According to Buffalo-Toronto Public Radio – New York, according to data from the US Census, has always been an attractive destination for immigrants. This is in part due to Ellis Island, one of the most heavily used entry points in the US. In the olden days, people who landed at Ellis Island traveled to Buffalo via the Erie Canal. Now they can reach Buffalo through public and private transportation.
Buffalo was originally laid out by the Dutch and was settled by northeastern Americans of English descent. New settlers in Buffalo were Germans, Irish, Poles, Swedes, Italians, Hungarians, Ukrainians, and Armenians. Newer settlers came from Puerto Rico, Burma, Thailand, Ethiopia, Sudan, and Pakistan. African-Americans reached Buffalo as slaves and as free people. Many African-Americans came to Buffalo from the American South.
Currently, Buffalo “(mostly) recognizes and celebrates the contributions of its various immigrant groups.” May Shogan of the International Institute of Buffalo says, “Grant Street and Hertel Avenue are becoming more vibrant with a refugee and immigrant presence. You can travel the world in your own community. The world is changing.”
“In regard to the most recent refugee crisis in Syria, Shogan notes, ‘International events should be of interest to Americans and others in the world because we are affected by them. We can’t turn a blind eye to the effects of our policies in other places. Our ancestors, in many cases, might have been considered refugees [rather than immigrants] because of the situations in their home countries.’”
A few notable developments in the line of immigration to Buffalo include:
- 1800. Joseph Ellicott, employed by the Holland Land Co., begins plans to layout Buffalo.
- 1830. Buffalo has 8,435 native residents of European descent, 48 foreign-born, and 178 free people of color.
- 1840. Irish immigrants, escaping the famine, settle in the Flats and First Ward. German Lutherans also come to Buffalo.
- 1850. Numerous German and Polish Jews arrive.1860 Over 1.6 million Irish-born people reside in the United States.
- 1869. Jaime Nuno, a writer of the Mexican National Anthem, moves to WNY.
- 1870. Polish immigration to Buffalo begins in earnest.
- 1880. A wave of Ashkenazi Jews from diaspora settlements (Russia, Poland, Belarus) arrives in Buffalo, fleeing pogroms and economic hardship.
- 1890. Italian immigration to Buffalo begins in modest numbers; Polish immigration surges.
- 1892. Ellis Island opens in New York Harbor, replacing the outmoded Castle Garden. Immigrants find their way up the Erie Canal to Buffalo or overland through Pennsylvania and Canada.
- 1900. Armenian emigration is sparked by anti-Christian pogroms in their homeland.
- 1910. Three-quarters of Buffalo’s population is foreign-born.
- 1915. Near East Relief forms in Niagara Falls to aid Syrians and Armenians after the fall of the Ottoman Empire.
- 1920. The African-American Great Migration is well underway, with those fleeing the Jim Crow south heading to northern cities for the hope of greater opportunity.1924. The Johnson Immigration Act drastically cuts immigration quotas.
- 1925. More than 36,000 Armenians arrive in the United States between 1920 and 1930.
- 1930. Italian settlement in Buffalo peaks at around 20,000; untenable farming conditions, few jobs, and economic disparity drive them.
- 1934. International Institute becomes independent from the YWCA
- 1942. The Bracero Program brings Mexican workers to the States to stem the agricultural labor shortage during WWII.
- 1952. Puerto Rico becomes a US Commonwealth.
- 1965. The Immigration Act is amended, removing specific nationality quotas, but still including a ceiling for entrance from the eastern/western hemisphere.
- 1980. The Refugee Act passed, allowing those fleeing persecution to be classed differently than other immigrants, paving the way for Buffalo and other American cities to become home to large groups of immigrants from South Asia, Africa, and other areas.
Over 16,000 refugees have settled in Western New York since 2002.