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When German Immigrants Were America’s Undesirables

May 11, 2018 in History

By Becky Little

World War I propaganda poster from the US intelligence office 'Don't talk, the web is spun for you with invisible threads, keep out of it, help to destroy it, spies are listening,' showing Kaiser Wilhelm II as the spider. (Credit: Photo12/UIG/Getty Images)

In a recent interview, White House chief of staff John Kelly told NPR that undocumented immigrants are “not people that would easily assimilate into the United States, into our modern society.” And he listed a few reasons why:

“They’re overwhelmingly rural people,” he said. “In the countries they come from, fourth-, fifth-, sixth-grade educations are kind of the norm. They don’t speak English … They don’t integrate well; they don’t have skills.”

Kelly was talking specifically about immigrants from Latin American countries. But a century before, this line of thinking was used against another group that didn’t seem to be able to “assimilate”: German Americans.

At the time, these roughly eight million Americans were the country’s largest non-English-speaking group. Many had come over in a migration wave in the late 19th century. Once here, they built restaurants and guesthouses that, in the German tradition, each had their own beer brewery. In 1910, the U.S. had 554 German-language newspapers, as well as German-language school systems that coexisted with English-language schools.

“By 1917 these immigrants who came to Cincinnati or St. Louis or Milwaukee or New York or Baltimore were fully integrated into American society,” says Richard E. Schade, a German studies professor at the University of Cincinnati. But when the U.S. entered World War I, these immigrants came up against a new “anti-German hysteria.”

World War I propaganda poster from the US intelligence office ‘Don’t talk, the web is spun for you with invisible threads, keep out of it, help to destroy it, spies are listening,’ showing Kaiser Wilhelm II as the spider. (Credit: Photo12/UIG/Getty Images)

Because Germany was one of America’s adversaries in the war, many Anglo-Americans began to fear that German Americans were still loyal to the Kaiser, or German emperor. Suddenly, German Americans became “hyphenated Americans” who suspiciously practiced their own traditions instead of “assimilating” into Anglo-American culture. As President Woodrow Wilson once admonished: “Any man who carries a hyphen about with him, carries a dagger that he is ready to plunge into the vitals of this Republic when he gets ready.”

With the war, German Americans became a perceived security threat. They also got a new nickname.

“The number one American term for Germans in the …read more

Source: HISTORY

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