Immigrant Minds, American Identities: Making the United States Home, 1870-1930 (Statue of Liberty Ellis Island)

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9780252025624: Immigrant Minds, American Identities: Making the United States Home, 1870-1930 (Statue of Liberty Ellis Island)

Focusing on a period of American history marked by a sharp division between Anglo-Americans ("Americans") and non-Anglo European immigrants ("foreigners"), Orm Overland examines the creation and dissemination of "homemaking myths": stories that weave immigrants into the basic fabric of America by linking them to the pivotal events and ideas of their new homeland. Devised by middle-class ethnic leaders and spread through ethnic media, banquets, and rallies, homemaking myths uncovered a role for immigrants in the nation's founding, a place of honor in the nation's wars, and traces of American democratic political ideology in the immigrants' ethnic past. These stories proclaim that immigrants, in the person of their ancestors, disembarked from Christopher Columbus' ships, fought for victory over the Axis, and brought American values of freedom and democracy from their native lands. By virtue of their ethnic group's contributions, these myths maintain, non-Anglo European immigrants came to America not as foreigners but as ready-made ideal citizens of the Republic. Overland shows that the plots and themes of homemaking myths share so many characteristics that they must be considered an American phenomenon rather than one peculiar to an individual ethnic group. As a symbol of the immigrant's insider status, these stories have played a crucial role in forming American ethnic identities and in carving out a place for immigrants in an Anglo-dominated society.

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Ethnic celebrations in the United States, ranging from Columbus Day to St. Patrick's Day, offer a way of affirming that a given ethnic group has a home in America. Immigrant Minds, American Identities explores the stories that connect ethnic identity with a rightful, even an honored, place in America.

Focusing on a period of American history marked by a sharp division between Anglo-Americans ("Americans") and non-Anglo European immigrants ("foreigners"), Orm Overland examines the creation of "homemaking myths" -- stories that weave immigrants into the basic fabric of America by linking them to the pivotal events and ideas of their new homeland. Devised by individual ethnic leaders and spread through ethnic media, banquets, and rallies, these myths were a response to being marginalized by the dominant group and a way of laying claim to a legitimate home in America.

Overland discerns three types of home-making myths: foundation myths, sacrifice myths, and ideology myths. These stories uncover a role for immigrants in the nation's founding, a place of honor in the nation's wars, and strains of American democratic political ideology in the immigrants' ethnic past. They proclaim that immigrants, in the person of their ancestors, disembarked from Christopher Columbus's ships, fought in the Union army, and fostered American values of freedom and democracy in their native lands. Leif Erikson carries the banner for Norwegian Americans; Polish Americans claim close ties between the Declaration of Independence and the Polish constitution; Jewish Americans claim the principles of the U.S. Constitution are rooted in the words of Moses and the prophets. By virtue of such contributions, homemakingmyths maintain, immigrants come to America not as foreigners but as ready-made ideal citizens of the Republic.

Taken individually, such claims ring with ethnocentric narcissism. However, Overland shows that the plots and themes of home-making myths share so many characteristics that they must be considered an American phenomenon rather than one peculiar to an individual ethnic group. As a symbol of the immigrant's insider status, these stories have played a crucial role in forming American ethnic identities and carving out a place for immigrants in an Anglo-dominated society.

About the Author:

Orm Overland, a professor of American literature at the University of Bergen, Norway, is the author of The Making and Meaning of an American Classic: James Fenimore Cooper's "The Prairie" and Johan Schroder's Travels in Canada 1863, among other books.

Eng, Norway University

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