I ran across an essay that my grandfather, Rev. Arpad Bakay, wrote on Americanization. I am not sure of the date it was published, but it was found as an appendix to “Magyars in America” copyright, 1922.
Not a disinterested observer, my grandfather not only knew the experience of immigration first hand, but he, with his faithful and hardworking companion, his wife Helen Bakay (my grandmother), helped many Hungarians to integrate into their new country: helping them to find jobs, working as translator at doctor appointments, teaching English classes and many other necessary duties in establishing newcomers to this country.
He knew whereof he spoke, and I think it might help shed some light on even today’s situation for many who are trying to integrate into American society.
AMERICANIZATION AS THE FOREIGNER THINKS OF IT
(By Rev. Arpad Bakay, Akron, Ohio)
The average foreigner is struck with alarming surprise by the nation-wide Americanization movement urged upon him. He does not understand its intent. He regards with distrust its pressure from all quarters hitherto unfelt and unheard of by him.
In the past very little if anything was said to him concerning Americanization or about acquiring the language of the nation, or of changing his foreign customs and life ideals. Consequently he has been satisfied to work here for wages he could never hope to earn in his own country, and has been content to continue living in his old European ways.
Now, that a new interest is brought to bear upon him, he is naturally disinclined and indifferent to it. In most instances it is only his desire to hold down his job and to retain the favor of his employers that he is obliged to “take in” some Americanization.
While such, in general, is the attitude of the foreigner toward the great Americanization campaign, there are wide differences in their feelings and opinions. In conversation with many of them you will find this expression: “I wish I had had such an opportunity to learn the English language eight or ten years ago; I would be in better position today; but now I am too old to learn it.” Others will say: “It is too late, I am going home.” You will find these the strongest excuses of the objectors for their lack of interest.
Perhaps about 46 per cent of the foreign population are drawn back to Europe by family ties ; they have been severed from their loved ones during the fearful world war so that not even communication could be had with them. These conditions have created in them an intense longing to see their loved ones again. So deep is their anxiety to know the fate of those they left behind that their minds are fixed on one thing to go home and see for themselves. However, as to whether all these will return to their country or will try to have their families join them here is yet a question that will be determined by the opportunities offered them in
their own country to make a living and a fortune for themselves and their children. Thus the place of their settlement is largely influenced by the economic advantages rather than by national feelings.
With many of them the study required for Americanization is a case in which the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak. After a day of hard physical labor it is indeed an expression of strong effort and ambition for a man to devote an hour or two to acquiring the English language, for when the body is worn out and the longing for food and rest is upper most the mind is least receptive. It is one of the most impressive scenes to watch a class of men and women anywhere from the age of twenty to fifty and over, some totally illiterate, others totally ignorant of the language, and yet patiently trying to learn to read, write and talk English. To be a
teacher of such a class is worthy one’s best efforts.
The appreciation and development shown by those who respond to the appeal of Americanization richly pay any effort and sacrifice we may put forth in their behalf. Now that the very air is charged with Americanism, Americanization is the task of the hour. Let us go at it in the spirit of kindness and Christian fellowship. When the foreigners are given to understand that while in America they must live as Americans, it will become evident who are friendly aliens and who are alien enemies and as such undesirables. Their favorable response to our friendly appeal or their resentment of it will be positive proof of their willingness to become one with us or one against us. By our sympathetic approach we can persuade them even at this late hour that Americanization is for their good as well as for the good of this nation.