Treatment of Immigrant Heritages
Herbert A. Miller
Oberlin College, Oberlin, Ohio
A New York newspaper recently contained the following editorial comment on the Italian crisis in the Peace Conference:
Not only is the average American little informed as to Fiume and the rights and wrongs of the Fiume question, but no American interest is affected. Whether the disputed city goes to Italy or whether to Jugoslavia touches no American concern. No matter what flag is up, it will be practically the same to us.
This statement expresses the sentiment of many well-meaning Americans, who would be startled to be told that such an attitude constitutes an actual menace to that very Americanism which they are so sure of in themselves.
It might be a true expression of the state of affairs if there were not two million Italians and 345,000 Jugoslavs in America, plus all their children born in this country, who at least double the numbers. These people are as intensely concerned as if the dispute affected their own immediate personal interests, and participate vicariously in the conflict as intensely as if they were not in America but still living in the actually disputed border regions. Approximately one-fourth of the population of the United States has an interest similarly in some boundary question in Europe, differing only in degree from that of the inhabitants of Fiume.
It is much nearer the truth to say that America's relation to the question in every disputed area in Europe is such that to be indifferent to it is to invite our own destruction, if there were no other reason for a league of nations, the fifteen million people in America who come from the stock of the
( 731) countries of middle Europe and the 27 million altogether from Europe constitute a sufficient reason.
Problems arising from the presence of the immigrant among us are agitating many communities, and conscious efforts at Americanization have become manifold. The success or failure of these efforts depends fundamentally on our perception of the immigrant, not as an isolated human entity, but as a personality not to be detached from its peculiar matrix of psychological relationships, and incomprehensible except as part of a functioning larger social whole.
The Heritage of Attitudes
What the immigrant brings to America is primarily a complex of attitudes. What he needs is a proper meeting of those attitudes. These may be regarded in three fundamentally different phases: that of the normal adult person; the normal group attitude; and the pathological group attitude. The adult immigrant has fixed habits of thought, as the thinking habits of any individual anywhere take a definite bent with maturity. He has all the instincts and emotions common to mankind because he is a man; in each individual case these have become settled in a particular mold which conforms to the manners and traditions of a particular Old World habitat. In other words, the foreign-born man is normal with virtues and vices which are more or less fixed because of the age at which he comes to us. We must expect to find all sorts of limitations and prejudices in the mental adjustments of the immigrant as in that of any individual. By studying our own personal make-up carefully we can explain many of the problems of an alien personality.
Just as naturally the immigrant is part of a normal group attitude. He is both physically and psychologically a member of a distinctive group, which has distinctive group attitudes. Thus we have family customs and standards of value that cannot be affected by a geographical or political change. Each nationality as represented by its immigrant group is essentially distinctive, and contributes its unique values and its unique problems. Common language, common religion, and common geographical origin have developed within the several groups characteristics that arc definite and persistent. They differ widely from one another, and however much they may seem alike to an outsider, in the consciousness of the members of the respective groups they arc most highly differentiated.
Hitherto almost the only distinction of groups that we have made has been between the earlier immigrants from western Europe, and the more - recent ones from eastern Europe. The earlier comers were a relatively homogeneous migration as contrasted with the later. They were of common stock with the first American settlers, or belonged to races akin or at least familiar to the established "Americans."
The Basis of Group Conflict
The great mass of the recent immigration differs much more from the community into which it has come, and much more also with respect to the component groups within itself. The juxtaposition of these groups either in Europe or America makes conflict perfectly normal, When a grow has P consciousness of group personality, it finds itself in competition with other
groups. Each has a distinctive history, and the fact that this history is familiar to and intimately associated with its life as no other history is, enhances it to the group and makes for a group egotism. Thus certain recognized values come to inhere in the group to which we belong, or to the community which it forms; these values or virtues, because they are ours, seem to us the superior ones among all values. The more genuinely a group has this feeling, the more surely will it feel itself in conflict with the others. It makes no difference whether the comparison be between Boston and St.
( 732) Louis, Harvard and Yale, Republican and Democrat, capital and labor, or Jugoslav and Italian. Each thinks the world would be better if the others would adopt._ its values, just as New England would like to culturize the Middle West. The consciousness of its 'position frequently makes for mutually exclusive comparisons and violent antipathies that seem irreconcilable. Nevertheless individuals may make a complete transfer from one group to another. The test of the normal conflict is whether this change is possible.
In middle Europe the bases of group organization are highly particularized. The various languages, religions, and histories have made peculiar solidarities, and evolved genuine values. We must expect, then, in the case of groups so constituted, more persistent tendency to retain their integrity than in the case of simpler groups.
One universal concomitant of group consciousness is the feeling that qualities are enhanced by measure of magnitude. There is not a Chamber of Commerce in the United States that does not overestimate the population of its community, and condemn the census when the correct figures are given. One of the difficulties in the heterogeneously settled communities of eastern Europe is that each of two nationalities will claim a majority in a district. This is perfectly normal; people associate almost altogether with other persons who speak their own language, and therefore they see their own kind predominantly. The result of this tendency is strikingly illustrated in the case of foreign-language communities in America. A Polish woman who spent six months traveling in America reported that the United States was a Polish-speaking country. Most of the persons in this audience have probably always assumed that Boston, Cleveland and Chicago are English-speaking cities, when as a matter of fact less than half of the inhabitants of these cities speak English. In Cleveland, for example, 56 per cent of the children in the schools do not speak English in their homes.
All groups and classes have a tendency to overestimate their own values, and when the supreme values of nationality and religion are the basis of the grouping, contacts of any sort inevitably bring conflicts. In middle and southeastern Europe the national groupings marked by language and religion are the basis of the history of the peoples, and constitute the emotional background. When these essential ingrained differences in addition to natural community egotisms are made the basis of territorial controversy, the difficulty is more serious because the issues become by so much the more subjective; and they represent absolutely honest attitudes.
Even where such issues have a much slighter historical validity, attitudes and conflicts tend easily to the extreme, and pass beyond the possibility of objective evaluation by the groups involved.
The United States can 'parallel almost any of the boundary disputes of Europe with only a shadow of the justification of the latter. "Fifty-four, forty or fight!" over a boundary disputes with Canada sounds strangely like "Fiume or death !" The Ohio-Michigan boundary conflict offers the most outstanding comparison. In the original survey an error was made which would have deprived Ohio of approximately 360 square miles. There was constant controversy from 1812 to 1836, and the violence of feeling and language is now almost incomprehensible. In 1818, the secretary of Michigan wrote John Quincy Adams, then secretary of state, begging that Michigan be protected from Ohio, which had "swollen to the dimensions of a giant; .and as Michigan is a frontier state, it should be strong to protect the Union against countless hordes of savages in the Northwest and the rapidly growing power of Canada." When the Senate passed a bill in 1835 giving the territory to Ohio, Michigan, memorialized Congress saying that she would resist, "let the attempt be made by whom it may, to rob her of her soil and trample on her rights." Ohio retaliated with a special session of the legislature which
( 733) appropriated $300,000 because "the great and powerful city of Detroit . . . . united to oppress and weaken the little village of Toledo," and the honor of the state was -pledged to protect its citizens who had been persecuted by Michigan "with a degree of reckless vengeance rarely paralleled in the history of civilized nations." Finally the dispute was amicably settled when Michigan was given the Upper Peninsula which was a concession geographically as irrational than it would be to give Luxembourg to Italy.
The significant thing about these deeply emotionalized conflicts is that no one cares an iota now how the matter was finally settled. Toledo would have been just as happy under the jurisdiction of Michigan as under that of Ohio: The point that should be noted is that there are conflicts which may he very intense, but which when once settled in any way, are entirely forgotten with the lapse of time.
The Oppression Psychosis
Conflicts of this sort, however irrational they may seem, yet permit of being resolved, leaving no trace of the strain and excitability involved at the time, and in contradistinction to contests which breed morbid antagonisms and long enduring supersensitivities may be regarded as perfectly normal. In addition to normal conflicts, the conditions of Europe have developed this latter kind of pathological situation. Most of the national groupings have been so- stimulated to self-accentuation by imperialistic oppression, that they no longer represent normal mental attitudes, but what might be called oppressed-nationality psychoses. Dividing and ruling by force has created antagonisms and inhibitions which constitute a heritage of all the new nations of Europe, and thus are congenital in the psychological make-up of the majority. of our immigrants.
Forcible methods of assimilation were directed first against language and ρ then against religion, so that the resulting inhibitions constitute "balked dispositions" or distinct psychoses that are very deep-seated. The instinct for freedom is universal; when it is inhibited it breaks out in diverse and exaggerated forms. By reason of suggestion the form such expression takes will be comparatively uniform through a given group. It may be chauvinism, which is the focussing of attention on the supreme significance of the national values.' It is a positive resistance to the suppression of group individuality, which is far more important to most human beings than person individuality.
Had it been possible, Austria-Hungary would have forced the eight non-German nationalities of the empire to speak only German; but the result of her attempt was the complete dissolution of the empire. Under such a condition, preservation of language becomes the highest duty of the group. Certainly one of the contributing causes of the present disorganization of Europe was the oppression-psychosis instituted by Bismarck when he forbade the Poles ín Posen the use of their own language.
Religion and Nationalism
Religion is the other most obvious symbol of national unity. Religious expression in some form is normal and universal; but when the religious organization is built up to supply a fighting machinery it tends to become abnormal, and it acquires strength in direct proportion to the efforts made to crush the nationality of its member's. Among the Poles the strength of clerical organization has been stimulated by the ruthless methods of protestant Prussia and orthodox Russia. On the other hand, free thinking Bohemia is explained by the alliance of the church with Vienna, the oppressor of Bohemian nationality; as the religious indifference of the Italians is' explained by the struggle of the Vatican for temporal power. The synagogue is strong where Christians oppress Jews. Protestant England has controlled Catholic Ireland by force until to many people the terms Irish and Catholic are synonyms. Where economic and political exploitation has been aided by
( 734) the church, the technique of devotion which normally related itself to religion is often carried over in a new adherence to socialism.
An oppressed people never gives up its struggle for its language and its religion. Under conditions of freedom these are only means tο a fuller life; under oppression they become the objects of life. The freeing of oppressed nations was one of the objects of the war. The restoration of normal national psychoses is one of the necessities of peace.
Unfortunately the self-cherishing or sense of superiority which is a compensating or defense reaction in an oppression psychosis tends when pressure is removed to become expansive and so easily metamorphosed into an imperialistic or oppressor-psychosis. The laborer who becomes foreman, the proletarian who becomes a dictator, the Pilgrims who become religious autocrats illustrate such evolutions. Germany long ago had her oppression experience and passed from that to a psychopathically imperialistic stage. Italian irredentism, which was the product of oppression, has tended to become imperialistic, and every other nation which has had a similar experience will tend in the same direction, unless some method of resolving such initial complexes is devised.
The resultant of these abnormal psychoses or exaggerated attitudes is reflected in the character of both individuals and groups. They become self-conscious and supersensitive. Having been compelled to concentrate their attention so much upon themselves, they interpret all criticism subjectively. They cannot think of themselves objectively. Like women their power of self-valuation is out of focus. They are likely to be suspicious of one of their own number who stands out above the rest,, for under the conditions of oppression anyone who became prominent 'was probably playing into the hands of the oppressor and thus was a traitor to the group. On the other hand, when freedom is secured, too many want to become leaders without having provedtheir by experience.
Immigrant Brings an Object Lesson in Political Science
The significance of all this is what every one of these normal and abnormal attitudes constitute the immigrant heritage brought to America. We are thereby made reapers of the whirlwind sown by the imperialism of Europe. What the immigrant can give us most definitely is an object-lesson in political science. If we heed it we can reform the world; if we ignore it we shall help to perpetuate what this war sought to banish from the earth. it is quite unnecessary to travel in Europe to learn the history and results of oppression. Their impress is vivid and virile in every industrial city in the United States. One can literally learn more about Europe in a month in Pittsburgh, Cleveland or Chicago than in a year in Europe. This is the most outstanding contribution of the immigrant to America. His hatred of oppression was one of our greatest assets in the war, for it not only, made technical enemies actual allies, but made them allies of the utmost merit--a fact we were too slow to recognize.
The immigrant brings us a great and varied language content which we have hitherto almost wasted. We have actually counted it a liability when the children of immigrants have known sonic other language than English, and have tried to teach them to despise rather than cherish it. At the same time we have been inconsistently spending millions of dollars trying to teach foreign languages to our native-born children.
He brings us also a number of religious forms and values which have come from the experience of human beings in their struggle for spiritual realization. A sympathetic understanding of these religious institutions may greatly enrich and enlarge the spiritual vision of America.
The tendency to clannishness or segregation which is so often emphasized in the discussion of the immigrant is an example of a normal tendency
( 735) becoming pathological because of determining conditions. This segregation is, in normal circumstances of mutual respect between groups, merely a Manifestation of a common human impulse without any predetermining consciousness about it. People who come from the same country naturally have a like-mindedness about manners and customs and habits. All of us try to I live in a congenial neighborhood with the result that we all really live in segregated districts. But when indications of discrimination arise, there grows up a proportionate self-consciousness on the part of the group which is being discriminated against, and the tendency to differentiate themselves as a group crystallizes into a definite and fixed defensive purpose.
Defensive psychoses have in general been created by the artificial stimulation of normal differences into conscious bases of antagonism. In Austria-Hungary this was developed to a fine art; historical, geographical, linguistic and religious differences were magnified both between and within national groups, until such a mass of hatreds was developed as will exist long after the cause is removed.
The Futility of Force
There is no more interesting chapter in history than the successful efforts of a dozen or more peoples to prevent their language from being lost. They have proven that it is impossible to destroy a language by force. The Poles of Prussia and the Czechs of Austria gradually won against the most subtle methods of imperialism. Since language is a more obvious and normal bond of unity even than religion, it has !nest often been the object of attack , by dominant powers, and therefore has been made a definite end of the national struggle. Thus in the conflict there was developed among some of the European peoples a pathological psychosis in regard to language which is a heritage we must adjust ourselves to meet in those who have come to this country.
Similarly the religious attitudes of every immigrant group in America, with the possible exception of the Scandinavians, are abnormal because of the political experience of the group in Europe. The classic first immigrants who came to America the Pilgrim Fathers, came for religious freedom; no less did those who came in the steerage of the last ship. The bigotry of the one is no greater than that of the other.
The most difficult of the psychoses with which we have to deal in America result from just these attitudes that have become pathological through the experience of oppression in Europe. The animosities between groups and within groups are as intense here as in Europe, and they present immeasurably complex problems which must be solved. If we take for illustration the case of the Jugoslavs, we have the example of a people who are trying to form a unified state and common consciousness in Europe, after having been successively ruled by Turk and Teuton, and lately living under five different political systems. They have four religions, two alphabets, and four historic divisions—Serb, Montenegrin, Croat and Slovene. Their educational opportunities have been limited, and they have a different problem on each border. The complexity bred in Europe do not become less complex in America, for in the minds of the seven hundred thousand representatives here there has been perpetuated the consciousness of the past without the restraint of the immediate practical responsibilities which must be met in Europe,
We must never forget in approaching the problem of the foreign-born in America, that the questions involved are as various as the nationalities which make them, and that if we are going to succeed in dealing with them, we must know them as the product of historic groups with distinctive backgrounds.
The Irish Question
The immigrant will not forget his mother-country so long as he thinks the demands of justice there require his attention. The case of the Irish
( 736) is an example of immigrants who know English and are generally citizens of the United States, but who are as group-conscious as the Jugoslavs or the Italians. For the so-called "Irish question" will be settled in America only when it is settled in Ireland. The reason for the perpetuation of Irish nationalism is England—not any fault in our school system.
The president of the school board of a Massachusetts city in explaining his interest in the Irish question, made the following statement:
Our immediate ancestors, fathers and grandfathers, felt the iron heel upon their necks in their early lives, and in our childhood we were fed with stories of evictions, landlord oppressions, and religious persecutions which sent us to bed night after night in fear and trembling, lest before morning some Englishman should get into the house and snatch the children away to chains and slavery. Growing older, we went into the world and met, more often than not, petty persecutions at the hands of those who did not understand us and the things we held sacred. We saw in it all, translated to this side of the Atlantic, the same spirit of persecution which drove our fathers from the land of their birth, and we have come to manhood carrying chips on our shoulders because of the things which men have done to us on account of our race and our religion.
The group-consciousness of the Irish is one of the finest examples of a psychosis. Carrying a chip on one's shoulder through life is certainly pathological. Neither knowledge of English nor American citizenship through naturalization or by birth affects in the slightest degree the vividness of the Irish emotion. The Irish illustrate what, until justice is established in Europe, will happen in every oppressed group whose individuals have migrated in such large numbers to America, but it will be much more complicated by the varieties of language and religion.
Political oppression has generally been accompanied by landlordism and snobbish aristocracy, and has created an additional proletarian psychosis. To understand and sympathize with this psychosis is the first step toward clearing up what looks like the element of malevolence in its character. Extreme radicalism loses its fearsomeness when its psychopathic origin is understood. It cannot be cured by more oppression.
On the other hand, some of the keenest critics of incipient oppressive institutions and attitudes are immigrants. In so far as class prejudice and junkerism prevail in America, the fact that those who have suffered from it in Europe are thereby equipped to discern it here may be one of our best American assets.
The Fallacy of Teaching English
A favorite formula for disposing of the immigrant is to say "Let him learn English and become a goad American. Make him forget about the squabbles in Europe. As a matter of fact he neither does nor will accept this formula, and any community which tries to enforce it is preparing to reap a whirlwind. Most immigrants come to America to get freedom—not solely nor mainly economic freedom, but freedom from alien domination. The emigrant from middle Europe brings with him traditions concerning the treatment of his language, such that when he is presented with the compulsion to learn English the first tendency is to resist it, especially if the compulsion is accompanied with the implication that he will thereby quickly forget his past... Much of his nature has been in the atmosphere of a distant, glorious, and probably exaggerated national past before his fathers came under the heel of the oppressor. As a Pole or an Irishman he has thought much more of the centuries gone by than of the hopeless future.
There is no more imperative duty for America than the right treatment of the language question. It was compulsion to learn German, Russian and Magyar that created the attitudes that underlie some of the most complex problems in Europe at the present time. Many of our zealous patriots have innocently assumed the policy of oppressive Europe, and have come to feel that, assimilation of the immigrant into American life can be attained by the
( 737) sole method of teaching English. The value of English to the foreigner himself is so great that every effort should be made to make him realize the importance of it to himself, and to provide proper opportunities through which he may accomplish this end. But it should be made perfectly clear to him that all that is not for the purpose of making him forget his national individuality. The following quotation from the New York Nation concerning the Lawrence strike illustrates the disadvantage to the immigrant himself of being shut off from a common medium of communication.
For years the textile manufacturers have carried on a policy of gathering in the peasants of eastern and southeastern Europe to operate the looms of New England. These immigrants were distributed so that no more than fifteen per cent of any one race were employed in a single mill, and the apportionment was dispassionately determined so that men and women racially hostile to one another worked side by side. Tins was to render organization impossible and thus keep wages low.
What has been true at Lawrence has been true in many other industries, so that it is obvious that the foreign-born need English to safeguard themselves from exploitation.
We Should Foster the Language of the Immigrant
But the teaching of English should be called education, not Americanization, which is likely to offend because it implies the same old culture domination which is more hateful than political domination. We should foster the self-respect of the immigrant by respecting the language for whose very existence his people have struggled for centuries. One method would be to offer these languages in our colleges and universities. As Chicago and Milwaukee have already done, we should offer in the high schools courses in any foreign language for which there are children demanding it in numbers sufficient to form a class. We could thus preserve the language possession already attained by the children, and also promote respect in the children for their parents; and in the parents we should be dislodging the suspicion that America practices the hated policy of Europe. There is no other way comparable with this for making English respected and loved, for it will thus stand out as a medium of opportunity and not as an instrument of annihilation.
In the same way the foreign-born need their press. They need it because there is no other way in which they can learn the news of the world, and the facts and purposes of American life. Even if they learn English they will not be able to get into its spirit as they live in that of their native tongue. How many of us who have studied French and German much more than the average immigrant will ever be able to study English would choose a French or German newspaper in preference to an English one?
The foreign-born offer us the opportunity of appropriating spiritual values in unfamiliar forms. Unless we become able to do this we shall not be prepared to live in the new era.
The Identity of America With Europe
We must accept at their face value, and with infinite patience, both the normal and pathological attitudes. The foreign-born will never forget the land of their origin and their responsibility for it so long as injustice prevails there; the identification of America with the problems of Europe, therefore, is so close that we cannot escape our share in the responsibility however much we may wish. There can be co real Americanization of the immigrant unless there is a real league of nations, as the symbol of a real organization which will substitute in Europe a reign of justice for the reign of immorality. The isolation of America is a pure illusion. The only way it can be regained is by identifying ourselves with a democratic reorganization of Europe. If
( 738) an unjust domination is imposed on Germany, the many millions of German stock in America will gradually and inevitably develop a political solidarity such as they never knew before.
Most of the nations of Europe have only one or two international problems, but we have every one of the problems of all the nations within our borders. To deny or overlook this is to pull down over our own heads the pillars upon which rest our political and social structures. No country in Europe is so dependent on the peace conference and the League of Nations as the United States. Fifty per cent of the Irish, 20 per cent of the Poles, and a large percentage of all of the other long-oppressed peoples are in America and constitute from one-third to two-thirds of the population of many of our leading centers.
The foreign-born need a renewal of the faith that has been waning faith inn the freedom and democracy of America—to obtain which they came to these shores. Through what those who came here told their oppressed kinsmen in Europe, the latter came to look to America for salvation, and through them the real purpose of America may still be the salvation of Europe. But to discriminate against those who are living among us means a perpetuation in America of the hatreds of the past in Europe. We must devise a political science and social practice which will give them the self-expression here that self-determination aims to give in Europe.
Just as finally the American authorities tried to mobilize the attitudes of the immigrants for purposes of war, so they must mobilize them for peace. Foolish and frantic methods of Americanization should yield to the realization that we are dealing with a psychological and moral problem, and that the league of nations is potential in the United States. If we could organize the representatives of the countries of Europe who are in America behind a program for a reconstructed world, we should have an instrument for world-order whose potentiality cannot be measured. Instead, we hide our heads in the sand and think to make them forget by teaching them English.
There is no panacea for dealing with the immigrant simpler than that required for the whole world. And the existing deep-seated psychoses can only be cured through a long process of time. We must deal as wise physicians with a soul-sick people for whose trouble we have no responsibility but who have become an integral part of our lives.
The spirit and method of Americanization must be part and parcel of the solution of the problems of Europe. The relations of groups, both in conflict and in co-operation, is the paramount issue of human society. If we can learn even a few of the laws underlying the conflict of" groups we shall make rapid progress where we have been blindly groping. But in the meantime all these problems will resist solution until there is a just reorganization of Europe. Only when the ideals of democracy have removed the possibility of imperialistic exploitation, will there be no longer a need for chauvinism to combat it. America cannot save herself unless Europe is saved. Whether we will or not, our immigrants make the world-problem our problem.