Acculturation and Americanization define opposite, and in some ways conflicting, processes of immigrant adjustment to life in the United States. The former denotes voluntary changes, initiated by the immigrants themselves in and of their own volition, as they seek to adapt to their new milieu. Acceptance on this approach by those-often called natives-who compose the established population indicates their faith that the immigrants, over an acceptable length of time, will come to think and behave in appropriate ways. The latter identifies efforts devised and undertaken by the natives to inculcate particular ideological and behavioral norms amongst the aliens and their children.
During the early-twentieth century, as record numbers of ethnically diverse immigrants arrived in the United States, natives increasingly came to believe that Americanization was the best means of dealing with the new arrivals. They based this on the supposition that aliens who failed to conform to a sufficiently U.S. orthodoxy posed a danger to the republic and to themselves. But, unlike the control of immigrant entry, solely the purview of the federal government, Americanization lacked a single entity to create a universally applied process. This left the particulars in the hands of private organizations or state agencies.
As the title indicates, this book chronicles the policies and practices of agencies in four then-polyglot states: New York, California, Massachusetts, and Illinois. Although each had its own unique characteristics, based on the specifics of the location, those involved shared a common goal of providing for the immigrants' social welfare, even as they sought to direct their adaptation to their new homes. Author Ziegler-McPherson attributes this approach to the influences of Progressivism. The movement consisted of women and men who perceived a "moral obligation" to make the United States a better [End Page 497] place for everyone who called it home. They also thought that both immigrants and natives could contribute to the "new nationality," if the states devised and implemented the proper policies and procedures.
The strength of the book is its coverage and analysis of the different agencies. Each chapter explores the endeavors of one state, sometimes offering comparisons between the various programs. Work done by each of the different agencies is well researched, leaving the reader with a good understanding of who was involved, what they wanted to do, and how well they were able to do it. Level of commitment by governmental leaders often determined their success or failure. Ziegler-McPherson also shows how the agencies pressed their commitment to changing not only the immigrants but also the native environment. This, practitioners believed, would constitute the most beneficial type of Americanization.
The weaknesses of the book lie in its failure to provide a clear synthesis. The introduction neither sufficiently defines Americanization nor adequately places it in the larger context of U.S. ethnic history during the Progressive Era. For example, the section which attempts to differentiate between Americanization and assimilation, intermingles the two terms and garbles their distinctive meanings. The author also confuses naturalization and citizenship; after ratification of the Fourteenth Amendment in 1868, anyone born in the United States became a citizen, regardless of whether their ethnicity would have made them statutorily ineligible for naturalization. The conclusion of the book offers better overall analysis as to why Americanization ultimately gave way to immigration restriction, but the individual chapters do not connect well to it.
Readers interested in why and how particular states conducted Americanization programs will find this book informative. Those looking for more likely will be disappointed. [End Page 498]
Robert F. Zeidel is an associate professor of history at the University of Wisconsin-Stout in Menomonie, Wisconsin. His scholarly interests center on immigration and ethnicity, especially how Americans have responded to immigrants.