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Work

Work

Cigar maker, 1964.

Immigrants arrive in America looking for work, but find their choices limited by skills, education and opportunity.

In the 19th and early 20th century immigrant family, everyone worked. Steinway & Sons employed immigrant boys whose small fingers were an asset in working on the moving parts of the piano.  Although some immigrant families did not permit wives or daughters to work outside the home, they stitched garments and made artificial flowers at home. Many families earned income by taking in boarders.  Some immigrants came with skills and went into trades like shoemaking and tailoring, others opened neighborhood grocery stores or saloons.

Work

Lewis Hine “Group of Italian street laborers under Sixth Avenue Elevated, New York City,” 1910

Many immigrants came with only strong backs and a willingness to work.  The millions of immigrants who toiled in mills, factories and mines created a new industrial America. Slavs and Poles dominated the steel industry in states like Pennsylvania and OhioItalian men often worked as unskilled laborers and were essential to the construction of New York’s public works, including its subways and water supply; many used the money they saved to buy land back home.  The Bracero program brought Mexicans in the mid 20th century to pick crops in the fields of California during the harvest season and then returned them to Mexico.

Work

Rupwattie Sakhichand, a Guyanese immigrant, began working in the action department in 1999 at the Steinway & Sons Piano company, Astoria, Queens, 2006

In post-industrial America, immigrants continue to play vital roles working in service industries - cleaning houses, caring for children and the elderly, washing dishes in restaurants and serving as nurses’ aides and health care workers.   Many immigrants also arrive today to work in skilled professions such as medicine, computers and engineering.