The fact that Americans are also— and in many cases, primarily—Germans, Italians, Poles, Jews, etc. is taken with deadly seriousness by the general mass of Americans, but tends rather to be ignored by contemporary writers on social problems, and perhaps more ignored by academic writers than by popular ones. There was a time when the problem of creating an English-speaking nation, with a common loyalty, out of a population at least half of which stems from non-English-speaking peoples was a major subject of discussion in this country. It was during the time of that discussion—roughly the first twenty-five years of this century—that two quite contradictory concepts were developed which have since dominated the consideration of this problem.
The first concept was that of the “melting pot,” a phrase now so common a part of our vocabulary that it is hard to believe it was invented by Israel Zangwill, who used it as the title of a play in 1906. Performed today, the play would bring down upon him the denunciation of almost every communal leader in Jewish life: for it argues that in America all the strains of the Old World should blend together to form a new and better race, in which the individuality of the races, nations, and religions that made it up would be lost, being transmuted into a new, noble compound. Holding this philosophy, the play’s hero, a young Jewish immigrant from Russia, marries the heroine, another immigrant who is the daughter of the very czarist official responsible for the pogrom in which his own parents died.
The “melting pot” phrase and theory were accepted with alacrity by both the immigrants and the older Americans who rejected the ex-clusionist and racist ideas, then beginning to be popular, that eventually led to the end of mass immigration. Its corollary was the program of “Americanization,” which aimed to teach English and American customs to every immigrant, and make him a citizen. All went swimmingly until, with the outbreak of the First World War, those holding to the theory of the melting pot and the program of Americanization were shaken by the violence with which the cause of the warring nations in Europe was taken up here in America. Former President Roosevelt and President Wilson spoke with disapproval of “hyphenated” Americanism; and in the new situation the sanguine view that the immigrants were merging indistinguishably into a common American man, which their intellectual spokesmen had put forward to justify keeping the gates of America open, lost credit.
Once again, it so happened, it was a Jewish intellectual who supplied a theory to explain and justify what was happening. In a series of articles published in various journals in the early years of the First World War, Horace M. Kallen argued that the “melting pot” did not represent true democracy. It was akin to the Germanizing of Danes, Poles, and Frenchmen in the Kaiser’s empire, and the Russifying of Finns, Poles, Jews, and others in the Czar’s empire. This was not democracy, but the crushing of a natural right to be different. America’s model should be Switzerland, where the loyalty of every national element to the Swiss state was beyond question—yet where each maintained its individuality and its national culture. America should ideally become a “democracy of nationalities”—and this indeed, Kallen argued, was what was happening. Later he was to call this theory “cultural pluralism.”
The depression, combined with the stringent laws of the 20’s, cut off all mass immigration and silenced the discussion as to the pattern that would emerge in America. Then with the rise of Hitler, the situation of the First World War began to return. In 1938, American citizens of Czech and German descent found it hard to look at each other—or themselves—as simply Americans. The old passions were reawakened. And Kallen’s point of view was now revived by Louis Adamic in a series of volumes of which perhaps the most representative was A Nation of Nations. Adamic wrote much more, and much more confusedly, than Kallen had. Essentially, however, he was again arguing that true democracy demanded that America be constituted as a democracy of nationalities, not as a democracy of a single new nationality, the American. And the corollary of a “nation of nations” was a program of “intercultural education.”
But up to now we have been speaking of the history of ideas. What actually did happen? What was the result of the greatest migration in history? To what extent did the migrants merge into a single great community, and to what extent did they preserve their individuality? What parts of their lives and interests did they sacrifice to the new nation, and what did they retain?
The present article attempts to suggest the main lines taken by the assimilation of the various ethnic groups that make up the American population. It draws only from the topmost surface of a sea of material—standard histories of the various groups, and the leading accounts of the entire process. This material is in large part ten or twenty years old, for the great debate on the assimilation of the ethnic groups, which reached a peak during and shortly after the First World War, now seems to have closed—or come to a temporary halt.
It would make things simple if the two concepts of the “melting pot” and the “nation of nations” could be assigned to different
periods—if we could believe, as so many do, that the earlier American immigrants (Germans, Irish, Norwegians, Swedes, English) did indeed assimilate rapidly, and that for them the “melting pot” worked; while the later immigrants—Italians, Jews, Poles, Slovaks, South Slavs, Greeks, and so on—did not assimilate as rapidly, and that to them the “nation of nations” concept was applicable.
Actually, on the basis of the facts, one could more easily argue the opposite. An important section of the major element in the earlier migration—the Germans—came with just the idea of creating a nation of their countrymen in America. In the 1830’s there was considerable agitation among disappointed German liberals for the creation of a new and free German homeland in America: a sizable number of Germans emigrated to Missouri and Southern Illinois to carry out these plans. In the 1840’s, large tracts of land were bought in Texas by German noblemen and many thousands of German settlers were sent there with the intention of creating a German nation in Texas, or even transforming Texas itself into a German state. A little later, a tremendous German migration took place into Wisconsin—and the most perceptive writer on the Germans in America (John Hawgood, The Tragedy of German America, 1940) argues that at least some of those involved in fostering it were very likely motivated by the idea of making Wisconsin a German state—and very nearly succeeded. But the net effect of this German effort at nation-building in America was only a few all-German schools, a few all-German towns, which by the third and fourth generation were speaking English and were demanding that the sermons in their churches be given in English.
The Germans in Europe were a nation before they became a state—that is, they existed as a nationally conscious group before the legal form of a German nation was created. The Irish, the second most important element in the earlier immigration, were also a nation before they were a state, and many came to America with the intention of assisting the creation of an Irish state in Europe. On one occasion they did not hesitate to organize armies in America to attack the British in Canada. (Many years later, American Jews were equally unconcerned about sponsoring armed resistance to the same power.) But they did not, as did the Germans, make any serious efforts to create an Irish nation in the full sense of the word in America. In 1818, Irish associations in New York and Philadelphia petitioned Congress for a large tract of land on which to settle Irish poor from the Eastern cities; but there seems to have been no national intention involved. Congress’s decision on this occasion settled once and for all the possibility of nationally conscious European nations recreating themselves in America. It refused to sell land in blocks for such purposes, insisting on individual sales and individual settlement. This was certainly one of the most important decisions made in the first half-century of America’s national existence.
In any case, it is highly questionable whether national homogeneity, even had Congress approved the Irish request, could have been maintained; in almost every immigrant group individual motives kept on asserting themselves, and again and again caused the disintegration of the homogeneous colonies of the ideologues, and led the immigrants who had come to settle on the land, with its conservative influences, to desert it for the city, with its powerful assimilative effects. The decision, on the national level, in favor of individual settlement; the decision, on the part of individual settlers, to strike out without the formal assistance of colonies and settlement companies, with their inevitable authority over their settlers—these two facts made it impossible, despite the ideology of the Germans, and of perhaps some Irishmen, to create branches of European nations in America.
A third factor was equally important: the division of labor which took place on the frontier, with English-speaking elements, as the first settlers everywhere, naturally claiming the prerogatives and power of the first-comers. If, like the Mormons, the Germans had struck out into unsettled territory, they would have had a state or states for themselves, with all the power—for example, to determine the official state language—that the Constitution reserves for states. But they never, not even in Wisconsin, had the strength to establish such a state as the Mormons made for themselves in Utah—that belongs to the first-comers. And everywhere the first-comers were Anglo-Saxons. Centuries in the New World had created the highly specialized breed of frontiersman who could do the initial clearing of the wilderness while feeding himself by means of his rifle. Influential guidebooks written for German and other prospective immigrants warned the farmers of the Old World to avoid the frontier—it was not for them. It is true that, after the initial clearing, the immigrant made a better farmer than the Anglo-Saxon. After all, the least efficient farmers in the country are the descendants of this pioneering stock in the Southern and border states; the best are the immigrants and their children. But the economic prosperity attendant on the superior techniques of the immigrants did not give them the power to mold the cultural and political life of the state. Again and again, it can be seen how the first few thousand settlers in an area had far more weight in this respect than hundreds of thousands who came later. They set up the school system; the legal system; they wrote the state constitution; they had the most political experience; they had the prestige which led the later-coming majority—or at least their children—to conform to their standards, rather than vice versa.
So while many Germans, and some Irish, came with the intention of creating a “nation of nations,” most of them ended up as the principal ingredients of the “melting pot.”
Perhaps more successful in creating nations—at least for a while—was what we might call the “intermediate” immigration: the Norwegians and Swedes. If the Irish and the Germans came from nations that were not yet states, the Norwegians and Swedes came from states that were not yet nations. The upper classes in all countries are aware of their existence as a nation; it is they who create national literature, a national language, a national culture. But while these stages in the creation of a nation were completed in England, France, and Germany quite early, and national consciousness had percolated down to the lower orders in these countries by the 19th century, in Norway and Sweden the creation of a nation in this sense was largely a product of the later 19th century. The peasants who came to this country from Scandinavia thought of themselves less as members of nations than as coming from a certain family and village, and belonging to a certain church.
Despite this, more of them were successful in creating a national existence in America than were the Germans; that is, they lived in homogeneous farming colonies using their native language, had their own newspapers, books, and publishing houses, a church that conducted its activities in the language of the “old country,” and schools to continue the language and culture in succeeding generations. And this was accomplished without the aid of the ideology which moved the Germans: it was accomplished solely by the conditions of their settlement in America. For while there was no need for the Norwegian or Swedish peasant to think of himself as a Norwegian or Swede in the home country—and indeed, he did not—he was immediately faced with the need for establishing his own identity here. He had to consider whether he should send his children to the English school, or set up his own school; whether to attend the English-speaking church, or establish branches of the established church of die old country. And since the natural course of settlement was to seek out the regions where friends and countrymen and relatives had settled, and so to create a dense concentration of settlers clearly marked off from the surrounding countryside, this answer was given by conditions.
Originally without any ideology, with no strong concern for or knowledge of Swedish or Norwegian culture, these colonies soon developed a great concern with such matters, and maintained it through three generations. Insofar as the Germans settled under the same circumstances, they showed the same history; but the Germans as a group were much more widely distributed, occupationally and geographically, than the Norwegians and Swedes. The Irish, as concentrated geographically as the Scandinavians, lived in the cities, in which an isolated folk existence was impossible, and they were even more dispersed occupationally than the Germans. Eventually, the growth of the cities, the rise of greater attractions there than in farming, and the actual decline of the farming population were the means by which these Scandinavian colonies too were reduced, and these elements too, in sizable measure, entered the melting pot.
It is consequently rather simple-minded to think of the Germans, Irish, Norwegians, and Swedes as groups that easily assimilated to the Anglo-Saxon temper of American life. The Germans in particular had a strong feeling against assimilation. They felt they had brought culture to a relatively benighted country—as, indeed, in certain respects they had. They opposed intermarriage; they felt very strongly about the maintenance of “Germanism.” True, they never succeeded in giving really solid institutional form to their feeling for German life and culture, and when World War I came they buried their opposition and quite disappointed the German government with their American patriotism. And yet as late as 1940, when Franklin D. Roosevelt, who did not conceal his anti-Nazi feelings, was running against a candidate of German descent (Willkie), the old American Germandom showed itself in force. German-language newspapers called openly for the support of the “German” candidate. Counties, indistinguishable on census returns from their neighbors, turned strongly against Roosevelt: these counties would have been easily distinguishable in the census returns of 1890, when they would have shown a high proportion of German-born from the migrations during the middle of the century.
We can, I think, conclude: where these early immigrants were isolated and remained rural, they showed an amazing persistence in maintaining the old language, religion, and culture (or, to be more exact, variants of each, developed in response to American conditions: nothing was transplanted unchanged). Where they settled in cities, as did the Irish, many of the Germans, and the later Norwegians and Swedes, a shorter time sufficed to remove the language and culture they had brought with them.
But this did not end the matter, for after language and culture were gone, ideology and religion remained. The Irish did not live under circumstances that permitted them to construct in America the amazing replicas of the old country that rural settlers were able to create in many other places. They became culturally indistinguishable from their surroundings much faster than if they had become farmers; but they continued to be distinguished by their strong concern for the fate of the old country.
Supporting this concern for the old country in almost every case was the old religion. As Oscar Handlin has pointed out, the state churches of the old country were thrown on the mercy of the immigrants in the new. And these, clutching at everything familiar in the strange new world, supported them as they never would have at home. Religion became, for many groups, indistinguishable from loyalty to the old homeland. (In those cases, as in Poland and Ireland, where the religion of an oppressed national group differed from that of the oppressors, the church had already taken on the character of a national church, linked with the national struggle, that it commonly took on in America.) There was a certain virtue for the immigrant groups in this confusion between religious devotion and national allegiance. For since religion is rigorously separated from American public life, loyalty to the old country in the form of heightened religious practice did not compete in any way, either in the minds of older Americans or of immigrants, with loyalty to America. But despite the honesty with which the immigrant could believe that he had divested himself of all political ties to the homeland, it would be naive not to see in the religion of many immigrant groups transmuted substitutes for allegiance to the abandoned countries. And indeed, when the mother countries were imperiled, the churches often played a leading role in bringing to their aid the children settled in America.
We can thus, by some oversimplification, distinguish two very distinct sources in the complex of factors preventing the full assimilation of the early immigrant groups: one arose from the conditions of settlement (isolation and concentration); one arose from what we may call ideological commitment to the old country—its religion, its culture, its political and national needs. The Germans were strengthened in their apartness by both; the Irish by the latter; the Norwegians and Swedes, with no country to free from a foreign yoke, only by the former.
The later immigrants showed the same range of variability, with the same, as well as different, factors at work. They also came from nations struggling to become states (Poles, Lithuanians, Slovaks, Croats, Slovenes), states struggling to become nations (Italy, Turkey, and Greece), as well as areas quite outside these Western concepts of state and nation (Syrians); and they included as their second most numerous element, a people—the Jews— who fell into none of these categories completely, but who, almost by dint of their own efforts, created a state and so finally “normalized” themselves, at least in this one sense: they became akin to the Irish, the Poles, the Greeks, and the other “nations” of America. These groups reflected the far more backward conditions of Eastern and Southern Europe. Unlike the earlier immigrants, they were completely cut off from the political life of the areas from which they came. In their homelands, politics was the monopoly not only of a difiFerent class, but, in almost every case, of a difiFerent people. The nationalist ideologies of Europe could have little to do with preventing the complete assimilation of these peasant, lower caste peoples. (Again, we must except the Jews.)
Yet the newcomers became European nations—and nationalists—in America. As Max Ascoli writes of the Italians (we must remember that the great mass of Italian immigrants, who rank first in the new immigration, as the Germans rank first in the old, came from the depressed South of Italy): “They became Americans before they ever were Italians.” Indeed, the creation of national languages, a task which the Western European nations had accomplished centuries before, was considerably facilitated for these backward peoples by American emigration. In American cities people of various villages speaking various dialects came together, and they needed a common, standardized language. Also they were far more dependent on newspapers than at home—and this required a standardized written language. The first newspaper in the Lithuanian language was published in the United States, not in Lithuania. The urbanization of many East European peoples occurred in America, not in Europe; and the effects of urbanization—its creation of some common denominator of nationality, its replacement of the sub-ideological feelings of villagers with a variety of modern ideologies—were in large measure first displayed in America. The Erse revival began in Boston, and the nation of Czechoslovakia was launched at a meeting in Pittsburgh. And all this should not surprise us too much when we realize that some of these areas in Europe were so depopulated that the immigrants and their descendants in America sometimes surpassed in numbers—not to speak of wealth—those who were left behind.
If some nations were in large measure created in America, other immigrants were to discover on coming to America that they had left nations behind—nations in which they had had no part at home. Thus, the American relatives of Southern Italians—to whom, as Ignazio Silone and Carlo Levi describe them, the Ethiopian war meant nothing more than another affliction visited upon them by the alien government of the North—became Italian patriots in America and supported Mussolini in a war to which they would have been indifferent in Italy.
Nevertheless, and in contrast, it was among these same immigrants that the problem of the violent turning away of the second generation from the life of the first—that intense passion for Americanization whose other side is self-hatred and rejection—became an important phenomenon. When we consider such questions of social psychology, we are not on very sure ground: yet I feel that the problem of the “rejection” of the immigrant parents which plays so great a role in Oscar Handlin’s The Uprooted is the problem of the later immigrant group, not the earlier. And it is not hard to see why. If Thorstein Veblen, son of a Norwegian immigrant who was raised speaking his father’s language, and who went to his father’s church, ever had a passion for assimilation, it could be countered by the pull of an ancient culture which the Anglo-Saxon world respected: he could translate the Norse sagas. Similarly, one can understand how it was possible for German culture to maintain itself among such large numbers in the second and third generation—and had it not been for the trauma of the First World War, it would undoubtedly have been much stronger among the third and fourth generations than it is today. For not only could the Germans boast a connection with one of the strongest and most advanced nations in the world; the Americans themselves, up until the First World War, sent their most promising students to study in German universities. In the same way, less important groups like the French and Dutch in America could take pride in their ancestry. And of course the large immigration from Great Britain also had no occasion to forget its past.
How much sadder was the condition of Slovaks and Ruthenians and Croats! If some intellectuals in these groups were creating a national language and culture, their own peasants—let alone the world—knew nothing of it. They could not even answer the common American question, “What are you?” They were listed in immigration and census statistics indiscriminately as natives of “Austria-Hungary,” and they themselves often lacked any clearer notion of who they were than the Americans who dubbed them “bohunks.” So while, on the one hand, the conditions of existence in a strange land led them to come together to
found newspapers and fraternal societies, and eventually to determine to take pride in their ancestry and some interest in their homelands—at the same time, the fact that they came from nations of peasants, caste nations without an aristocracy or a middle class, and with only the beginnings of an intelligentsia, meant that large numbers of them were unable to define themselves in terms of their origins and therefore flung themselves into a feverish Americanization.
The tragedy of these nationless and pastless immigrants has nowhere been better told than by Louis Adamic. Adamic, himself an immigrant from one of those relatively historyless peoples of the Balkans, was an indefatigable and passionate seeker after knowledge of the history of these groups in America. He traveled around the country; he spoke before—and with —groups of first- and second-generation Poles, Ukrainians, South Slavs, and others. He wrote more on this problem than anyone else— though he was as perplexed after he had written five books on the subject as before he wrote the first. He was deeply worried about the second generation arising from a people in whom—as far as they knew—they could take no pride. He found the second generation changing their names and becoming more Americanized in their attachments to fads and surface mannerisms than the “Americans” themselves. They seemed to him utterly empty, rootless, and unreal.
IN What’s Your Name? Adamic tells at great length the story of the son of a Lemko coal miner who had come to hear Adamic lecture once in Cleveland. The Lemkoes are one of those small peoples of the Carpathians related to the Slovaks and the Ruthenians and who, one guesses, ended up a separate people, rather than a sub-group or a dialect, as a matter of accident. In the town where the father was a coal miner, there were a number of Lemkoes, but even there the matter of self-definition arose. One could choose to go to a variety of churches. One could assimilate to the dominant ethnic group among the coal miners, or continue to assert one’s identity as a Lemko, or become an “American.” The man who told Adamic his story decided to change his name and become an “American,” without further identification. The difficulties and miseries that began to plague him as he got a job as a history teacher, married, had a child, and lived in a Midwest town where people felt he had “something to hide” are utterly convincing; the solution of his problems—his return to his original name, and his acceptance of his abandoned father—is not.
And yet, while too pat to be taken seriously, the story of the acceptance of his origins by this son of a Lemko immigrant raises a social-psychological pattern of immigrant life as important as second-generation rejection. For this rejection is often succeeded by a “return,” in some sense, to the original culture. Of course the culture one returns to is not the culture one left: thus, the nature of the interest of some young Jews today in their East European background is perhaps more remote from the real character of East European Jewish life than their fathers’ rebellion against that life— at least the rebellion arose from direct contact with it. Yet on an ideological level, if not on the level of cultural practice, the third generation shows a new tendency toward acceptance.
This important phenomenon was first discussed, to my knowledge, by the greatest student of American immigration, Marcus L. Hansen (see his essay, reprinted in COMMENTARY under the title “The Third Generation in America,” November 1952). His perception seems to me all the more remarkable in that he discovered this third-generation reaction among these groups in whom, to my mind, it was mildest and least impressive—the earlier immigrant groups of Scotch-Irish, Germans, and Scandinavians. Among these groups, the steady disintegration of the culture brought over by the immigrants proceeded evenly. There were no important shocks such as later immigrants received in the form of quota acts, alien registration acts, and anti-immigrant agitation—for despite the presence of this type of sentiment throughout American history, it was never as strong against the Northern and Western European immigrants as it was against those from Eastern and Southern Europe. The one great shock the even development of this earlier element suffered was the First World War, which only hastened the abandonment of German culture and short-circuited a fully developed third-generation reaction.
It was just in the newer groups (none of whom had developed third generations of any size when Hansen wrote in 1938) that the “Americanizing” attitude of the second generation was so prominent, and that the “return” of the third generation is most marked. The voting blocs of Poles, Italians, and Jews were never so important as in the 1940’s and 1950’s, twenty and thirty years after the end of mass immigration. In part, of course, this was simply because a greater number were voting for the first time; in larger part, because of the Second World War. But these groups would not have shown such strong, common reactions did they not maintain some feelings of common identity which made it possible for events to affect them, at least in some measure, as a group.1
We have already pointed out that these later groups (except for the Jews) did not so much bring nationalistic ideologies from Europe as develop them while discovering their identity in America. To this extent, therefore, the “return” reaction of the third generation was already apparent in the first. These discoverers of their nationality of course had a difficult time keeping any sizable number of their children close to it. But they had arrived in an America in which ethnic anonymity was more difficult to achieve than fifty years before. When the Anglo-Saxon origins of America were most apparent to all its inhabitants, when its character as an English-speaking nation was most assured, incoming immigrants had a somewhat different character: they came in small enough numbers to be either invisible or exotic, and they did not reinforce a preexisting mass of their compatriots. Thus, they often found it easy to assimilate—or hard to resist the conditions making it so easy. We find in many towns records of the existence of groups of Jews in the early part of the 19th century who had completely disappeared by the 20th: in some cases, we can trace the details of their disappearance by intermarriage and conversion. If such a hardy element disappeared, it is easy to believe that the spearheads of other ethnic elements were also swallowed up in a different America.
But this was less likely, I think, in 20th-century America. A century of immigration had alerted the “native” population to the characteristics of immigrant groups; a century of agitation had made them exclusive; a society in which large bureaucratic organizations played a greater role, in which the habits of the frontier were no longer even a memory, in which a hectic rate of growth and expansion had been succeeded by somewhat greater stability, led to a stronger emphasis being placed on a man’s origins and his “type.” In sum, “respectability” had become an important value in American life; and while it led, on the one hand, to a more complete effort by some individuals to deny their origins by name-changing and religion-changing in order to gain the advantages held by the “respectable” elements of the society, it also led many others to react by asserting their individuality more sharply. It is this development in American society itself, as well as certain subsidiary factors—such as the Second World War, and the heightening of ethnic consciousness it caused —which has produced on a wide and important scale a “third-generation” reaction among the newer immigrants.
This development, it would seem, reacts to some extent upon the earlier groups, giving them a justification for asserting a common interest. The Germans, despite the loss of the culture which was their glory up to 1914, again take on, to some extent, a common identity and common reactions, which made them almost as important in the election of 1940 as in that of 1860.
To return to the two concepts with which we began: the “melting pot” described the reality of assimilation which has characterized, to some extent, and in every period, each one of the ethnic groups migrating to this country. The “nation of nations” described one reality for the earlier period of our history: those homogeneous colonies to be found principally on the Great Plains, but to some extent everywhere in the country, which maintained the immigrant’s language, religion, and culture. Today the “nations” that make up America no longer find much justification in the maintenance of language, religion, and culture: they are private or subconscious “nations” held together only by a nostalgia which does not dare to become an ideology, a frame of mind which itself has no organic relation to their Old World past but is a reaction to the conditions of 20th-century America.
What remains most questionable today in this history of assimilation is the status and future prospects of these ghost nations, built around ideologies of support of the home countries, and drawing their real strength from experiences in America which make their elements feel less than full Americans. Whether these empty nations are only given the illusion of a relatively vigorous life by recent developments in Europe, or whether the conditions of American life are not such as to maintain and strengthen them for some time to come: this is something that only the next twenty years can decide.
And yet, however it is decided, it is important to realize that this question concerns the different groups that are involved more than it does the American state as a whole. For the history of the assimilation of ethnic groups in this country, whatever the complexities that have characterized it, is overwhelmingly a history of success, from the point of view of the state. Disloyalty—in the First World War, in the Second World War, in the present struggle with Communism—has never been a serious problem in this country, and indeed, it. has been far less serious than in many countries of a homogeneous stock. Further, it could be powerfully argued that in both world wars an ideology independent of ethnic affiliation—in the first war, socialist pacifism, in the second fascism—played a much greater role in whatever disloyalty there was than any national ties. In the present situation, this is so self-evident as to need no argument.
The problem of assimilation is thus no longer a political one in any significant sense. The complete identification of the overwhelming majority of persons in each group with America in spite of any experiences of discrimination is assured. Rather, the problem of assimilation is now a cultural one, and for each group. In each, larger or smaller numbers of people now worry as to what to do about the burden of real and imaginary traditions. Should they embrace it, reject it, select from it? And what of the American environment, formally indifferent to ethnic varieties as it is to religious ones? Does it actually encourage or discourage one or another of these solutions? This whole range of problems in the history of ethnic assimilation is still left open, and is worthy of more thought and study than it has received.
1 One may also give a more positive interpretation to this pattern of greater willingness to assert one's origins in the third generation than in the second. Even the “oldest” Americans trace back their ancestry to Europe, with some pride. Perhaps with a greater degree of assimilation comes a greater willingness to accept one's origins.