wild, wild west. 


The Gate Way to the West

St. Louis and Beyond

The Gate Way to the West is a monument to honor one of the greatest achievements in American history as the infamous Louis and Clark braved through savage Indians, unknown wildlife, and Mexico to reach the Pacific Ocean. This started the era of exploration as thousands of Americans and Immigrants began to look west as a new hope for a better life. St. Louis became the starting point of this journey. As the first industrial revolution was at its height, St. Louis was a prime resource for factories to open up as the city lies in between the Mississippi and Missouri river. Because businesses were able to steam power their way up and down the United States, jobs for Americans and immigrants began to open up, offering hope and opportunity that a previously repressed economy needed. However, the Missouri mixing pot of cultures is not the first thing that comes to mind when anyone who's been through an AP US history class thinks of when referring to the mixing pot of America. However, by 1850, "43 percent of all 'St. Louisans' were either born in Ireland or Germany" (St.Louis-MO.gov). St. Louis had such a large community of immigrants who even held power such as the "Irish Catholic Democratic mayor who had faced the great fire" and "Henry Overstolz...the first German elected to citywide office as controlled..." (Arenson). Because immigrants from Northern and Eastern Europe were willing to work the grunt work jobs, live in tenant homes, and work under ridiculous conditions, the population grew tremendously. This prevalent part of American history, however, is shadowed by "Manifest Destiny". Manifest Destiny was the philosophical ideology that in order for the United States to fully achieve greatness, we must conquer all the God-given land that is available to us. Historians reference this as a religious call of action as many American motifs were backed by Christian, specifically Protestant, beliefs rather than economical win. By referring to this era as religiously motivated, America is given this image of purity and angelic-ness rather than the imperialistic genocide of the natives, the stealing of the land from another country, and discounting the sacrifices that immigrants gave for the economic benefit of American, especially coming out of a panic/depression and entering into the antebellum period. This is reflected in the monuments like the "Gateway to the West"; one of the largest monuments in the United States is dedicated to the Americans who journeyed west to St. Louis to fulfill Manifest Destiny rather than the immigrants who built up the Midwest from the ground-up. 

The Italian Immigrants

Those Who Came West From Europe

The "Italian Immigrants" is a memorial dedicated to those who immigrated from Italy to St. Louis looking for a better life. Because of the diversity in St. Louis, many cultural neighborhoods such as "The Hill", a historically Italian neighborhood, were by the immigrants back in the 19th century. These populous neighborhoods still function today as a way to preserve cultural traditions and businesses opened up generations ago. While these monuments are relevant to the cultures throughout St. Louis, they are underrepresented when speaking about immigrants in the US. Because the mass migration of immigrants to Ellis Island happened only decades after the mass migration to St. Louis and the Midwest, the cultural/religious war that waged within the streets was forgotten, only to be remembered in the neighborhoods by which these monuments stand. Between the 1830s to 1890s when the Northern and Western Europeans were coming to the Midwest, the United States was having serious internal issues such as the building of the Civil War, multiple economic waves of panic, and corruption in the Oval Office. This, along with the Mexican War/Mexican Revolution, California Gold Rush, and taking of Puerto Rico/Hawaii/Cuba, the events that happened in the Midwest were not seen as significant to the war stories and corruption that was building in the surrounding areas of the United States. By forgetting and overshadowing this era in American history, an iconic part of cultural diversity is lost to religious overtones that overgeneralize the timeline of events in the Midwest, and consequently, reflecting this in the monuments in and around the Midwest. 


From Sea to Shining Sea


To conclude, due to over-generalizations and throughout the era of Manifest Destiny, the mass migration of immigrants to the Midwest, specifically St. Louis, was overshadowed by other major events in American History during this era. Those who journeyed west for Europe are only to be remembered through minor monuments throughout the city of St. Louis rather than the economic success, cultural diversity, and political success achieved in the Midwest, shaping the importance and relevance of cities along the Mississippi and Missouri river and what is yet to come following the years of westward migration. 

Work Cited

Arenson, Adam. “Chapter 3.” The Great Heart of the Republic: St. Louis and the Cultural Civil War, by Adam Arenson, University of Missouri Press, 2015, pp. 47–56.

Editors, History.com. “Manifest Destiny.” History.com, A&E Television Networks, 5 Apr. 2010, www.history.com/topics/westward-expansion/manifest-destiny.

“Part I: Peopling St. Louis.” Stlouis, City of St. Louis, MO, www.stlouis-mo.gov/government/departments/planning/cultural-resources/pr....