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Were we able to trace to their source the many “isms” and the social unrest which now afflict us, we would doubtless be startled to find how great a factor in such discontent is the present housing situation in America. Statistics show that, as conditions are at present, 60 per cent of our laboring people can never expect to own their own homes or afford to do so. The matter of providing homes for our people, therefore, becomes a matter for community and national concern. It can no longer be left to profit-seeking individuals.
It will be a sorry day for America when a large portion of its people lose hope for the future, and that man can not entertain any large hope who can never expect even to own the house in which he lives.
You can not shut a man up in a reeking tenement and give him no more than will buy macaroni for himself and his wife and his babies, and give him no opportunity to breathe the fresh air, and no opportunity to know this great country, and then say that man is to blame if his mind holds false ideas regarding our country
Thousands of the immigrants of the white races will be so completely Americanized in the second generation that they can not be told from native Americans. Their children in the next generation will be among cur leading artists, statesmen, and business and professional men. Yet a provincial arrogance and a feeling of race superiority often lead the native-born Americans to resent the efforts of the foreign born to improve their conditions and get out of the foreign environment in which they have found themselves. Before we can solve our problems of Americanization, we must not only improve this environment of the foreign born, but we must assist them in getting into the environment of the native born.
To us there is no force in the argument that certain people prefer to live in tenement houses; that they are lonesome if not huddled in stifling rooms; that they feel bereft when the garbage is removed ; that they are uncomfortable and unhappy when clean.'
The conditions commonly imposed upon workmen from foreign countries, such as being herded together in shacks, I maintain are un-American and will result in un-American practices. The wives of foreign workmen are no happier under such conditions than could your wives or mine be. It is just as impossible for them to rear American children in the American way under such conditions as it would be for your wives to rear your children in the American way under such un-American conditions.
Houses! Houses that a man can really own or rent. That is the first answer to many a town's Americanization problem. In hundreds of towns, now, cham
bers of commerce, real estate men, bankers, and mortgage holders have a real opportunity to develop housing projects that will give the town permanent industrial stability and make it wholly American. Every architect, town planner, civil or sanitary engineer in a town where a very few “company houses and a great many grimy, squat little cottages or unpainted shacks chronically out of repair are the rule, is challenged by that town's Americanization task. It is useless to preach “American standards of living” to foreign-born people whom the town permits to live like that."
The change can be brought about in two ways: First, by the enforcement of law requiring not only the proper design and construction of all dwellings but their proper maintenance. This method is essential, for by no other means can every dwelling be reached and the minimum American standards applied to all. This method means, however, a new Americanism on the part of the native born. It means eflicient government; it means sewer and water main extension into parts of our cities and towns now neglected, and the enforcement of bouse connection with sewers and mains; it means regular and frequent collection of garbage and rubbish. If many of the un-Americanized among us live as they do, it is because those most sure of their Americanism fail in their duties as citizens.
I remember one beautiful little town with the railroad track running through it like a dead line. On one side they had, and enforced, admirable health ordirances. The paved streets stopped short of the foreign district; so did the drainage, so did the city water system, so did the fire hose and the fire plugs. The condition in that town is the rule, not the exception.
The trouble is that, though the sewers do not cross the railroad track, the germs do. Malaria, whooping cough, yellow fever, and Spanish influenza, once given a foothold, will have the right of way in that town as long as the dead line exists and as long as American health standards apply to only one-half or two-thirds of the population.
But if you expect the foreign born to cross the track to your night schools, first carry America over the track to them, in houses, in sewers, in water pipes, in sidewalks. You can not make them part of our Nation if they are not part of your town.
The American future does not consist merely in teaching the foreign-born English or in holding meetings to decry bolshevism and sign up the 100 per cent Americans. It is a matter of boards and concrete and timber and housing laws and inspectors to enforce them. The spiritual process of Americanization works only in souls that look out of windows that open on American streets. It is hard to feel patriotic devotion for a country when your part of it is a muddy maze of alleys full of stagnant pools, privies, refuse, dogs, cats, chickens, ducks, geese, and children—even if some of them are yours.
The changing of the housing conditions in the immigrant sections of an old city, where real estate values are high and a building project must be profitable, indeed, in order to pay the man who undertakes it, is not a matter about which we can lightly make suggestions. But, by some combination of American government in such of our cities there must be made new conditions of housing that hold alike for foreign born and native, if we are longer to cherish the illusion that there is such a thing as an American standard of living.
1 Esther Everett Lape.
Individual citizens can be useful, not by urging impossible reforms upon people who have neither the power nor the money to carry them out, but by helping carefully and scrupulously to get a real recognition of the facts in every quarter; and by throwing the weight of their influence toward every project to build deceut homes for rental or purchase at fair prices. Nobody has a keener sense than the immigrant of the wisdom of investing in his own home. Many of the “ migratory workmen" among them are migratory simply because they never find any city or community that offers the many inducement to settle down.'
Until government recognizes that the housing of the people is a matter for the attention of the State, each community must solve its own problems as best it can. Public-spirited citizens, industries, and the municipality must cooperate to improve the housing situation of the community.
Americanization workers should take the initiative in such improvement in the homes of the foreign born and endeavor in every possible way to rally the forces to the community that those homes may be brought to a fair American standard.
RECREATION. Many communities have decried certain habits and customs of their foreign-born people in the matter of amusement and recreation. Few communities, however, have definitely undertaken to provide worth-while programs in lieu of that which they condemn. Active, restless humans are like the rich, black soil of a garden; something must grow, either plants or weeds. It is heartbreaking work as well as backbreaking to try to keep rid of weeds by pulling them up. The better way is to plant something good to take their place and gradually to run them out.
No portion of our people stands more in need of intelligently planned and directed play than our foreign born. Here is a task for the Americanization workers of a community.
Recreation may well begin with the night schools, for, as has been pointed out, these classes must be vivified with the social element if they are to be successful. Through the class organization social nights may be set aside when the wives, families, and friends of the foreign-born men may meet together. This will greatly stimulate interest in the class and help the families to appreciate what the men are doing in these Americanization classes. Such social events help as nothing else will to fuse the various races represented, to cause hem to forget their inborn racial prejudices, and to discover that their fellows are men " for a' that."
An interesting incident of this sort is described by Mr. Golderberger:
The party took the form of a school dance; pupils and teachers brought their friends, and we invite amber of students from Columbia. The pupils
1 Esther Everett Lape.
made all arrangements for music, for the sale of tickets, for refreshments, and for the reception and comfort of risitors. But the dance promised to be a failure. The clans and cliques. the nationalities and language groups refused to mix. It seemed for a time as if the device of a dance would be but another abortive attempt to make one vut of many. Evidently old habits and prejudices were not to be startled out of their complacency so easily
The musie played, but the nations querely congested the floor and gave little room to the dozen or two couples daneing, Jew with Jew, Greek with Greek.
Then some one proposed a “ Paul Jones," After several figures of the “ Paul Jones " the inusic for the next dance struck up, and Greek was no longer Greek and Jew no longer Jew, for there in that itumense hall were several hundred whirling couples mixed up delightfully, eren with undoubted good Americans who would probably have resented the insinuation that they needed a baptism of Americanism.'
One of the great by-products of recreation is that it brings not only the various foreign races together, but it does or should bring the native American into the melting pot. Nothing will cause the latter to lose his deplorable exclusiveness and unfriendliness so quickly as to mix with the foreign-born people, learn to know them, see them in their beautiful dances and interesting games, and come to understand that they have many things which he has not.
Special occasions may be set aside when the races may successively take charge of the program with a Polish Day or an Italian Night and show the dances, games, and songs of that race. The general management of such affairs should be in the hands of committees which represent various nations. It is not at all difficult to turn out a great crowd of Poles, for instance, to witness a Polish program, but if care is not used to keep the management cosmopolitan, there is danger that such events may merely increase the racial solidarity instead of lessening it. Properly organized, these field days, games, dances, pageants, and the like can become powerful factors in assimilation. Let the foreign born-yes, urge them-to bring out the costumes of the old countries and revive the joyous memories of the home land.
While pageantry that leads thoughts back to the lands of their fathers is good so far as we of native birth are concerned, because it makes us realize that those people have something of value to contribute, and while it is of value as showing one group among them what another has to contribute that is of value, is there not danger that we shall be too easily satisfied and take the easier way, the way that meets with the least resistance from the alien groups? Is there not danger that we shall content ourselves with pageantry that does not Americanize those who take part and who compose the greater part of the audience, and because of this content fail to do the hard things necessary to make the aliens visualize clearly what they expect America to be to them-not the land of their fathers, but the land of their children, is what we want them to think most about."
1 H. H. Goldberger, in Conference Proceedings.
The foreign born in some cities have shown a very tactful consideration in one interesting way—the carrying exclusively of the American flag. In some great parades in Chicago with dozens of races taking part with their characteristic floats, only the American flag has been carried. The foreign costumes and environment were all there, but of foreign flags there were none. This is as it should be. The flag is an emblem of allegiance, of sovereignty, and only the American flag in America should receive this homage. Nativeborn Americans may fly the flags of foreign lands on certain days, out of courtesy to those nations, but it is a delicate tribute that the foreign born have so often paid of carrying only the flag of America and not that of their former land. Such an action, however, should come from the free initiative of the foreign born and not through prohibition by the native born.
Recreation and pageantry and music are so full of possibilities for Americanization, that this whole book might be devoted to them alone. Any earnest committee can find a hundred ways of bringing joy and health and Americanism into the lives of their foreign born through these avenues. Imagine, for instance, with what joy these music-loving people would greet a male quartette, a chorus, or even a phonograph and a bunch of good records if they should appear in their streets at the close of a hot summer day. Motion pictures can now be produced effectively from little portable machines. Why not try the experiment of carrying some good music and some interesting films into the too-vacant lives of your foreign born!
In one of the dirtiest and most unlovely of our American industrial towns I went one stifling Sunday afternoon in August into a ramshackle movingpicture house. It was the only amusement place there and had just been opened by an Italian of the district. The place was full of men, women, and children, all starched and bedecked, tired mothers surrounded by active families with floating ribbons. For several hours they sat there watching with tensest interest one of the dullest plays ever reeled off, a tiresome story of the rivalry of two chemists. Here and there, it is true, graceful and beautiful ladies appeared on the scene, quite irrelevantly, for the film had been so cut that the plot, if the play had ever had one, was lost. The uncritical absorption of the audience stimulated me to closer attention, and I soon discovered the charm. It was the scenes, recurring at intervals, of beautiful American countrysides, magnificent country roads, bordered with cool hedgerows, down which glided the inevitable magnificent automobiles, carrying the inevitable beautiful girl in filmy summer clothing. There was joy and the grace of life. Marooned in the ugliest town of America they were all, on that stifling day in that stifling little hall, taking cool and expansive joy rides along American highways which they had never seen.
I have seen night-school classes of men who have literally forgotten how to laugh. For them I would trust more to an hour's rollicking fun as an Americanization agency than to all the civics that could be put into a month's lessons. Bring groups of your various races, men and women together, in a party often with plenty of Americans, and if you can not get a joyous party out of it, it will not be the fault of the foreign born.