Immigration and Cultural Heritage
New Hampshire has experienced three major periods of immigration: Early Settlement, from the 1600s until 1790 (covered in Unit 3: Settling New Hampshire); the Great Wave, from the mid-1840s until 1924 (covered in Unit 12: Immigration in the Industrial Age); and Modern Immigration, from 1965 to the present. In 1965, the United States ended its previous policy of restricting immigration by national quotas, which favored immigration from Europe but limited immigration from the rest of the world. Instead, the U.S. government adopted immigration policies that favored family unification and allowed entry to those with skills needed in U.S. workplaces. These reforms meant that between 1970 and 2017, the number of immigrants coming to the United States increased. The foreign-born U.S. population rose from 4.7% in 1970 to 13.7% in 2017. Immigration to New Hampshire did not follow this national trend, though: its foreign-born population well below the national average, hovering at around 5%. Nevertheless, the Granite State saw the arrival of new immigrant groups during the early 21st century that helped diversify the state more than ever before. As opposed to the Great Wave of immigration, most of the immigrants coming to the United States in the 20th and 21st centuries come not from Europe but from countries in Asia, Africa, and Central and South America. In 2018, most immigrants to New Hampshire came from India (10%), Canada (9%), China (5%), Nepal (5%), and the Dominican Republic (5%), which mirrored national trends. However, New Hampshire continues to have a large percentage of Canadian immigrants due to its long-standing connections to French-speaking Canada.
One of the factors contributing to the growth of the immigrant population in New Hampshire after 1990 has been national refugee resettlement programs, which place refugee families in the cities of Laconia, Manchester, Concord, and Nashua. Between 1997 and 2009, more than 5,000 refugees arrived in the state from countries like Somalia, Sudan, the former Yugoslavia, the former Soviet Union, and Burundi. A subsequent wave of refugee resettlement between 2011 and 2018 brought another 3,000 refugees to New Hampshire from places like the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Bhutan, Burma, and Iraq.
Like generations before them, new arrivals to the United States in the 21st century face significant challenges acclimating to their new country. Several nonprofit organizations have been formed in New Hampshire to help introduce and integrate global refugees into their new communities. Some, like the International Institute of New England, focus on helping immigrants find jobs and housing, while others, like Welcoming New Hampshire, concentrate on educating immigrants on the English language, American government, and the responsibilities of citizenship. Still others, like the Inti Soccer Academy of Manchester, provided after-school opportunities for immigrant children to play soccer and receive academic tutoring. In time, many former refugees have become citizens, attained advanced degrees, and opened businesses around New Hampshire. In 2018, Safiya Wazir in Concord, originally from Afghanistan, became the first person from a refugee background elected to the New Hampshire legislature when she won a seat in the N.H. House of Representatives.
New Hampshire has been known as a state lacking racial and ethnic diversity, but the first two decades of the 21st century have seen both the reality and perception of that change. The number of people reporting their race to be white alone decreased from 96% in 2000 to 88% in 2020. The percentage of people reporting to be Black, alone or in combination with another race, increased from 0.7% to 2.4% in that same period. The most significant growth came in the state’s ethnic Hispanic and Latino population, which increased from 1.7% to 4.3%. Ethnic and racial diversity remains less than in the United States as a whole, but New Hampshire’s past and present have been built on the contributions of a diverse group of people, and many local communities have moved toward uncovering and celebrating those contributions.
At the same time that new peoples and cultures have come to New Hampshire, Granite Staters have also shown increased interest in the culture of their ethnic heritages. In New Hampshire, as in the United States as a whole, the late 20th and early 21st centuries has been a period when people have discovered, or rediscovered, the culture of their ancestors. Not coincidentally, many Americans have become amateur genealogists in recent years, a hobby that brings thousands of people a year to New Hampshire archives to learn more about their family history. For others, festivals and celebrations around the state offer plenty of opportunities to celebrate their ethnic origins and to share different cultures with others.
Attendance at these festivals is flourishing in the 21st century, as people’s curiosity about other ethnic backgrounds grows alongside interest in their own heritage. The New Hampshire Highland Games, held annually in Lincoln to celebrate Scottish heritage, attracts a large number of international visitors and more than doubled its attendance between 1999 and 2018, from around 22,000 to over 50,000 attendees. Glendi Greek Festival in Manchester, founded in 1980, drew its largest crowd ever in 2019, with more than 35,000 visitors. In addition, newer festivals celebrate a more diverse group of ethnicities, such as the We Are One Festival held in Manchester since 2000, celebrating Latino and African Caribbean Heritage, or the Berlin Francophone Festival, established in 2012 to share the French-Canadian heritage of New Hampshire. Multicultural festivals have also become popular in the 21st century, like the ones started in Concord (2005), Berlin (2008), Nashua (2016), and Keene (2017). These festivals allow for people of Irish and Polish descent to present their heritage alongside those of Vietnamese and Somali backgrounds, bringing the diversity of New Hampshire into a single place to be shared.
A renewed interest in ethnic and racial diversity is also reflected in a wide variety of efforts to explore different groups’ contributions to New Hampshire history. Performers of music and storytelling from different cultures have become more popular, for example. Storytellers like Robert Perreault combine personal stories of his French-Canadian heritage with historical context to provide a rich and immersive window to New Hampshire’s past. French-Canadians aren’t the only ones represented, though; musicians like Jordan Tirrell-Wysocki (Irish), Eastern Sound (Polish), and Jeff Warner (American folk) connect people to their heritage through their performances. Humanities to Go, a program run by New Hampshire Humanities, is one of the key driving forces in bringing presentations such as these to communities across the state. Their presenters cover the scope of New Hampshire history, from the Abenaki to the present, using mediums such as music, plays, lectures, demonstrations, and artwork to share cultural traditions from both the past and the present. Humanities to Go is incredibly popular throughout the state; in 2020, more than 174,000 people attended an event sponsored by New Hampshire Humanities.
Since 1645, Black people, both free and enslaved, have lived and worked in New Hampshire’s communities. However, until recent years, their contributions have not always been acknowledged. In 1995, New Hampshire native and scholar Valerie Cunningham founded the Black Heritage Trail of New Hampshire in order to tell the history of the Black community in the state. Through educational programs, historical markers, community partnerships, and public programs, the Black Heritage Trail works to craft a more inclusive history and to highlight the cultural traditions of Black Granite Staters. Names like Prince Whipple, Harriet Wilson, Ona Judge, and Amos Fortune, among others, are now becoming more widely recognized as key contributors to New Hampshire’s past.
New Hampshire’s first people, the Abenaki, remain active in practicing their cultural traditions as well. Although Vermont has acknowledged four Abenaki tribes with state recognition, there are no state-recognized tribes in New Hampshire. Instead, independent groups have emerged throughout the state representing different bands of Abenaki, such as the Cowasuck. These Abenaki groups host regular events and organize educational programs emphasizing the Abenaki’s enduring connection to N’dakinna, the land we now call New Hampshire. Members of these Abenaki groups and tribes present traditional crafts, engage in storytelling about Abenaki history and beliefs, and discuss issues facing the Abenaki today. Many of these events are open to the public and give residents of New Hampshire the opportunity to learn about the indigenous peoples who have lived here for thousands of years. There are also efforts underway to discover more about Abenaki life during the Woodland Period and earlier. For example, the Abenaki Trails Project seeks to document the indigenous history of New Hampshire by working collaboratively with different communities to highlight the contributions of the Abenaki throughout all periods of the region’s history.