My Immigrant Heritage
I was born a citizen of the United States of America, but my family is relatively new to this continent. On April 21, 1900, the H. H. Meier (pictured here) arrived at the Port of Baltimore, having sailed from Bremen. My great-grandfather was aboard, though very young at the time. I share a heritage with nearly 1 in 6 Americans today. They came for peace, for work, for a better life.
The remainder of this post is a compilation of clippings from articles and papers available online. I've assembled them in tribute to my forebears, and in defense of what I see as a dangerous - if not entirely new - rise in nationalism.
From 1820 to 1870, over seven and a half million immigrants came to the United States — more than the entire population of the country in 1810. Nearly all of them came from northern and western Europe — about a third from Ireland and almost a third from Germany. Click here to read the full article from UShistory.org.
By 1900, Baltimore boasted a German population of 34,000. And by 1914, on the eve of World War I, 94,000 Germans lived in the city, making up 20 percent of the population. So profound was the German influence in the city that through the 1920s, a third of the city's public schools included German as part of the regular curriculum, and one in four Baltimoreans could speak German fluently. And with the large German population came a pressing need for German-language newspapers. Click here to read the full article from The Baltimore Sun.
The coming of World War I brought with it a backlash against German culture in the United States. When the U.S. declared war on Germany in 1917, anti-German sentiment rose across the nation, and German American institutions came under attack. Some discrimination was hateful, but cosmetic: The names of schools, foods, streets, and towns, were often changed, and music written by Wagner and Mendelssohn was removed from concert programs and even weddings. Physical attacks, though rare, were more violent: German American businesses and homes were vandalized, and German Americans accused of being "pro-German" were tarred and feathered, and, in at least once instance, lynched.
The most pervasive damage was done, however, to German language and education. German-language newspapers were either run out of business or chose to quietly close their doors. German-language books were burned, and Americans who spoke German were threatened with violence or boycotts. German-language classes, until then a common part of the public-school curriculum, were discontinued and, in many areas, outlawed entirely. None of these institutions ever fully recovered, and the centuries-old tradition of German language and literature in the United States was pushed to the margins of national life, and in many places effectively ended.
President Woodrow Wilson spoke disapprovingly of "hyphenated Americans" whose loyalty he claimed was divided. One government official warned that "Every citizen must declare himself American--or traitor." Many German Americans struggled with their feelings, realizing that sympathy for their homeland appeared to conflict with loyalty to the U.S. Click here to read the full article from the Library of Congress.
Commenting on the census of 1890 which showed U.S. population had increased by over 12 million from the previous decade, Wilson noted that, “Immigrants poured steadily in as before, but with an alteration of stock which students of affairs marked with uneasiness.” Up to that time, Wilson continued, “men of sturdy stocks of the north of Europe had made up the main strain of foreign blood which was every year added to the vital working force of the country.... but now there came multitudes of men of the lowest class from the south of Italy and men of the meaner sort out of Hungary and Poland.” These new immigrants had “neither skill nor energy nor any initiative of quick intelligence,” Wilson added, and they came in such numbers that it seemed the countries of the south of Europe “were disburdening themselves of the more sordid and hapless elements of their population.” Click here to read the full article from The Wilson Center.
A photo, taken in France and published in Stars & Stripes, showing my grandfather and his sister. These are the two children of my immigrant great-grandfather. They both served in WWII; he was a second lieutenant in the Army, she was a nurse.
May we forever remember our heritage and the foundation of our national character, and with open arms welcome those seeking to join our great experiment.