House of the Seven Gables to host immigration program

SALEM — There was a time in America when there was no such thing as an “illegal immigrant.” “If you could get here, you could stay,” according to historians Donna Gabaccia and Janet Nolan.

While early immigration was motivated by politics, immigration since the early 19th century has been driven more by economic motivations, writes Vincent Cannato, associate professor of history at UMass Boston. People needed work and the United States had jobs. The work immigrants do, which changes with time, assists and enables America’s economic growth even though the process has been historically fraught.

On Wednesday, March 6 from 6-8 p.m., The House of the Seven Gables presents the fourth in a series of six Community Conversations on current immigration issues against the backdrop of America’s immigration history. This fourth conversation focuses on immigrants and work.

The evening begins with a screening of the documentary “Destination America.” Historians Gabaccia and Nolan look at American immigration by focusing on three immigrant groups that came to work. The documentary features Irish immigrants who provided labor for construction of the railroads; the Norwegians who came to farm; and the Mexicans who were recruited for factory work and then expelled.

Scholar Elizabeth Duclos-Orsello, Ph.D., will lead a discussion at the conclusion of the screening. The evening’s presentation is open to the public and is free of charge.

The Gables is one of 32 sites nationwide to present this six-part series that was conceived and organized by City Lore, in collaboration with the Immigration and Ethnic History Society and the International Coalition of the Sites of Conscience. The series is funded by a major grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities. Both Salem State University and the North Shore Community Development Coalition have partnered with The Gables to help make this series possible.

“The idea behind the series is to provide opportunities for a wide range of people to come together to understand the dynamic and complicated histories of people,” said Duclos-Orsello. “We want to have structured, civic and civil dialogues using the documentary films as a springboard.”

To register, visit, email or call 978-306-7001.

The ‘Becoming American’ Community Conversation schedule is as follows:

March 6 — Help Wanted? Immigration and Work

Film: “Destination America”

April 3 — Family and Community

Film: “My American Girls”

May 1 — Immigration and Popular Culture

Film: “The Search for General Tso”

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