Immigration and language in the eighteenth century.
If English has never become the official language in the United States, it is probably because of the attachment to the spirit of the Constitution and the interpretation of it by the founding fathers themselves. When John Adams first proposed to make English the language of the Union, believing that "the form of government has an influence upon language, and language in its turn influences not only the form of government, but the temper, sentiments, and manners of the people (cited in Barron 1990: 28), he was disapproved because, as Shirley Brice Heath argues: "the founding fathers believed the individual's freedom to make language choices and changes represented a far more valuable political asset to the new nation than did a decision to remove these freedoms from the individual" (1977:10).
However, Heath may only partly be right. Indeed, the position of the founding fathers does not necessarily reflect tolerance toward other languages, but rather a refusal to "freeze" the English language in its current (British) form. Neither does their opposition to Adams' proposal mean that multilingualism was favored by the signatories of the Constitution. It has been speculated, for example, that when Thomas Jefferson suggested that Americans should travel to Canada to acquire a knowledge of French, and emphasized that Spanish was an important influence in the New World, his statements were part of a short-term strategy for his expansionist plans. Indeed, as soon as the Union succeeded in purchasing Louisiana in 1803, Jefferson himself set out to Americanize the new territory. Similarly, the language rights granted to the southwest by the treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo in 1848 (by which Mexico ceded almost half its territory to the US) were rescinded as early as 1878, after the large influx of English language speakers during the Gold Rush (Shell 1993: 107). We have already mentioned that the speaking of Spanish by a majority of the people in New Mexico was a major hindrance to the acceptance of the Territory as a state, and this, despite the fact that most people were bilingual in English and Spanish. Earlier, John Adams had similarly opposed the Louisiana purchase because "it naturalizes foreign nations in a mass" (Shell 1993: 109).
Opposition to the codification of English was probably due to the confidence that the language would improve through further developments in the United States, i.e., through contact with "the seat of science, and the grand theater where human glory will be displayed in its brightest colors." In an anonymous letter, usually attributed to John Adams, the author writes: "The English language has been greatly improved in Britain within a century, but its highest perfection, with every other branch of human knowledge is perhaps reserved for this land of light and freedom" (cited in Bailey 1991: 103).
The imposition of English was not perceived as necessary since the founding fathers had enough confidence in the power of English to believe that it would spread by itself. For Adams: "English is destined to be in the next and succeeding centuries more generally the language of the world than Latin was in the past or French in the present" (quoted in Bailey 1993: 103). This confidence is echoed by Noah Webster's version of the linguistic transmuting pot: "It must be considered further," he writes, "that the English is the common root or stock from which our national language will be derived. All others will gradually waste away -and within a century and a half, North America will be peopled with a hundred millions of men, all speaking the same language" (my italics; cited in Crawford 1989: 34).
Thus among all of the founding fathers, we find the tolerance and interest for other languages to be motivated by strategic concerns and the ethnographer's confidence in the superiority of his/her own culture and language. There seems never to have been any doubt in the founding fathers' minds that English should, and would, eventually become the language of the US, and even of the world. The confidence in the universality of English is further grounded in religious arguments, as the following statement by Thomas Paine illustrates: "But how was Jesus Christ to make anything known to all nations? He could speak but one language, which was Hebrew, and there are in the world several hundred languages" (cited in Shell 1993: 107).
Free immigration: From 1820 to 1880
A distinction is traditionally made between the immigration before and
after 1880 (Kloss 1977: 81; Lescott-Lescinzki 1982: 11). We will adopt
Lescott's model which divides immigration up to 1964 into 3 periods in
the following ways:
During the first period, the Germans, French Canadians, Czechs, and Dutch immigrants settled mainly in areas that had just been opened by whites and had only partially been settled. Consequently, they could for the most part still settle in the countryside and form compact linguistic pockets which favored the retention of the language. Furthermore, form the point of view of the state or territory in which they lived, they belonged to the original settlers; their claim to cultural toleration and promotion by the State was therefore second to those of the Anglo-Saxons, but greater than those of the later arrivals (Kloss 1977: 81).
As the following figures show, a relatively large number of languages were considered in connection with the printing of state Constitutions (from Kloss 1977: 84):
- Wisconsin18485,000 in German; 5,000 in Norwegian
- Minnesota18575,000 in German; 2,000 each in Swedish, Norwegian
- Iowa18573,000 in German; 1,000 in Dutch
- Illinois187015,00 in German, 5,000 each in Scandinavian and
However, as early as 1809, in the State of Michigan, the federal congress refused to provide French translations of all official laws for the 80 percent of the taxpaying inhabitants who could not speak English. The government cannot plead ignorance, since it is only in 1824 that the State was granted a fairly high degree of self-government because, before that year, the French predominance was deemed too important. Similarly, in 1848, the State of Illinois allowed the publication of 5,000 copies of its Constitution in German, but a proposal to publish 1,000 copies in French and Irish was defeated (Barron 1990: 117). In the entire Midwest, states advanced to higher degrees of self governance as soon as the French were no longer the predominant ethnic element.
However, even if it does not appear in official documents, French did remain an important language in the whole area throughout the first part of the nineteenth century. In Indiana, for example, it has been verified that an edition of the Governor's annual message was printed in French as late as 1850, and in 1870 Illinois, many immigrants whose mother tongue was not French were unable to read English, but could read French (Kloss 1977: 166); thus, it seems that in some areas, the "transmuting pot" was French, not English. As far as the printing of official documents is concerned, Louisiana seems to have been the only exception: the 1812 State's first Constitution required that all documents be printed "in the two languages." This statement was repeated in the 1845 Constitution.
School laws also often tried to restrict the use of non-English languages. The 1824 Indian school laws explicitly establish English as the dominant language. Some of the laws (Wisconsin, 1854; Minnesota, 1867 and 1877, Nebraska, 1913) limited the teaching of languages other than English to one hour a day. In 1858, the Wisconsin supervisor of Education stated that the purpose of the 1954 Law was to restrict the cultivation of foreign languages in elementary school, not to encourage it (Kloss 1977: 86).
This first period of immigration is probably best-known for the nativist period which started in the 1850's. Broadly speaking, the nativists rejected the contention that one could keep one's mother tongue and still be a good American citizen. Bilingualism was unacceptable to them as the knowledge of the other language was a sign of a mixed allegiance which could easily turn in favor of the country of origin and against the Untied States. The core of nativism was expressed in a journal in 1855 in the following terms: "The grand work of the American party is the principle of nationality . . . we must do something to protect and vindicate it. If we do not, it will be destroyed" (cited in Higham 1967: 4).
For John Higham, the "expert" on the question of nativism, three main interrelated themes can be found in the whole movement. The first, anti-Catholicism, originates in the Protestant hatred of Rome. It dates back to the beginning of the Reformation when the Protestant conception of popery was that of moral depravity, a conception which further developed into xenophobic feelings when all adherents to the Catholic Church were seen as dangerous foreign agents in the service of the Pope.The second, anti-radicalism: from the end of the eighteenth century, a fear of foreign radicals was ever-present American mind; conservatives began to see "the foreigner" as prone to religious and social revolution. The third theme is more positive (the first two ones defined what the American is not); it is based on very strong nationalistic feelings which could be called Anglo-Saxonism. It is related to the impression that the US belongs in some special sense to the Anglo-Saxon "race," a chosen people, and that the foreigner interferes with its national history and God's design.
Nativism led to a process of exclusion which left the English-speaking WASP as the only "American," and made many American citizens feel out of place in their own country. Several years before he was to assume the presidency, Abraham Lincoln wrote to his friend Joshua Speed:
Our progress in degeneracy appears to me to be pretty rapid. As a notion, we began by declaring" 'all men are created equal." We now practically read: 'all men are created equal, except Negroes.' When the Know-Nothings get control, it will read: 'all men are created equal except Negroes, and foreigners, and Catholics.' When it comes to this I should prefer emigrating to some country where they make no pretense of loving liberty -To Russia, for instance, where despotism can be taken pure, and without the base alloy of hyprocracy [sic]. (cited in Gordon 1964: 93)
The American party, the Know-Nothings, almost completely vanished in the 1860's when, during the civil war, practically all foreign-born Americans "flocked to the colors" to defend their new country. However, it came to new life immediately after the war in the form of nationalism. In the 1860's and 1870's, immigration increased, as at least 25 out of the 38 States took official action to attract immigrants and revive their economy. Reactions against the immigrants came immediately, especially against the culturally and racially most distant groups. While attacks against the Europeans centered on the "dregs and scum" of Europe, and therefore allowed for at least some exceptions, opposition to Orientals, and especially against the Chinese, was fierce. A labor union referred to them as "more slavish and brutish than the beasts that roam the fields. They are groveling worms" (Higham 1967: 25). Unions were often at the basis of nativistic movements since workers were the first to be in contact with the immigrants who were attracted to the industrial cities. The 1870's Order of American Union, modeled upon the pre-war Know-Nothings, called upon Americans of "all nationalities" to unite against the political activities of the Catholic Church.
At the same time, foreign workers were getting organized into unions and parties (the first socialist party was founded in 1870 as a large immigrant organization), and, goaded by wage cuts which left many of them starving, went on strike and pillaged trains to survive. These outbursts of misery were the first of their kind in America and many frightened nativists saw in them the hand of the foreign communists. The New York Herald asserted that foreign demagogues had "imported ideas which [had] repeatedly deluged France in blood . . . The railroad riots . . . were instigated by men incapable of understanding our ideas and principles." (cited in Higham 1967: 31)
The period of selective immigration: 1880-1920.
As industrialism progressed in the 1980's, the distance between employers and employees became more marked. The senate became a club of millionaires. Corporations cut wages savagely while wealth remained untamed and unshaken. Even the reformers, alarmed by the polarization of American society, located the heart of the problem in the expanding cities where immigrants lived and started talking about "a new immigration problem." Businessmen, while keeping an important foreign work force to keep wages low and profits high, reacted against foreigners who soon became the leaders of organized labor. At the same time, unions reacted against "contract labor," i.e., labor imported by capitalists. As a result, the immigrant was rejected by employers and workers alike. In Higham's words (1967: 50): "Where one saw the foreigner as a tool of oppression, the other discerned an agent of unrest. The two lines of attack had little in common except their origin in a common situation: both reacted to the immigrant as a disruptive wedge in a dividing society." As is usually the case in times of crisis, workers saw the immigrant as the one who was taking their jobs. In 1886, a midwestern carpenter cried out: "We poor native-born citizens are just pulled around as dogs by foreign people. We do not stand any show, and it seems as though everything is coming ot the very worst in the near future unless free immigration is stopped." (in Higham 1967: 47)
In the same year, an unprecedented eruption of mass strikes opened an era of massive discontent. It is in this context that the Haymarket incident took place, one of the most important incidents in nineteenth Century nativism. In the midst of the "eight-hour" strikes, the Chicago anarchists called a meeting on Haymarket square. A bomb exploded amid the police forces, an incident that provoked an immediate reaction of national hysteria; six immigrants and one native American were condemned to death, in spite of the fact that their guilt was never demonstrated.
The reaction was immediate. In one newspaper, immigrants were called ". . . an invasion of venomous reptiles," in another, ". . . long-haired, wild eyed, bad smelling, atheistic reckless foreign wretches, who never did an honest hour's work in their lives." The solution: "crush such snakes- before they have time to bite." A few weeks after the Haymarket incident, Peter Wiggington, an attorney in California, founded the American Party, declaring that the time had come for the American population to take full charge of their government "to the exclusion of the restless revolutionary horde of foreigners who are now seeking our shores from every part of the world" (Higham 1967: 55-58). The American party would later adopt a program similar to the 1850's Know Nothings, organizing attacks on parochial non-English schools and lobbying English-Only legislation (Kloss 1977: 70).
Throughout the decade, the government tried to quell people's anxieties through a series of anti-immigration laws . In what could be called the first restrictive law, the Immigration Act of 1882 laid the foundation for the control of immigration, giving in to the argument that immigration is hereditary, and excluding "any convict, lunatic, idiot, or any person unable to care for himself or herself without becoming a public charge" (Lescott-Lescinzki 1982: 16). In the late 1880's, many American legislatures excluded unnaturalized immigrants from certain types of employment, and in 1886, the US House of Representatives passed a bill prohibiting the employment on public works of any alien who had not declared his/her intention of becoming an American citizen. The bill was killed in the Senate, but many State legislatures adopted it. In 1889, for example, Illinois, Wyoming, and Idaho banned non declaring aliens from both State and municipal projects.
While the 1880's made no basic distinction between different types of immigrants, the nativism of the 1890's was much more directed against the "new immigrant," i.e., eastern Europeans, Italians, and Jews. As economic depression aggravated, both capital and organized labor kept the same themes as in the previous decade. Arguing in favor of further restriction, the manager of the American Iron and Steel association maintained that the depression was greatly aggravated by "the presence among us of idle and vicious foreigners who have not come here to work for a living but stir up strife and commit crime" (Higham 1967: 71).
As nativism grew more intense, it displayed two different and related tendencies. In Higham's words (1967: 76), "When the troubles of the late nineteenth century raised doubts of the nation's stamina, two shortcuts for restoring confidence presented themselves: disunity might be rationalized as a product of foreign influence, or denied by a compensatory demonstration of national virility. One response led toward protective measures at home, such as immigration restriction, the other to an offensive posture abroad." In 1896, a leading magazine wrote: "newspapers . . . have formed the habit of talking about foreign countries as if they were all the enemies of the United States, and as if to be a true American involved hatred of everything French, English, German, Italian, or Spanish."
The American Protective Association centered in the Midwest (especially Michigan, Ohio, and Minnesota) fully exploited the climate of economic disaster and anti-Catholic feelings, blaming the collapse on the Catholics "who had started a run on the banks --so the story went-- in order to disrupt the economic system and thus prepare the way for Rome's seizure of power." The speakers of the organization told crowds the unemployed that their jobs had gone to a flood of immigrants unloosened on America by papal agents (Higham 1967: 82).
Anti-eastern European feelings (Slavic an Magyar) led to the bloodiest episode in the decade. In 1897, a strike was countered by the police who shot into a crowd of Polish and Hungarian strikers, killing 22 people and wounding forty others. Most American foremen agreed that, if the strikers had been American, no blood would have been spilled. Similar feelings against Italians led to a blood bath in 1895, following violent strikes in the coal fields of Colorado; a group of Italian miners and residents were systematically massacred following the involvement of six Italian workers in the death of an American saloon keeper.
Specific legal reaction accompanied the social movements during the whole decade. The Act of March 3, 1891 abolished the loophole that permitted unlimited immigration of relatives and personal friends of people already residing in the US, in addition to enlarging the exclusionary categories. In 1891, Henry Cabot Lodge first proposed to introduce a literacy test, a proposal with clearly racist overtones. The proposal was that all male adults should be excluded from admission who were unable to read and write in their own language. This, it was estimated, would cut immigration from shouthern and eastern Europe by half, while more "desirable" immigration would not suffer at all (Lescott-Leszczynski 1984: 18). In defending the test in 1892, Senator Chandler claimed : "No one has suggested a race distinction. We are confronted with the fact, however, that the poorest immigrants do come from certain races" (Higham 1967: 101). In 1894, the Immigration Restriction League appeared in Boston and launched a remarkable, national campaign to guide public opinion toward the literacy test. A law enforcing the literacy test was passed in 1895 by an overwhelming majority. However, the law was opposed in 1897 by President Cleveland's presidential veto. A period of intense nativism had ended, but the basic ideas were to stay.
Following the end of the Spanish and American war and the first signs of economic rebirth, a sense of confidence and national unity reigned at the turn of the century. This return of confidence coincided with a surge of immigration from southern and eastern Europe. Discrimination and withdrawal increased, but fear decreased because of good economic conditions. Business systematically opposed any restriction on immigration, which might unavoidably have led to salary raises. In the meantime, steel, rubber, textile, and other plants used foreigners for unskilled labor while the "skilled" American and Americanized employees became superintendents of unskilled foreigners, leading to a climate favorable to ethnic and social tension.
In spite of the influence of industry, the Immigration Restriction League stayed alive and managed to push through a new immigration law in 1903; the law contained no restrictive provisions, but authorized the deportation of foreign activists and, by doing so, penalized newcomers for their potential opinions.
Better economic conditions also gave birth to a wave of progressivism and democratic ideals. New settlement founders such as Jane Adams realized that the prevailing contempt for the immigrant's past had hindered the latter's adjustment and that a ruthless American chauvinism had turned them against their parents and exposed them to the worst in their new surrounding (e.g, gangs, etc.) Consequently, she began to organize several settlements in the late 1890's in which she developed programs for conserving national holidays, customs, folksongs, and languages in the neighborhoods. However, the movement never went beyond local communities and had no or little impact on American institutions or ideals, nor on language and culture maintenance at the macro-structural level.
This tendency toward multiculturalism strongly contrasted with the development of racist ideology. Following the Haymarket incident, a writer in a business magazine announced the type of racism that would become prevalent in the early twentieth century. He writes: "anarchy is a blood disease from which the English have never suffered . . . I am no 'race worshipper', but if the master race of this continent is subordinated to or overrun with the communistic and revolutionary races, it will be in grave danger of social disaster" (cited in Higham 1967: 138). Some senators, such as Henry Cabot Lodge, were in direct contact with European race-thinkers (that is, those who developed theories based on race), and imported their ideology. For Walker, for example, immigration discourages the reproduction of the old stock which wants to maintain its standard of living, and so, leads to "race suicide."
The theory of eugenics was imported form Britain and promoted in the US by genealogist Charles Davenport around 1907 (Higham 1967: 151). It argued that it is possible to uplift humanity by breeding from the best and restricting the offspring of the worst. One therefore needed to limit immigration for the conservation of the American race. Eugenics and all other trends in race thinking converged in Madison Grant's The Passing of the Great Race (1916). In Grant's view, the mixing of two races "gives us a race reverting to the more ancient, generalized and lower type. For him the superior race represents "the white man par excellence." In the early days, Grant argues, the American population was purely Nordic, but now, the swarms of Alpine, Mediterranean, and Jewish hybrids threatened to extinguish the old stock, unless it reasserted its class and racial pride by shutting them out.
The new trend in race-thinking had two important consequences. It gave the nativist movement a scientific foundation and established, in Foucault's words, "a regime of truth," which became widely accepted, precisely because of its "scientific" aspect. Furthermore, it undercut the economic argument which encouraged immigration in times of economic growth. There was no longer any possible reason to justify immigration and integration (rather than discrimination) within the United States. Because of its biological and "psychological" bases, it left the immigrant without defense and stigmatizes some groups specifically. It came as a reaction against Mediterranean, Slavic, and Jewish immigration which, because of these groups' ethnological and cultural differences, instilled fear. Congressman Thomas Abercrombie of Alabama, for example, warned that: "The color of thousands of them differs materially form that of the Anglo-Saxon" (Higham 1967: 168).
The propaganda of the racist-thinkers made new discriminatory laws possible. In 1909, Michigan prohibited the issuance of a barber's license to any foreigner, and in 1908, aliens were required to pay $20 to obtain a hunting license while citizens only paid $1. In 1906, a new attempt to pass a literacy test was only narrowly defeated.
This wave of racism pre-figured the new period of intense nativism and history that coincided with World War I (note that initially, this rise of nativism had nothing to do with the war, but rather with the economic recession of 1913 and the depression of 1914). For Higham (1967: 186-188), restriction efforts never translated into law during that period for three reasons: because the minorities that blocked restriction had the advantage of appealing to traditional American ideals, because of the opposition of "big business," always in search of cheap labor, and because of the opposition of the immigrants themselves.
Through the very active foreign language press, and the numerous organizations of every size (see e.g., Fishman and Nahirny, 1966) which warned against the worsening of present legislation against immigrants, the old immigrant communities in the Midwest managed to put pressure on the president who consequently opposed a new attempt to pass a literacy bill in 1912. The same bill passed the House and senate in 1915, but it was vetoed by President Wilson on the basis that America should remain an asylum for the oppressed.
President Wilson always held an ambiguous position toward immigration, however, and while opposing the literacy vote, he was also affirming that "America does not consist of groups. . . . A man who thinks of himself as belonging to a particular national group in America has not yet become an America" (cited in Gordon 1974: 171) and during the "preparedness movement " to arm American, he lashed out at "these immigrants who have poured the poison of disloyalty into the very arteries of our national life" (cited in Higham 1967: 200) When immigrants remained unimpressed with Wilson's assertion that America should gird herself for war and join the League of Nations, he again lashed out fiercely: "Hyphens are the knives that are being stuck in this document" (referring to the treaty of Versailles). Less ambiguous about his anti-foreign feelings was Theodore Roosevelt who declared: "We have no room for but one language here and that is the English language, for we intend to see that the crucible turns our people out as American, of American nationality, and not as dwellers in a polyglot boarding house." (cited in Crawford 1989: 146).
In September 1917, Roosevelt shared the view with many of his contemporaries that foreign languages represented a danger for the country: "Whatever may have been our judgment in normal times, we are convinced that today our most dangerous foe is the foreign-language press and every similar agency, such as the German-American Alliance, which holds the alien to his former associations and though them, to his former allegiance" (cited in Crawford 1989: 85). As a result of Roosevelt's active anti-German campaigns in which he advised his fellow citizens to shoot any German who showed himself disloyal, a special act of congress repealed the charter of the German-American Alliance and a campaign to eliminate German from the school curricula made considerable headway.
By May 1818, as many as 25 States had already removed German from their curricula (Barron 1990: 11). During the war, the Germans, the former "favored" immigrant group fell into disfavor for obvious reasons, all the more so because many of them initially wanted to support German war efforts.
The 100 percent Americanism of President Roosevelt became a whole movement by itself. By the 1918 sedition act, any opinion deemed disloyal and any contemptuous reference to the American flag became subject to a 21-year sentence. The American Protective League was policing the country in search of "disloyal citizens," such as draft evaders, violators of food and gasoline regulations, and people living in luxury. In October 1913, Congress authorized the deportation of many aliens simply on grounds of belonging to an organization which advocated revolt or sabotage.
In 1917, a new literacy bill was vetoed by Wilson, but his veto was overridden by Congress so that on February 1917, the bill was approved, including a provision excluding from the US all adult immigrants unable to read a simple passage in some language. During the war, traditional anti-Catholicism and racism abated for a time since all forces were needed to participate in the war efforts. However, anti-radicalism remained, since most radicals refused participation in these efforts. Anti-radicalism further developed after the war with "the big red scare." Initially the Bolsheviks were presented as German agents so that, for a time, both movements were closely associated in American minds. Following the war, the "great red scare" served a double purpose: it helped politicians keep the country together after the disappearance of a common enemy, and it provided a scapegoat (the "Bolshevik-influenced radicals") for the wave of class conflicts that opposed workers (i.e., mainly foreigners of all national origins) and capital-holders. In 1919, a 60,000 workers national strike turned the country into an unprecedented panic and fear of a communist revolution. "Never before," writes Higham (1967: 227) "had anti-radicalism stirred the public mind so profoundly. During 1919 and the early months of 1920 no other kind of xenophobia even approached it in terms of vogue and impact."
Amid the turmoil of the beginning of this century, two groups tried to smoothen the immigrants' integration into American society: the first one was Jane Adams' social settlements mentioned before, which was, in Higham's words, motivated by an "impulse of love"; the second one was based on anxiety and fear. Led by the Daughters of the American Revolution, it organized programs of patriotic education designed to indoctrinate the foreigner with loyalty to America. This loyalty consisted essentially of willing submissiveness. They taught "obedience to law, which is the groundwork of true citizenship." The goal of "fusing the people who come to us from the Old World civilization into . . . a real brotherhood of men," (cited in Higham 1967: 238) permeated the Protestant social Gospel. The YMCA, which in those years was turning form missionary work to a program of social service, started offering English classes, and by 1914, it had some thirty thousand students.
Ms Frances Kellor, half reformer, and half nationalist, and a fervent admirer of T. Roosevelt represented both sides of the Americanization movement. She gave it central direction and political force. After 1915, the emphasis of her movement shifted to a program of stimulating naturalization, breaking the ties with the Old World, and teaching American culture to immigrants. Ms Kellor received considerable support from business organizations who saw in Americanization a means to confront the problem of labor conservation and of increasing the efficiency, co-operation, and output of their workers. A good example of such an Americanization program is Henry Ford's English school.
In 1915, Henry Ford decided to compel his foreign employees to attend his own Ford English school. The first thing foreign-speaking employees learned to say in the Ford school was: "I am a good American." Later the students acted out a pantomime that supposedly symbolized the spirit of the company. In the performance, a great "melting pot" occupied the middle of the stage. A long column of immigrant students descended in the pot form backstage, dressed in outlandish clothing and flaunting signs proclaiming their fatherlands. At the same time, from either side of the pot, another stream of men emerged, each prosperously dressed in identical suits of clothes and each carrying a little American flag (Higham 1967: 248).
The Ford school provides a perfect symbolic illustration of the goals of the 100 percent Americanizers. However, their methods were not always so smooth as they set about to stampede immigrants into citizenship, adoption of the English language, and unquestioning allegiance to existing American institutions.In the Revenue Act of 1818, for example, Congress imposed on "non-resident" aliens an income tax twice as heavy as that for citizens and "resident aliens" so that thousands of foreign workers declared their intentions to become citizens. In 1919, fifteen states decided to make English the sole language of instruction in all primary schools, public and private (Higham 1989: 83). Early in 1919, Indiana approved an "emergency measure" requiring all school subjects to be taught in English only. The same law was enforced in Nebraska and in Ohio later that year, a state which, in 1903, still required the teaching of German in public school upon the demand of seventy-five residents in a district. In Illinois, a bill was introduced to forbid the teaching of foreign languages in elementary schools, but it was tabled. In 1920, the literacy requirement for office-holders was discussed and finally passed the convention by a vote of 52 to 2. Lewes Jarma, a Republican delegate from Rushville, Illinois, put forward a motion to amend the Education Committee's report by requiring English as the language of instruction in all of the state's public and private schools. Arguing that language should replace ethnicity as a primary socio-political force and that "in this country national unity is not a matter of blood, but of ideas," he suggested that: "American ideas have been born in English and require English for their proper preservation and dissemination" (Barron 1990:126).
In 1920, the onset of a new economic depression and the passing of the red scare delivered a coup de grace to the Americanization movement.
1920 1964: the restrictionist period
The early twenties saw a rebirth of pre-war nativist feelings as the old hatreds against Catholics, Jews, and southeastern Europeans flamed up again. The new economic depression and a fresh wave of immigration created favorable conditions for new nativist movements. Out of the Midwest came a campaign against the Jews launched by Henry Ford, and the activities of the Ku Klux Klan. The science of Eugenics became popular again, and so did Madison Grant's The Passing of the Great Race. The emerging sciences of psychology and sociology contributed to the making of racist ideology (Lescott- Leszczynski 1984: 18).
The period between 1920 and 1924 was characterized by the engineering of restrictive immigration laws which would allow the admittance of "desired" immigrants and exclude undesired ones. After long debates about which census data should be used and how many immigrants should be accepted, the Dillingham bill passed the Senate in May 1921. It limited European immigration to three percent of the 1910 census, restricting to about 350,000 immigrants a year and assigning most of that total to northwestern Europe. Furthermore, it excluded Orientals and Jews completely. Business did not encourage immigration any longer, since it was progressively replacing manpower with machinery. In 1924, a new immigration act was passed that further restricted immigration to 2 percent of the more conservative 1890 census.
As usual, state, local, and federal linguistic laws accompanied these restrictions on immigration. Naturalization was increasingly made dependent on capacity to understand English. In the New York area, by amendment in 1921 and by law in 1923, voting rights were made dependent upon the ability to read and write English . In 1923, Illinois passed one of the first official-English laws in the nation, establishing English as the language of government and education. D. Barron (1990: 150) also notes that while in 1903 14 States required elementary education in English, by 1923, that number had risen to 34. But 1923 was also the last year of active anti-foreigner legislation. Indeed, 1924 saw the decline of the great nativist fights. Even Captain Trevor, one of the engineers of the 1924 Immigration Act wrote in his explanation of the new law: "The passage of the immigration Act of 1924 marks the close of an epoch in the history of the United States" (cited in Higham 1967: ). The interest for eugenics dwindled steadily and the invisible empire of the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan fell apart. In 1927, Henry Ford publicly retracted his accusations against the Jews, asking for forgiveness, and pledging that he would never again indulge in such activities. In 1926, Henry Pratt Fairchild's The Melting Pot Mistake convincingly refuted the melting pot ideology while Madison Grant's The Conquest of a Continent was met with much criticism
The development of this new atmosphere was probably due in part to improving economic conditions, but also, ironically, to a decrease in immigration due to restrictionist laws which led to a sharp drop in immigration starting in the mid-twenties (see chapter 2, table 3). The voice of Horace Kallen, the most outspoken and articulate advocate of cultural pluralism in the United States finally had a major impact through his book Culture and Democracy in the United States. Early in 1915, Kallen had already written a series of articles in The Nation, entitled "Democracy Vs the Melting Pot," in which he strongly rejected the melting pot hypothesis, arguing that so far, each ethnic group had tended to preserve its own language, culture, institutions and religion while participating in the federal Union through the use of English. Summarizing Kallen's prolific work is well beyond the scope of this chapter; however, the following long quote from his work gives a fairly precise idea of his argument. He writes (1924: 124):
The outlines of a possible great and truly democratic commonwealth become discernible. Its form would be that of the federal republic; its substance a democracy of nationalities, cooperating voluntarily and autonomously through the perfection of men according to their kind. The common language of the commonwealth, the language of its great tradition, would be English, but each nationality would have for its emotional and involuntary life its own peculiar dialect or speech, its own individual and inevitable aesthetics and intellectual forms. The political and economic life of the commonwealth is a single unit and serves as the foundation and background for the realisation of the distinctive individuality of each natio that composes it and of the pooling of these in harmony above them. Thus 'American civilization' may come to mean the perfection of the cooperative harmonies of 'European civilization' -the waste, the squalor and the distress of Europe eliminated- a multiplicity in a unity, an orchestration of mankind.
Kallen's model is not new; it has, for centuries, been a basic theme in theories of multiculturalism. Eighteenth century French philosopher Montesquieu already pointed out that cultural identity could be a way to the Universal: "God," he wrote, "is like the monarch who has different nations in his empire: they all bring him their tribute and all of them speak their own language" (cited in Todorov 1989: 200). However, we also know that it did not work. Several factors probably contributed to this failure. First of all, Kallen's model seems to propose a framework in which the maintenance of different languages and cultures will function as subcultures within a dominant culture, the multiplicity represents the different dominated cultures and languages, and the Anglo-American culture remains the dominant one. As such, his model does not differ much from that of Anglo-conformity, given that participation in the economy and the political world requires the leaving of one's own culture and language behind when participating at the higher political levels. Second, Kallen seems to ignore that, because of the mechanism just described, subcultures have no other choice than either assimilate into "the superstructure" or be marginalized, with all the negative political and economic consequences this entails. Third, the model rests on the assumption that the cultural sphere can be separated form the economic and political spheres, an hypothesis that seems doomed to fail in a highly integrated consumer society where culture itself is commodified and used by politicians to manipulate the population. Finally, Kallen seems to overlook the normal tendency to conform to the norm, a norm which in this model can only be a single and dominant culture and language.
Following the ethnic-racial aspect given to cultural differences at the turn of the century, ethnic differences seem to have become more important than language. In any case, the active nativism of the 1850-1925 period seem to have become more latent until World War II.
World War II seems to have had a double influence on the progress of assimilation. On the one hand, it provoked the traditional suspicion characteristic of war time against all foreigners, and more specifically against the Germans in 1940. Under the recommendation of President Franklin Roosevelt, the Immigration Service shifted from the Department of Labor to the Justice Department, ensuring stricter control over the immigrant. On June 28, the Alien Registration Act (also called the Smith Act) was passed, requiring all aliens to register with the government. The screening to which future immigrants would be subject to was unparalleled in American Immigration history (Lescott 1982: 30). Furthermore, the incarceration of 120,000 west coast Japanese Americans increased anti-Oriental feelings. Consequently, by 1952, the Mc Carren-Walter Act placed all immigrants of oriental ancestry under a new quota of 2,000 immigrants annually for all nineteen countries of the 'Asia-Pacific triangle'.
But World War II also had another
less visible effect; many minority language speakers fund themselves stigmatized
by other soldiers as "dumb," "backward," "underdeveloped," etc. and had
but one goal when they came back after the war: to hide their ethnic heritage
and to "forget" their ancestral language. According to many people I interviewed
(especially in the Old Mines and Kankakee areas), WW. II was the final
blow against the use of French in the Midwest. After that, many youngsters
refused to speak it and it soon became impossible to find any significant
group of people with whom the language could be used.
Little changed after the war, since
the politics of Anglo-conformity were accepted as a "normal way of life."
Until the period of black and ethnic-self affirmation, in the early sixties,
homogeneity remained the goal of official policy, including education.
James Banks, a well-known specialist in ethnic and social studies, affirmed
The immigrants were best instructed in how to repulse themselves; millions of people were taught to be ashamed of their own faces, color, their family names, their parents and grandparents, and their class patterns, histories and life outlooks. This shame had incredible power to make us learn, especially when coupled with hope, the other energy source for the melting pot -hope about becoming modern, about being secure, about escaping the wars and depressions of the old country, and about being equal with the Old Americans.
It is only in the early sixties, pressed by demonstrations against racism and inequality that the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was signed. Title 1 states that "Literacy tests (are) forbidden as qualification for voting in federal elections, unless they are administered in writing to all voters and a copy of the test a voter has taken -and the answers- are provided the voter requesting them within twenty-five days after his request" (In Lescott-Lesczinski 1984: 42). Title 1 also establishes a sixth grade education as proof of literacy, and specifies that the instruction in the school at which the applicant completed the sixth grade must be carried on mainly in English. No provisions are to be found for persons of limited or no comprehension of English.
However, specific laws on language and education were soon to come and in 1968, the famous Bilingual Education Act was signed. It had, in Lescott-Lesczinski's view (1984: 76) a threefold purpose: First, to increase language skills in English, second, to maintain and possibly increase mother tongue skills to avoid academic retardation, and third to support the cultural heritage of the student and create a positive self-image. However, in spite of the fact that the term "bilingual education" may give the impression that the development of bilingualism is the goal, its main goal is to "mainstream" immigrants. In Robert Bunge's words, bilingual education programs are often designed as "efficient revolving doors between home language monolingualism and English monolingualism" (in Crawford 1989: 390).
The bilingual act was conceived primarily as a poverty program for Mexican Americans and Puerto Ricans; its goal was to remedy the high rates of school failure and the resulting lack of economic opportunity for these groups. In 1967, Senator Ralph Yarborough, the chief sponsor of the law gave the following motivation for bilingual programs:
I believe the time has come when we can no longer ignore the fact that 12 percent of the people of the Southwestern US do not have equal access with the rest of the population to economic advancement. The time has come when we must do something about the poor schooling, low health standard, job discrimination, and the many other artificial barriers that stand in the way of the advancement of the American-Mexican people along the road to economic opportunity. . . . Thus the Mexican American child is wrongly led to believe from his first day of school that there is something wrong with him, because of his language. (in Crawford 1989: 324).
From the very beginning, the debate around the question of bilingual education was a political one, with emotional arguments on each side, and little consideration for the psychological, sociological, and educational aspects of the issue. However, it did give some support for other (than Hispanic) minority groups who were discriminated against on the basis of language. In the 1970 Lau Vs Nichols case, for example, a group of Chinese students charged that they were the victims of language discrimination because they were instructed in English only. After a long suit, they finally won in the Supreme Court, on the grounds that they had indeed been discriminated against on the basis of national origin.
1980- 2000: Mass immigration and neo-nativism
The US signed the Geneva Convention
in 1980 which opened the door to political refugees. As a result,
immigration went up again (see census data discussed in class) and so did
new forms of nativism:
The "linkage" between bilingual education and economic minorities made funding hard to justify in the 1980's when all social programs suffered cutbacks in the Reagan administration. From $139.9 million, the budget for bilingual education was cut to 94.5 in fiscal year 1984. Furthermore, the new bilingual bill changed the existing legislation significantly; it no longer mandated instruction in a student's native language, but "whatever approach a school district believes warranted so long as that approach is designed to meet the special educational needs of the students."
This last modification follows Secretary of Education William Bennet's assertion that: "After $1.7 of federal funding, we have no evidence that the children whom we sought to help --that is the children who deserve our help-- have benefited." Instead of bilingual education, he proposed "methods such as ESL and 'structured immersion' and special instruction in English to students of limited English proficiency" (his italics, in Crawford 1989: 361). In one of the numerous reactions to Bennett's speech, James Lyons, executive director of the National Association for Bilingual Education (NABE), draws the attention to the fact that Bennett refused to give his views on "how the federal government should help communities across the land to educate more than 4 million language-minority students who do not know English well enough in monolingual classrooms," and showed that "furthermore, ESL and so-called immersion program often fail to teach anything but English" (in Crawford 1989: 364-365).
In its efforts to eliminate bilingual education, the administration was supported by a strong English-only movement whose often incoherent and passionate arguments betray irrational fears and motivations. In a letter of San Francisco columnist Guy Wright, widely circulated in fund raisers for US English, the author writes: "US-English will try to speak for those who do not want to see this English-speaking nation turned into a poly-lingual babel" and reacts against the fact that "tax money pays for voter registration campaign aimed at those who will vote in a foreign language." The journalist obviously does not mention that all these non-English voting residents pay regular taxes as well, and consequently, pay for their own voting bulletins, campaign funds, etc." Turning against the Hispanic population, the founder of US English John Tenton gives a number of "threats" posed by Spanish-speaking immigrants: "the tradition of the morbida (bribe), the lack of involvement in public affairs," "low educatibility," high school dropout rates, and high fertility. He writes: "Perhaps this is the first instance in which those with their pants up are going to get caught by those with their pants down." "As whites see their power and control of their lives declining, will they simply go quietly into the night? or will there be an explosion . . . ? We are building in a deadly disunity (in Crawford 1989: 173). Tanton's statements express the anxiety, but also the offensive character and condescendance of the adherents of the movement. The lack of support of US English for the teaching of English also displays the movement's unwillingness to support its own official political statements. As Fishman writes:
It is not English centeredness itself -love of the language, mastery of its nuances, fascination with the beauty of the language per se- that seems to be the crucial variable. I have yet to hear of English Only advocates mustering votes to increase anemic budgets to expand the currently small number of TESOL programs, which cannot begin to accommodate the non-English and limited English students who are clamoring for admission (in Crawford 1989: 167).
The English-only movement was countered by the English-Plus movement which rejected the ideology and divisive character of US English. It holds that the national interest is best served when all members of our society have full access to effective opportunities to acquire strong English proficiency plus mastery in another language.
However, after 10 years of rivalry between English Plus and English-Only, the balance is clearly in favor of the latter movement. In 1984, Indiana and Kentucky adopted English as their official State language. In 1987, official English measures were considered in 37 states and passed in five of them: Arkansas, Mississippi, North Carolina, and the two Dakotas. In 1988, voters passed official language amendments to their state Constitutions in Arizona, Colorado, and Florida. The only "victory" of English-Plus was in New Mexico, the first state to adopt English-Plus policies in 1989.
The English-plus discourse seems to be alive and well in these early nineties. In his widely-publicized book, Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. writes:
bilingualism has not worked out as planned: rather the contrary. Testimony is mixed, but indications are that bilingual education retards rather than expedites the movement of Hispanic children into the English-speaking world and that it promotes segregation more than it does integration. Bilingualism shuts doors. It nourishes ghettoization, and ghettoization nourishes racial antagonism.
Consequently, Schlesinger concludes in a rather puzzling statement: "Monolingualism opens the door to the larger world" (1992: 108-109).
In his concluding chapter, Schlesinger
invites us to go back 80 years, to the melting pot ideologies, highlighting
that 70 years of multicultural discourse has changed very little in conservative
discourse: "The ethnic revolt against the melting pot has reached the point,
in rhetoric at least, . . . of a denial of the idea of a common culture.
If large numbers of people really accept this, the republic would be in
serious trouble. The question poses itself: how to restore the balance
between unum and pluribus? (1992: 133). However, it is clear
that balance is not what Schlesinger is looking for. In his view, the "pluribus"
is to be avoided at all cost in favor of a unified ideology of Anglo-conformity.