Monday, November 18, 2019
At roughly the same time, the United States was experiencing a record number of immigrant arrivals from Europe, an influx remembered today as the “Great Wave." This influx hit its peak around World War I (1914-1918), which ushered in the “100% Americanization” movement, the purpose of which was to fully assimilate the "foreign aliens" from southern and eastern Europe. The most extreme proponents of this philosophy believed that the process of becoming American was a zero-sum game, newcomers had to abjure every aspect of their old selves--language, culture, even demeanor--before they could assume American identity, and that they could only do so by wholeheartedly embracing American habits and values.
It would be a mistake to think that most Americanizers did not want the immigrant. Of course, there were many who did oppose immigration, but it was not the Americanizers. Those who sought to stop immigration, like the blueblood members of the Immigration Restriction League, believed the alien was constitutionally inferior and incapable of change. Teaching the Jewish peddler to speak English or the Italian laborer to give up what Americans considered his revolting food was like teaching a mongrel dog tricks. The mutt might learn to roll over, but it would never be a greyhound.
The most prominent restrictionists traced their ancestry to New England, notably to Puritans like Cotton Mather, who believed the Indians were devils incarnate and deserved extinction. The same attitude prevailed among the Paxton Boys, a gang of Pennsylvanian frontiersmen who slaughtered nearly a hundred unarmed Indians less than fifty miles from Carlisle in 1764. That their victims were "praying Indians," that is, Indians who had embraced Christianity, meant little to the killers. They were still Indians.
As ethnocentric and condescending as were the Americanizers of the early 20th century, they at least recognized shared humanity with the Native American students at Carlisle and the new immigrants pouring in from steerage at New York Harbor.