More than almost any other state, New Jersey has long been a bubbling melting pot of immigrants. Even today, the Garden State ranks second only to California and New York in the percentage of citizens who are foreign-born.
“New Jersey has a constant history of immigration,” says Anastasia Mann, who runs the Program on Immigration and Democracy at Rutgers University’s Eagleton Institute of Politics. The first immigrants to settle in what is now New Jersey in the early seventeenth century came from Sweden and Holland. Of course, the land they coveted was already occupied by Delaware Indians, who had arrived perhaps 10,000 years earlier.
Those first European settlers were followed quickly by the British, who took control of the land in 1664.
Africans came too, mostly as slaves; the practice was not abolished outright in New Jersey until 1846. More Northern Europeans—Germans, French, Irish, and Scots—began to flow heavily into New Jersey in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Then came the golden age of immigration, roughly 1880 to 1920, when Southern and Eastern Europeans arrived en masse throughout the nation, including Italians, Greeks, Portuguese, Poles, Slavs, and Jews.
In recent decades, the pace of immigration here has stepped up again, with the biggest influx coming between 1990 and 2000, says Mann. In 1990, 12.5 percent of New Jerseyans were foreign-born; by 2007, the figure was 19.9 percent. That influx was largely from Latin America, but also Asia, including many new arrivals from India and the Philippines.
“One of the defining characteristics of immigration to New Jersey in the present day is diversity,” says Mann. Additionally, she says, “They are highly educated. Almost half of the people in New Jersey who have graduate degrees in the sciences are foreign-born.”
But numbers paint just part of the picture. A resonant ethnic history of our state can be told only through the stories of the families who settled here. On the pages that follow, we offer twelve portraits representing Jersey families from many different waves of immigration and from all over the globe.
Click on the links below to read each profile piece:
Like Father, Like Son, And Son, And Son…
A long legacy of service distinguishes Jersey’s Frelinghuysen family.
Still Bloodlines Run Deep
From slave days to modern times, this South Jersey family has been a witness to history.
A Fortunate Twist of Fate
Plucked from their homes during World War II, they made a life in Jersey.
Education Got Them Across The Tracks
The long, hard road from Italy leads to the mayor’s office in Nutley.
The ‘Red Road’ To Self-Discovery
She found her calling when she came to terms with her Ramapough Lenape heritage.
The Cantor’s Kin
Tracing seven generations back to the leader of Newark’s first Jewish congregation.
Begin With A Broom
German immigrant Henry Thumann built the deli company his heirs have tended.
Best Of Both Worlds
A Rutgers professor clings to her culture—and cheers for her team.
Living The Dream
Palestinian traditions and American freedoms blend perfectly in Paterson.
More Than A Taste Of Home
The Rojas family’s bakery has become a delicious haven for the Colombian community.
The Visit Of A Lifetime
Having come to Jersey for a year, a Dublin couple ended up putting down roots.
Connected To The Community
Bergen County offered Dr. Mingi Choi and his wife, Heather, a way to help others.