When We Were Strangers is set in the early 1880’s. A few years later, rising immigration from Italy began to unleash what now seems astonishing, rabid anti-Italian prejudice of which this cartoon is, believe me, a relatively mild example.
In 1909, a Senator Henry Cabot Lodge proposed a frankly racially-based immigration restriction: “The illiteracy test will bear most heavily upon the Italians, Russians, Poles, Hungarians, Greeks, and Asiatics, and very lightly, or not at all, upon English-speaking emigrants, or Germans, Scandinavians, and French. In other words, the races most affected by the illiteracy test are those whose emigration to this country has begun within the last twenty years and swelled rapidly to enormous proportions, races with which the English- speaking people have never hitherto assimilated, and who are most alien to the great body of the people of the United States.”
The idea of a merrily bubbling melting pot seems to have existed only in scattered moments of our history.