Immigration and Race Attitudes

Chapter 20: Social Service and Race Problems

Emory S. Bogardus

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Assisting immigrants to adjust themselves to new conditions and to reorganize their personalities represents one phase of social service. Such assistance ranges all the way from doing neighborly things for immigrants to rendering psychiatric and mental hygiene aid of a professional sort. It also refers to remaking the social and economic order so that immigrants may secure justice in labor, comfort in housing, and joy in home making.

In many communities where unassimilated immigrants are located, there are generally a few natives who are interested in the immigrants, who are disturbed because the immigrants do not become assimilated and because other natives are antagonistic toward the newcomers under the guise of being patriotic and loyal. The few natives who are thus disturbed make friends with the immigrants and try to excuse the prejudices of their fellow natives, but are at a loss to know what to do to dissolve the race conflict or to prevent it from becoming a race clash or riot. In showing themselves friendly toward the immigrants, they are labeled traitors by their fellow natives, and their efficiency as immigration workers is hampered. A fundamental procedure for workers with immigrants to follow is to make careful and painstaking studies of the local situation and to develop adequate programs based on such studies.

Making Surveys. — For one studying the local situation, a pathfinder survey of the facts regarding the immigrants is the first thing to undertake. Such a survey should secure data, such as number of immigrants and of their children by

(256) age periods; the details of their mortality rates, the facts concerning their housing and living conditions, their working conditions including wages, hours of work, accident rates, and their social disorganization as revealed through their poverty and behavior problems.

A social survey of this character will logically be followed by additional research, recording the attitudes and opinions of immigrants on their various personal and social problems. If the delinquency rate of their children is high, what are the attitudes of the parents regarding this matter? If their naturalization rate is small, what are their attitudes regarding naturalization? And so forth.

Such research calls for a complementary study of the race prejudices of the natives against the immigrants. By tracing such prejudices back to their origins, they may be made intelligent to the broader-minded among both the natives and immigrants. Every one truly interested will be able thus to obtain an idea of what the immigrants are up against, and of some of the things that they may do in order to prevent the rise of new prejudices against them. Workers with immigrants may well take stock, of course, of their own racial attitudes; they may well examine their own racial prejudices and analyze their own weaknesses as good-will representatives.

If the social distance test, as described in Chapter II, could be taken in a bona fide way by representative groups of immigrants and of natives, and by the workers with immigrants also, a fairly good picture would be obtained of the assimilation problem that exists. Such a test would indicate what changes in attitudes and opinions the natives would need to undergo in order to give the immigrants a square deal, what changes the immigrants must make, and where racial conflicts are likely to take place.

In the next place social workers need to be equipped with a full knowledge of the culture traits of the given immigrants

( 257) and of the origins and development of these in the past centuries of immigrant group history. The immigrants' destructive culture traits will receive plenty of attention automatically, through the press, through local demagogues and through gossip, but not scientifically. Both these and the immigrants' constructive culture traits will require scientific consideration.

Still more important is an understanding of the immigrants' conflicts and problems. Life histories treated in a social case-analysis fashion will be revealing. A picture of the immigrants' longings, thwarted wishes, and unfulfilled hopes is essential. In securing these survey and research materials, success will depend upon the degree to which certain immigrants participate and coöperate in finding and in interpreting data.

Most important of all, workers with immigrants will render the best service if they master the principles of the acculturation process, that is, the process by which people change their culture traits. Delicate human adjustments, fine sentiments, emotional upsets, the development of new behavior patterns are involved. The process by which immigrants give up their loyalty to one set of values and acquire a loyalty to values that are strange and foreign is complicated, deep-seated; it cannot be engineered well by amateurs or zealots. Understanding and zeal both are needed; either one alone is inadequate if not harmful.

When the local racial survey is completed, classes for the study of immigrants, of the community in which the immigrants live, of the acculturation process, of the local race problems, may be organized under church, club, or community auspices. The knowledge of the few regarding the immigrants may be disseminated among all the natives of the community, and an intelligent public opinion generated.

Organizing Language Classes. —Classes are needed for all immigrants who cannot use our language. Without a

(258) common means of communication, immigrants and natives cannot expect to understand each other; the immigrant can not protect himself from exploitation; he cannot become acquainted with the new culture; and the acculturation process is hampered, if not defeated. Distinctions need to be made between writing, spelling, speaking, and reading vocabularies for immigrants. The writing vocabulary used by an immigrant is usually small, being confined to the need for writing letters to friends and relatives. The spelling vocabulary is also limited, being closely related to the writing vocabulary. The speaking vocabulary is represented by daily conversations with fellow workmen and employers, and with friends. It can be learned best through speaking. The reading vocabulary needs to be the largest. At first it is limited by the content of letters and of newspapers, but later it expands to include magazine and book materials. Immigrants, like natives, need a much larger reading vocabulary than they do writing, spelling, or talking vocabularies.

Night-school classes and classes in factories during the daytime or at the close of the day's work are essential for immigrant men. Day classes for immigrant women held wherever it is most convenient for them to come together are likewise important. It is necessary that the education of the parents enable them to read, write, and speak the new language sufficiently well, so that their children, being educated in the public schools, do not become ashamed of them and do not cease to respect them. It is charged that the public schools educate the children of immigrants away from their parents, and thus break up the immigrant's family. The only adequate reply is to be found in more education for the parents.

In teaching the immigrant the new language, the native must not feel that the immigrant is to give up his own language. An immigrant who speaks English is a bilinguist and

( 259) hence valuable as a culture medium. He comes bringing a different culture from ours. When he learns our language, he is able to contribute the best of his culture to the best of ours and thus to enrich ours.

To teach immigrants, a person need not speak their language. Other things being equal, such a person will be more successful than if he knows and uses the language of the immigrants. In the latter case he will be repeatedly tempted to make explanations to the immigrants in their tongue, thus relieving them of the necessity of thinking in our tongue.

Day-time classes in factories, or on part-factory time for immigrant men give them a better chance than classes held at night. They are not so tired. Their education is not relegated entirely to a second place in the day's work. Education as a spiritual asset deserves to be placed ahead of material and commercial values.

Appropriate textbooks, methods, and equipment will repay any additional expenditure that may be involved. A text labeled English for New Americans has a much better psychological effect on the immigrant than one entitled English for Foreigners. Classes which meet around tables are much preferable to those in which adults sit in formal classroom seats made for children.

Home-teaching work is generally needed for the immigrant mother. She is usually the most isolated member of the immigrant family. She often needs training in household economics, in economical ways of buying food and other necessities, in scientific ways of preparing food, in sanitary science and personal hygiene. For natives to be invited into the immigrant's home and to give helpful assistance in the care of children and household management is of greatest importance.

Training Immigrants for Citizenship. — It is not enough that immigrants cram for naturalization examinations. It is worse, however, if they develop a dislike and a sense of

(260) reproach for their adopted country. At least a three months' course, generally under the auspices of the public school, is essential in helping the alien to catch the meaning of citizenship in a new land.

Education for naturalization is a delicate process. The immigrant cannot be lectured or threatened into becoming a "citizen." Workers with immigrants must remember that naturalization is denaturalization for many immigrants, in the sense that the immigrant must give up his loyalty to his native country and to a degree to his race. If he comes from a nation of which he is proud, then denationalization or the giving up of his nation loyalty is very difficult; he cannot become truly naturalized in his adopted country without wrenching loose some of the deepest loyalties that were developed in him in his pre-immigration days.

Every naturalization worker, whether voluntary or otherwise, who has not first learned the nature of the process by which a person gives up certain loyalties and acquires new ones is likely to do both the immigrant and his country more harm than good. In the same way that an American who goes to a foreign country " to make more money " reacts in favor of his native country when blunt attempts are made to get him to throw away his loyalty to the Stars and Stripes, so an immigrant may react in favor of his native land if Americanism becomes too blatant.

To get an immigrant to develop a new nation loyalty is an indirect and involved psychosocial process. Direct measures usually fail. The best procedure to follow is to see that the immigrant's living and working conditions become more attractive. If wages increase and if chances to move into " a better community " are afforded, then a new nation loyalty will automatically develop, and the old nation loyalty, unless challenged by the natives in the new land, will gradually take a secondary place.

To arrange for public citizenship exercises on the Fourth

( 261) of July or some similar occasion for those immigrants recently admitted to citizenship is excellent, providing such exercises are kept on a dignified plane and convey a genuine spirit of welcome, the inner and deeper meanings of citizenship, and an opportunity for the immigrant to begin participating in and contributing to the community life. Participation, after all, is the keynote of any sound citizenship program for immigrants, but it must be participation in building up community life, in bettering economic and social life, and in creating a more artistic and wholesome life.

Standards of admission to citizenship need to be put upon and kept on a high level of personal worth and achievement and then to be applied to all who can qualify, irrespective " of race, color, or previous condition of servitude." Admission to the country may well be placed on the same level. Since " race " is now recognized by nearly all ethnologists as a myth, and since every person is entitled to treatment on the basis of worth and achievement rather than on accident of birth, a sound program requires fair play be accorded each person as such. No nation, of course, can afford to be overrun by what it may regard as " the scum of the earth" ; but the personal test, if placed high enough, and administered adequately, will render protection to the nation, guarantee justice to the immigrant, and not disturb international good will. The " personal tests," however, should not be primarily of an industrial character; that is, an immigrant should not be admitted chiefly for the work he can do, but rather for the citizen he can become.

Working with Immigrants by Example. — Example is more important than precept in dealing with immigrants, as with any one else. The immigrant worker, or any native for that matter, who rides into a peasant-immigrant district with wealthy show, who " preaches " one-hundred-per-cent patriotism but violates speed laws, income tax laws, or even the moral code, or who "pities " or upbraids the immigrant for his shortcomings, arouses in the immigrant adverse reactions of an indelible nature. No kind deeds by a volunteer immigration worker can overbalance the oaths hurled by " bosses " at slow-moving immigrant

(262) peasants. To allow immigrants to be taken advantage of in our land, either by natives or by their own countrymen, cancels years of sound social welfare work.

In politics, the party boss who buys up the votes of immigrant citizens cheapens " democracy " almost beyond recall. To lecture the immigrant on his duties as a citizen or to put him in jail for voicing earnest protests, while allowing native wealthy Americans not only " to get around the law " but to boast about doing so, is fatal to assimilation.

The best kind of work with immigrants is that which sets them constructive examples in citizenship under pleasant circumstances, which gives them opportunities for economic and social advancement, which draws them out spontaneously in contributing the best of their culture and personalities to their adopted land, and which enables them to participate constructively in the local community life and development.


1. Map out a program for meeting the first time with a group of immigrants who wish to learn our language.

2. Outline a program concretely for making a thorough study of an immigrant colony in your community, using two paid workers and untrained, volunteer workers.

3. Prepare a budget for the above-mentioned study, covering a period of six months, including the writing and the publication of the report and incidental items.

4. Make out a program for naturalization exercises in your community for forty immigrants belonging to a number of races.

5. Study the housing conditions of an immigrant colony, and indicate the economic and other changes needed to put the group on a socially satisfactory basis.

6. Examine the labor conditions of an immigrant colony, and

( 263) make all recommendations for putting it upon a socially satisfactory basis.

7. Analyze the family life, organization, and problems of an immigrant colony.


BERKSON, I. B., Theories of Americanization. Teachers College, Columbia University, 1920.

BOGARDUS, E. S., The New Social Research. Jesse Ray Miller, Los Angeles, 1926.

BRECKINRIDGE, S. B., New Homes for Old. Harper, 1921.

BUTLER, F. C., Community Organization, United States Bureau of Education, Bulletin No. 80, 1919.

DANIELS, JOHN, America Via the Neighborhood. Harper, 1920.

DAVIS, M. M. JR., Immigrant Health and the Community. Harper, 1921.

FAIRCHILD, H. P., Immigrant Backgrounds, Chap. I. Wiley, 1927.

ROBERTS, PETER, English for Coming Americans. Association Press, 1909.

——, Civics for Coming Americans. Association Press, 1917.


No notes

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