Immigration, Ethnicity, and the Pandemic
Public Health Reports
The influenza pandemic of 1918–1919 coincided with a major wave of immigration to the United States. More than 23.5 million newcomers arrived between1880 and the 1920s, mostly from Southern and Eastern Europe, Asia, Canada, and Mexico. During earlier epidemics, the foreign-born were often stigmatized as disease carriers whose very presence endangered their hosts. Because this influenza struck individuals of all groups and classes throughout the country, no single immigrant group was blamed, although there were many local cases of medicalized prejudice. The foreign-born needed information and assistance in coping with influenza. Among the two largest immigrant groups, Southern Italians and Eastern European Jews, immigrant physicians, community spokespeople, newspapers, and religious and fraternal groups shouldered the burden. They disseminated public health information to their respective communities in culturally sensitive manners and in the languages the newcomers understood, offering crucial services to immigrants and American public health officials.