In a world of border walls and obstacles to migration, a lottery where winners can gain permanent residency in the United States sounds too good to be true. Just as unlikely is the idea that the United States would make such visas available to foster diversity within a country where systemic racism endures. But in 1990, the United States Diversity Visa Lottery was created to do just that. Dreamland tells the surprising story of this unlikely government program and its role in American life as well as the global story of migration. Historian Carly Goodman takes readers from Washington, D.C., where proponents deployed a colorblind narrative about our "nation of immigrants" to secure visas for white immigrants, to the African countries where it flourished and fostered dreams of going to America. From the post office to the internet, aspiring emigrants, visa agents, and others embraced the lottery and tried their luck in a time of austerity and limits. Rising African immigration to the United States has enriched American life, created opportunities for mobility, and nourished imagined possibilities. But the promise of the American dream has been threatened by the United States' embrace of anti-immigrant policies and persistent anti-Black racism.
Carly Goodman is Senior Editor at Made by History at the Washington Post, where she edits daily commentary and analysis from the nation’s leading historians. Made by History won the OAH’s 2022 Friend of History Award. She is also the Communications Coordinator for Nationalities Service Center, a century-old immigration agency in the heart of Philadelphia.