Immigration policy through the decades has shaped the current makeup of the United States and Montgomery County. According to WalletHub, Montgomery County is now home to four of the top 10 most diverse cities in the United States: Germantown, Gaithersburg, Silver Spring, and Rockville. Moreover, US Census data reveal the county’s foreign-born population jumped from 4.52 percent in 1960 to 32.6 percent in 2016, a more significant increase than the city of Baltimore, Prince George’s County and Washington, DC.
Dr. Maria Sprehn-Malagon, anthropology professor at Montgomery College, and her research students Nance Mousa, Lexi Werner, and Dan Yang presented these figures as part of their lecture “A World Away: Postwar Migration to Montgomery County, 1945 to 1965” at the 2018 Montgomery County History Conference.
“Our current diversity has roots in the time period following World War II,” Dr. Sprehn-Malagon said. “Since the 1920s, immigration policies tended to favor northern and western Europeans and mostly kept out people from Asia, Africa, the Middle East and other regions.”
In the 1950s and 1960s, policies allowed people in based on their circumstances, such as devastation from the war or the Cold War, Dr. Sprehn-Malagon said. In 1965, Congress passed the Immigration and Nationality Act, also known as the Hart-Celler Act. This law replaced the 1920s nationality quota system with one based on family relations and, to some degree, skills.
“This act really changed the demographics of the United States. Between 1945 and 1965, the diversity of the nation began to increase and many immigrants came for jobs and opportunities to Washington DC, including the Montgomery County suburbs,” Dr. Sprehn-Malagon said.
Dr. Sprehn-Malagon believes the migrants who moved to the county during the 1950s “set the stage, whether they realized it or not, for other immigrants to come; they created a welcoming ethos of diverse languages and cultures.” The team’s research shows people from more than 50 countries became citizens in the county between 1945 and 1965. Their countries of origin included England, Germany, Canada, China, Trinidad, Israel, Brazil, Korea, Mexico, Japan, Cuba, Guatemala, India, Philippines and El Salvador.
“People can maintain their cultures, their languages, their traditions and still be Americans,” Dr. Sprehn-Malagon said. “Sharing stories brings understanding, sometimes appreciation, and strengthens bonds.”
The annual conference took place at the Bioscience Education Center on Montgomery College’s Germantown Campus and included nine other sessions throughout the day.