Many of us may assume that Mexico has always been among the main sources of immigration to America, but a cool chart by Natalia Bronshtein shows, that’s not even close to true.
Bronshtein pulled 200 years of government data to put together the visualization. There’s an interactive version on her website: you can hover over any color, at any point, and see the exact number of immigrants who became residents from that country in that decade.
But taken as a whole, the chart tells a very clear story: there are two laws that totally transformed immigration to the United States.
The first, the National Origins Act of 1924 (a capstone on a series of anti-immigration bills passed in the few years before that), set very strict quotas on immigration to America from any country — and especially strict quotas on any country that wasn’t in western or northern Europe. (Immigration from Asia was, for the most part, simply banned.) That’s the bottleneck you see in the graph.
The second, the 1965 Immigration and Naturalization Act, demolished the old quota system. But instead of just turning the clock back to the dawn of the 20th century, the 1965 law created a completely different era of immigration to the US from all over the world — and especially from Latin America and Asia. None of the colors that are dominant on this chart up until the 1920s are dominant from the 1970s onward. Once large-scale immigration to the US was restored, the face of it looked totally different.