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Boisi Center for Religion and American Public Life

The New Bostonians: How Immigrants have Transformed Boston since the 1960s

Boisi Center for Religion and American Public Life

Marilynn Johnson, Boston College professor of history, spoke at the Boisi Center on September 21 on the historic shifts in immigration to Boston. Johnson’s book, The New Bostonians: How Immigrants Have Transformed the Metro Area since the 1960s (University of Massachusetts Press, 2015), was released on the 50th anniversary of the 1965 Immigration Act. The legislation caused changes in immigration by eliminating quotas and expanding preferences for skilled workers and family members of immigrants in the U.S.

Boston has always been an important portal for immigrants, and established ethnic communities draw new immigrants. Boston has witnessed many different waves of immigration over its history; during the nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries, families and largely unskilled workers from Ireland, Italy, China, Russia, and Canada dominated immigration into Boston. After the 1965 Immigration Act, the origins of Boston’s immigrants shifted to Central and South America and Asia. Locally, the centers of immigration shifted from Boston itself to its suburbs.

Johnson has continued her research beyond The New Bostonians online. Her new project, Global Boston (, was developed to maintain and expand historical accounts of immigrants in Boston and open scholarship on Boston’s immigration to a wider community of citizen-scholars. Johnson intends the website to be an ongoing collaborative project that includes students’ efforts to understand and analyze historical trends in immigration.