The Strength of America
V. The Menace of Americanization
Simon J. Lubin and Christina Krysto
TO discuss the menace of Americanization, it will be well, perhaps, to establish in our minds a working definition of the term Americanization itself.
We proudly maintain that ours is the best of all lands in which to live. And yet we do not base our claim upon America's natural resources or upon its wealth; we would hesitate to make the boast because of its great population or its economic and industrial progress. All these factors enter, to be sure, into the basis for our contention, but they fall far short of forming the whole of it. For we would maintain that that which is fine and that of which we are proud goes far beyond these concrete things which can be listed offhand; it is that quality which sometimes, roughly, we designate as freedom or justice or democracy, but which is even greater than any one of these—the soul of our nation, the spirit of America.
To be an American is to possess this spirit, to feel that one's own life is in accord with it, and to know that one's own aspirations are in accord with the best interests of the nation.
In turn, Americanism is the sum total of those doctrines which give content to this spirit of America, and keep our nation to its course—the sum total, in other words, of the policies which underlie the nation's customs, its laws, its international dealings, its political, economic and industrial progress, policies, in short, through which the spirit shows itself to this nation's citizens and to the world.
Americanization, then, should be the propaganda that, on the one hand, puts forth before all the people this Americanism and, on the other, gives to all the people the vision and the opportunity to do their share in improving its doctrines, thus accomplishing the double purpose of making them more worthy of the nation within which they live and of making the nation itself better because of them. It should lift the inhabitants of America, foreign born and native born alike, to a plane which is worthy of the best nation, aid in turn make that nation worthy of being the home of the best developed people. Playing within its fullest scope, Americanization should go far beyond the confines of the United States and reach out to all the peoples of the earth..
This is no mean mission, and there can be no time limit to its ultimate accomplishment. Nor can it be said that it has failed to enlist its supporters. Americanization has taken the country by storm. Every social organization, every religious society, every large industry, every woman's club has been busy for months mapping out its own particular program. The study of Americanization has been used to stimulate interest in organizations which were dying a natural death; Americanization has been used as a pretext for sudden improvements in industrial management when the attitude of labor has made sudden improvements imperative; Americanization has been used to give employment to social workers out of jobs. Lack of interest has not been the fault in connection with carrying on the undertaking. But a fault, and a grave fault, there has been.
Every political party has its hangers-on who, consciously or unconsciously, discredit the fine principles of that party by their erroneous expounding of these. Every new phase in industrial progress has its profiteers—men who capitalize the advanced ideas of their field for their own interests, regard-
(611) -less of the harm which they bring to the whole by their methods. Every scientific discovery has its charlatans who mix enough of the truth with their lies to undermine the whole truth when their lies become known. Every religion has its false messiahs, and many a man has been made an unbeliever because he has followed these too easily and been disappointed too grievously. In relation to the truth these are all perverts, and the best that can be said concerning the group as a whole is that some of them are themselves misled and have absolute faith in the pernicious doctrines which they teach.
Looking critically at this great wave of Americanization which has swept and is sweeping over our land, we observe that it too has its perverts, perverts most varied because the doctrine itself is endless in its intricacies, perverts most rabid because the doctrine itself touches the deepest emotions, perverts most harmful in the destructive tendencies because the constructive working out of the doctrine itself is vital to the very life of our nation. And herein lies the menace of Americanization.
In a mission such as this there are several possible difficulties. The work itself, though headed iii the right direction under a well constructed plan, may yet go very slowly, very haltingly, for want of a clear understanding, for want of skilled hands, for want of proper means. And about this type of difficulty there is nothing alarming; it only conforms to the fortunes of any new social movement and in any new social movement impatience can have no place.
When the work is not headed in the right direction, however, and there is no well-constructed plan of action, then there is cause for concern. And the ill fortune which then befalls the work is not the ill fortune of a progress which is too slow or too uncertain, but of a good idea gone wrong, of failure which is more than the absence of success, because it not only fails to build, but wrecks all that has been already established.
Into this last pitfall Americanization is falling more and more deeply. And, in general, the cause underlying the menace and the resulting perversions with which we have to deal is the assumption that Americanization consists of doing "something" to the foreign born, that "something" designed to make him exactly like the native born who, by common consent, seems to be held worthy of any nation. Few realize that in the program of real Americanization the immigrant is but an incident. He must have special attention at times because of the special handicaps imposed upon him by the strangeness of his environment, but this special attention, these special helps, are for the purpose of bringing him into the main line of march. The major work of Americanization begins when he enters that line beside the native born and that work deals with the line as a whole. To strive to bring the foreign born only up to the level of the native born is to drop the work of improving the nation as soon as that foreign born stands ready to contribute his share to that improving.
FAILURE to accept this is largely responsible for much of the purposeless work now being carried on. And, given no definite purpose big enough to merit the highest efforts of the best minds, the undertaking itself falls into the hands of the false messiahs, some working with eyes wide open, ethers with unseeing eyes, but all doing whatever is in their power to retard and hinder the work without which the future of our nation is dark indeed. Americanization?" cry the employers of labor. "That is all very simple. Teach the men to stay on their jobs—that's Americanization! Teach them that being good citizens means sticking to their work and net jeopardizing the country's output! The country needed them to help win the war, now the country needs them to help put the world en its feet again. To be worthy of the name of Americans, be they from Portugal, Spain, or Holland, let them keep on the job!" How often does this fine-sounding plea merely cloak a determination to keep men—especially the more handicapped foreign born—at their work under wretched working conditions, to the private profit of the employer and the admiration of a certain type of " 100 per cent American." And could not this mode of procedure be rightly called an industrial perversion of Americanization?
HARD upon this comes a second type of perversion. " Americanization is the preservation of the status quo! Criticism may be all right ín thought. But since nothing is holier than this status quo, any criticism which tends to overthrow it is disloyalty! Therefore, anyone who desires to express his thought must take his cue from those in authority. And those who have had their training in other lands in the art of being silent for fear of punishment, let them remember the lesson they have learned! " In the light of the early history of this country, which began with a protest, forceful both in language and in action, against oppression; in the light of our guarantees of freedom of speech and of press, it is perhaps not too strong a term to designate this practice as a patriotic perversion.
Close upon its heels we find something just a bit more harmful. " Americanization is the acquiring of American citizenship! We should take a census of all the people of the United States, and drive into the ocean all those who had not declared their intention of becoming citizens! " Somehow there seems to be scarcely anything which could be less desirable. Leaving Out of the question for the moment the attitude of the foreign born toward such a decree—their sense of injury at being met with force at the outset—leaving out of the question the violation of the comity of nations, can we look upon American citizenship as upon a thing so cheap that it is to be thrust upon unwilling newcomers, rather than made a thing of such value that these newcomers would work joyfully for the privilege? It is only the political perverts of Americanization who would force citizenship upon anyone.
" Americanization is teaching English to foreigners!" We have heard these six words ad nauseam and we hear them oftener and oftener as the months go by. " They've got to know English!" In a certain city of the United States a well-intentioned lot of men and women recently prepared an elaborate banquet for a group of immigrants. " Showing them we respect them and are interested in them and their nation," so they explained it. Beautifully engraved invitations were sent to members of that foreign born group as well as to a number of prominent citizens who were to act as hosts. At the appointed time the hosts, properly arrayed, took their places. But none of the foreign born guests appeared. Investigation brought forth a simple explanation—the invitations were printed in English and none of the immigrants could read them. The originators of the banquet had not thought of extending the "respect and interest " sufficiently to include the newcomers' language. Perhaps they dismissed the incident with the thought that, anyway, " these foreigners " should have known English; what did they come to America for? Yet they were exposing one of the greatest
(612) of all perversions of Americanization—the educational perversion: "To make good Americans of 'em teach 'em English! "
" We need the immigrant to maintain production. But the sooner he forgets his habits and traditions, the better for him and far us! With the change in costume let him assume our customs and beliefs. For his are all wrong and ours are all right! Immediate assimilation to our mode of thought and action is his only salvation! " This is at once a psychologic and a national perversion of Americanization. Psychologic because it presupposes mental and spiritual gymnastics that are absurd and impossible; national because it would throw out all national traits that are of value to the stranger, that make him in fact what he is, ignoring, furthermore, all good which the stranger who exhibits his national characteristics may bring to America.
THERE is a somewhat similar attitude which goes further still. "This land is destined to be the home of the square-eyed and green-haired race. The earth's most favored spot should be preserved to the superior people. Intermarriage with the round-eyed and the blue-haired who come from alien lands will lead to a lowering of the American standard! Therefore let us persecute and drive out all but those originally favored! " May we not call this a racial perversion?
Several years ago, before a California audience gathered to discuss the effect of the opening of the Panama Canal upon that state, the principal speaker used substantially these words:
Soon there will flaw into our midst certain turbid streams from across the ocean. Pope-ridden Italians, steeped in ignorance, will come to our shores. Dirty Jews, still suffering for the sins of their ancestors, will knock at our gates. Illiterate Russians will creep out of their thatched villages and flood our land. Bigoted peoples from all the countries across the sea will come out of medieval darkness and storm our wonderful United States. Brothers, the task is great, but the procedure simple. As they enter, we must approach them in the spirit of the Master, and, with open arms, bring them to our Jesus and our ways.
Could it be contended, with any degree of logic, that this is not a religious perversion?
Though the list seems over-long already, the greatest perversion is still to be named, and with that perversion the majority of Americanization enthusiasts could be safely charged. On every hand we run into people who are tremendously energetic about doing something for "those poor immigrants." Of what that something should be they have not the slightest conception. Their desire, to quote the head of immigrant education in a large California city, is "to grab a poor unsuspecting immigrant, carry him bodily to a far corner, and proceed to 'Americanize ' him." Their attitude can best be expressed in the words spiritual slumming. We have long ago drifted away from the more obvious slumming habits of some of the earlier social workers. But the vast tide of Americanization has brought the spiritual slumming habits, which have been more difficult to cope with. When this emotional perversion will have died a natural death, then the true Americanization will have an easier time of it.
The pity of the existing conditions is not alone that those pseudo -Americanization efforts fall short of their mark. It is net even that they accomplish actual harm by discouraging their own champions with their ultimate futility, and by bewildering the foreign born upon whom they are directed. The pity of it goes further.
To most of the leaders indicated above we must attribute the virtue of energy. And it is energy misdirected, expended in' wrong channels, energy wasting itself in repeated organization and suborganization and super-organization which we observe all around us and which has crept even into the sacred precincts of federal activity. And when we measure the results of the above-mentioned Americanization prophets we must measure them not only by their failure to advance the cause they have championed, nor even by the actual harm they have done to that cause, but, over and above both of these, we must take into account the good which might have been accomplished had all this vast energy, wrongly expended, been wisely directed into proper channels and wisely guided toward a definite goal. It is here, in the difference between the potential positive accomplishment and the actual negative result, that the real work of the Americanization perverts shows itself. It is this wide discrepancy which points, from a new angle, to the need of direction by the entire Americanization movement, direction which would encompass the many who are now working hard along paths which lead nowhere and who would be glad to choose the better path did they but know how.
Necessarily this better path, the real Americanization, must presuppose an attitude of mind which makes development, not repression, the guiding principle of all its procedure, and which encourages every talent, every thought, every creative impulse that can help to make American life fuller and better. This conception of Americanization presupposes the existence of true freedom, the freedom which is more than the right to cast one's vote and to express one's opinion; for it must include the opportunity to develop one's creative forces to the fullest capacity and to apply such forces consciously and continuously to the task of building a better nation.
THIS process of nation building is an organic growth, achieved through the giving of proper direction, proper encouragement and proper aid to national cultural elements whether their origin is here or abroad. America is unique in these two advantages—first, it is not yet so bound by convention that the fluency of its thought is impaired; second, it has the best means conceivable for utilizing the cultural elements of all the other lands, which come to it in a form best adapted for satisfactory development, brought here, as they are, by human beings. And in a process which is worthy of the opportunity there is no place for the application of iron bands of restraint to the vital creative forces--of either the foreign born or the native barn—restraint which, in some form, appears in every perversion of Americanization which we have mentioned above.
Again, we repeat, Americanization, the propaganda of true Americanism which is the soul of our nation, is something much more than teaching American standards to our immigrants. In this propaganda the immigrant plays but a minor part and is noticeable only because both his difficulties and his contributions are of a peculiar sort. All of the perversions enumerated further garble the question by calling undue attention to the foreign born in attempting, by merely doing something spectacular to these foreign born, to solve our national difficulties.
It is only by adequately preparing for the whole subject of nation building, it is only by formulating a plan which will take in all the aspects necessary to make of our nation the best place possible, that we can make clear in that scheme the proper place of immigration and the immigrant. Nothing short of the formulating of such a plan and a definite and earnest following of it can accomplish this, and nothing short of it can eliminate the menace of Americanization.