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  • Writer's pictureJohanna Mamali Panagiotou


Europeanization versus Americanization


After the European Migration and Refugees Crisis of 2015 Migration researchers are faced with the challenge of understanding, analyzing, explaining and suggesting potential solutions. In this spirit, the present paper draws a parallel to the biggest migration in history, taken place in the 20th century in the USA, when millions of immigrants immigrated. We will shift the emphasis on the positive and negative aspects of ‘Americanization Movement’ and analyze the reaction of the immigrants to assimilation methods. Portraying the American society and highlighting the sociopsychological context, we will also delve deeper into questions around the rejection of strangers and try to approach the threat of the native-born citizens.

1. Introduction

Over a million migrants and refugees, according to UNHCR, reached Europe during the Migrant Crisis in 2015, “sparking a crisis as countries struggled to cope with the influx and creating division in the EU over how best to deal with resettling people”, as reported by BBC [1].

However, how could these human beings be unhindered resettled and integrated within a latently or perceptibly hostile environment, where politicians and media partially reject newcomers, creating an antagonistic situation?

Furthermore, newcomers – many of them traumatized by war experience − are obliged to face and overcome the attitude of xenophobic groups within the society as well as state discrimination measurements (I). The latter refers to supplementary selection and classification mechanisms with which foreigners are confronted – sometimes even with fatal consequences (II). Moreover, many of them are perceived as ‘second- even third-class citizens’; taxonomies that principally subject to Muslims and Africans. Paradoxically, this type of ‘Categorization of Strangers’ (III) is endorsed by a number of ‘long-lived assimilated migrants’ (IV) that are often at odds with each other. All mentioned facts should, in my view, be a matter of concern for migration researchers.

Assuming that we challenge to analyze expected and already existent reactions (V) of citizens being under threat, when different cultures clash and interact with each other, I will relate these phenomena to occurrences during the early 20th century in the USA. The criterion determining this concrete space and time is the fact that “over 22 million Europeans immigrated from the early 1890s to the mid-1920s to the United States, making it one of the largest migrations in history” (Mirel, 2010) [2].

Accurately, I have the ambition to prove by reference to the historical analysis that the financial situation of the strangers is a decisive and dominant factor, while shifting the emphasis on the Americanization Movement and the Greek paradigm.

2. The Americanization Movement: A success story?

The Americanization Movement, which incorporated a variety of educational programs and campaigns aimed at turning foreigners into Americans “was crucial in that it provoked immigrants to devise their own way in which they could demonstrate their loyalty to America and forge links between Americanism and their cultural pride.” (Hanley, 2012) [3].

Children and adults started to participate in the public life, became familiar with the American culture and learned the English language. Latter is reasonable, desirable and – studying the international history – characteristic. Even in the ancient Hellas, Isocrates argues in Panegyricus, the legend Speech held at the Olympic Games in 340 bc, following:

[50] «τοσοῦτον δ᾽ ἀπολέλοιπεν ἡ πόλις ἡμῶν περὶ τὸ φρονεῖν καὶ λέγειν τοὺς ἄλλους ἀνθρώπους, ὥσθ᾽ οἱ ταύτης μαθηταὶ τῶν ἄλλων διδάσκαλοι γεγόνασιν, καὶ τὸ τῶν Ἑλλήνων ὄνομα πεποίηκεν μηκέτι τοῦ γένους, ἀλλὰ τῆς διανοίας δοκεῖν εἶναι, καὶ μᾶλλον Ἕλληνας καλεῖσθαι τοὺς τῆς παιδεύσεως τῆς ἡμετέρας ἢ τοὺς τῆς κοινῆς φύσεως μετέχοντας».

“And so far has our city overtook the rest nations in thought and speech that even our students became their teachers. Moreover, we have brought it so far, that the name Hellene no longer suggests a race but an intelligence; and that the title Hellen is rather borne by these who share our culture than these with a common origin”.

At this point, it is interesting to see how language and culture are used as weapons, in order to defend the country against a threat. The difference is that Isocrates tried to bring the citizens together under the Athenian hegemony, in order to avoid an external danger. In the example of Americanization, we face an internal danger, as the enemy resides within the borders. The competitor is the ‘alien’, who is able to undermine the Anglo-Saxon culture and the American values such as Democracy, representative government, respect for law and order, equality, the belief in the great role of public schools, the capitalistic economy, the laissez-faire dogma and the thrift (Hartmann, 1948) [4].

From a critical point of view, we can determine the problematic by delimiting the scope of the case. The questions that arise: Where are the limits? Where does the affront to the human dignity and the own culture of the cultural stranger begins and where does it stop? I would like to answer accompany my argument by giving two examples. For instance, consolidating the supremacy of Americans, initiators wanted to give immigrants “the feeling that the American people had the highest standards of living and lived under the best sanitary and hygienic conditions” [ibid].

Furthermore, studying the case of ‘Americanizing Mexicans” we will see that the movement yet aimed to change the habits of the family. “Americanization programs encouraged Mexican women to give up […] fried foods, […] (and the) consumption of rice and beans. According to Americanists, the modern Mexican woman should replace tortillas with bread (and) serve lettuce instead of beans”. (Apple, Golden, 1997) [5].

2.1 The reaction to mass naturalization methods

There is an obvious risk that taking decisions for migrants, without seriously considering how the concerned party is thinking, is not constructive. Thus, I will try to give two characteristic examples of how migrants estimated the attempt to be Americanized. The paradigms are based on the newspapers of that time, where migrants expressed criticism about those approaches.

The Italian newspaper L’ Aurora, Reading Pa., June 12, 1920 argues:

Americanization is an ugly word. Today it means to proselytize by making the foreign-born forget country and mother tongue.” [6]

The Russian newspaper Pravda, Olyphant, Pa., September 30, 1919 goes deeper and expresses itself acutely critical by writing:

Many Americanization Committees only exist on paper. They make much noise, get themselves into the newspaper, but do not do much good. They mostly laugh at the poor foreigners. If Americans want to help the immigrants, they must meet them with love. The immigrant is by no means stupid. He feels the patronizing attitude the American adopts towards him, and therefore never opens his soul.” [7]

3. Poverty as an inhibiting factor

Notwithstanding that the mentioned Newspaper became the means for propaganda under the name of the Bolsheviks (Brittanica, 2013) and is, thus, could − in a different context − conceivably not be regarded as a trustworthy source, I evaluate the above statement as a good reference. It is honest and expresses uncomfortable truths about migration.

At this point, I take the liberty to highlight the crucial reference of poverty that arises in the atop Pravda editorial.

Predominantly and without claiming to have understood how the term ‘poor’ is exactly used – if it refers to the financial or the general situation of uprooted people in the sense of ‘fortuneless’ and ‘suffering hardships’– I estimate this factor as determined in our attempt to approach the relations between native-born and naturalized citizens as well as their reciprocal perception.

The meaning of the word ‘poor’ − in this connection – could be better understood by reading a groundbreaking scientific work on the U.S. Immigration Debate of that time. It is titled ‘Greek immigration to the United States’ and was written by the cultural anthropologist Henry Pratt Fairchild. It is a PhD thesis and incorporates the result of a field research in Greece as well as in the local US communities, in order to scientifically define and interpret the racial background of these human beings – a key element in contributing to or harming the American society.

Reading this thesis − published in 1911 by the Yale University Press that gains an excellent reputation − we are in an instant faced with an almost ragged young woman on the frontispiece, who gives the impression of a dirty poor girl. The photo was taken in Greece and is titled ‘A FUTURE AMERICAN’. An irrelevance, a redundant comment by the author or a thought that reflects the concerns of that time?

The questions can be answered only by trying to comprehend the meanings by taking under consideration the spirit of the age, viz. a period that varies widely from the present situation, in which, for instance, the President of the USA Donald Trump proudly issues the statement “I love the Greeks. Oh, do I love the Greeks!” (VI) .The descendants of the former migrants that are, inter alia, nowadays acutely successful Wall Street traders constitute a further significant example.

On the contrary, the early 20th century is an era, when racism was prevalent, even [pseudo]scientifically ‘proven’ and the rejection of newcomers was outspoken and expressed in an undisguised manner expressed. Among other things, via public signs as ‘No Blacks, No Dogs, No Irish ’and ‘No Rats, No Greeks’ which were a matter of course. Additionally, the latter were characterized as ‘greasy Greeks’, ‘worthless Greeks’ or ‘filthy Greeks’ and equated with former black slaves as well as faced with the brutality of Ku Klux Klan.

Returning to the charge and studying the book ‘Greek immigration to the United States’, we should pay special attention to the following indicative fragment, regarding the effects of ‘new’ immigration upon the United States:

There is much of similarity between the case of the negroes and that of the modern immigrants. To be sure, the newcomers of today are for the most part white-skinned instead of colored, which gives a different aspect to the matter. Yet in the mind of the average American, the modern immigrants are generally regarded as inferior peoples – races which he looks down on, and with which he does not wish to associate on terms of social equality. Like the negroes, they are brought in for economic reasons, to do the hard and menial work to which an American does not care to stoop. The business of the alien is to go into the mines, the foundries, the sewers, the stifling air of factories and work shops, out on the roads and railroads in the burning sun of summer, or the driving sleet and snow. If he proves himself a man, and rise above his station, and acquires wealth, and cleans himself up – very well, we receive him after a generation or two. But at present he is far beneath us, and the burden of proof rests with him”. (Fairchild, 1911) [8]

Not only do we gain a proper impression of how the financial situation of foreigners was an absolute priority for the native-born Americans, but we also face the same tendency of ‘hierarchization of the strangers’ as it was mentioned in the chapter regarding the contemporary European issue.

3.1. How property and power shape the enemy image

After almost 100 years, we are facing the same attitude from the European receiving society, as it is described in Fairchild’s study.

Precisely, while monitoring closely the reactions of long-time residents and self-proclaimed as ‘first-class migrants’ since 2015, I noticed that some citizens are exempli gratia negative towards Muslim refugee women, on the grounds that they give birth to many children and therefore plunder the social security funds (VII), hence ‘their’ tax money. Paradoxically, we cannot notice the same behavior against the same type of women, when they shortly reside in their town being in the role of a medical tourist and contribute to the strengthening of the local economy.

Nevertheless, as accurately as in the previous century in America, the majority of the nowadays US and European immigrants and refugees are male. Hence, it is interesting to comprehend how masculine strangers are being perceived. The latter are often facing hostility on the grounds that they ‘steal’ jobs or contribute due to their availability and flexibility to Salary-Dumping. Thereby, they are often doing jobs that native-born citizens would not do, as exactly analyzed above by Fairchild [ibid].

At the same time, a part of the German society feels ‘betrayed’, as refugees are actually not as poor and miserable as, in their opinion, they should be as victims of war. Signs of this ‘disturbing’ financial situation are in most instances relatively valuable possessions. The difference between the nowadays uprooted men and the men who entered the USA in the early 20th century, is that the contemporary aliens in Europe did mostly not flee from their countries due to strictly economic grounds, as many of them initially belonged to the middle class of their home country.

On the contrary, the requirement of earning money rapidly was a major priority for the ‘modern’ US immigrants. An additional crucial difference was the mentioned social class. Ethnologist Fairchild does highlight this factor and notices:

In considering movements of this kind it is always a matter of interest to determine what classes of the population are concerned. It is of vital interest to the United States whether we draw from the better classes, sound in mind, body and morals, or from the lower strata of society. In regard to this phase of the question, after what has gone before, it is hardly necessary to say that as far as the Greeks are concerned, emigration to the United States is almost wholly an affair of the agricultural and pastoral classes”. [9].

3.3. Methodological Approaches

The theoretical part of the paper is based on the Cultural Relativism and further principles of Culture Anthropology as well as on the ideas of Franz Uri Boas and his students Margaret Mead and Ruth Benedict, the pioneers of the modern Anthropology.

The historical sources were conducted with the aid of ‘The Chicago Foreign Language Press Survey’, published in 1942 by the Chicago Public Library Omnibus Project of the Works Progress Administration of Illinois and included the translation and classification of selected news´ articles, appeared in Foreign Press from 1855 to 1938. According to ‘The Newberry’ (website), the project “consists of 120,000 typewritten pages translated from Newspapers, derived from 22 different foreign language communities of Chicago”.

4. Conclusions

Human beings do not fit into taxonomies and classes, as lifeless subjects. Strangers are in a difficult situation but in no case unable to react when the own culture is not respected. Being integrated while learning the language of the host country and becoming familiar with the local culture should be the aim of all participants at this reciprocal process called integration. Nevertheless, we always have to have on our mind, how and why language and culture are abused by the power and where the limits of the affront to culturally sensitive areas are set.

Moreover, it became obvious that factors such as otherness (different appearance), culture and religion are becoming − in contrast to financial criteria − less important. We are probably facing the coexistence of a ‘welfare chauvinism’ and a ‘racist thinking in the global empire of neoliberal capitalism’ (Mbembe, 2013) [10]. How crucial and timeless the factor of the economic situation is, was proven by citing a scientist of 1911 in the USA.

5. Remarks

The difference between migrant and refugee is obvious; the former takes a conscious decision to leave his/her country seeking a better life, the latter is forced to flee from his homeland due to political or religious reasons seeking protection in another country. In the American paradigm of the 20th century, we are dealing with immigrants while we nowadays are in Europe rather facing refugees. Nevertheless, I made the comparison taking into consideration that both shape the image of the ‘cultural stranger’, which is the subject of my interest.

In the European discourse, the focus is placed on the German society. Further, as Germany is a federal parliamentary republic, I also used the example of my homeland Bavaria, a self-governing state (Land) under the central (federal) government in Berlin. Moreover, even if the examples are from Germany, I purposely do not use the term ‘Germanization’ in my title due to the negative connotation.

‘Europeanization’ has a dual meaning in the subtitle of the paper. On the one hand, it is associated with the tendency of assimilation, where foreigners are forcedly included. On the other hand, it expresses the European attitude, where foreigners are excluded, as they do not perfectly fit into the western culture.

The term ‘Europeans’ in the historical reference refers mainly to Easter and South Europeans, as in contrast to earlier waves of immigrants, most of whom had originated in western and northern Europe, this group arrived from eastern and southern Europe” (DPLA). However, as my focus in the historical reference lies on the Americanization movement (1910-1924), further ethnic groups such as Germans are not unconcerned, since this period nearly coincides with the era of the World War I.

It must be noted that the Great War (1914-1918), exactly as the Great Red Scare (1919-1920) contributed to the formation of the enemy image, respectively the image of enemy alien, a term with a traditionally negative connotation. For many Americans, it appreciably symbolized the reluctance of the immigrants to identify themselves with the ideals of the American society and suggested a suspicion of disloyalty − particularly in times of crisis (Nagler, 2000) [11].

Finally yet importantly, I intentionally avoid using the word ‘influx’ regarding migration through the entire paper. Holding a master in Psychology of Communication, I endorse the dominant opinion of contemporary experts who have proved that this terminus does not evoke a positive association and produces a negative atmosphere. I hope that this will prospectively influence further interdisciplinary works.

6. Acknowledgments

The present paper constitutes my speech at the 4th International Conference "Democracy, rights and inequalities in the era of economic crisis. Challenges in the field of research and education", organized by the Institute of Humanities and Social Sciences (IAKE) on the 27th of April 2018 in Heraklion, Crete, Greece in its written form. I would like to express my sincere gratitude to Mrs Maraki, Mr Beladakis and the whole IAKE Team for the invitation and my deep appreciation to my Supervisor Prof. Dr. Michael Hochgeschwender for his trust and excellent support. I would also like to extend a very special thanks to Elena Panagiotou and Dr. med. Thanasis Bagatzounis for helping me with the editing of this manuscript.

7. Notes

(I) 4477 people were rejected at the German airports during 2017, mainly deported to [the still unsafe country] Afghanistan; cf. Klages, Robert; „Kampagnen der Bundesregierung − Flüchtlinge abschieben und abschrecken“; in: Der Tagesspiegel, 23.2.2018.

(II) In 2016, 162 refugees tried to kill themselves in Bavaria. Thus, the number of suicide attempts has tripled. There is a suspicion of an association between this behavior and the imminent deportation, which is still not proved. Cf. Mittler, Dietrich; „Zahl der Suizidversuche von Flüchtlingen in Bayern hat sich verdreifacht“, in: Süddeutsche Zeitung, 2.4.2017

(III) German: „Kategorisierung von Ausländern”, a term coined by Erwin K. Scheuch, who carried out a survey of data allocated by the German Institute for Applied Social Sciences and noted the following categorization: 1. Precious Aliens (Edel-Ausländer), 2. Aliens (Ausländer), 3. Strange Aliens (Fremdartige Ausländer), 4. Rejected Aliens (Abgelehnte Ausländer). The results depict the population’s reaction towards foreign guest workers (Gastarbeiter) in 1982. Cf. Schäfer, B, Schlöder, B. (1994). Identität und Fremdheit. Sozialpsychologische Aspekte der Eingliederung und Ausgliederung des Fremden, in: JCSW, 75.

(IV) See the candidates of the German right-wing populist part AfD with migrant backgrounds as an extreme example for concern.

(V) The aim of my assumption is not to defend any extreme and defiant behavior, but to put myself in the place of all participants.

(VI) The opening speech of President Trump at the Greek Independence Day celebration at the White House on 24.03.2017.

(VII) Unlike in other countries, the social system in Germany allows anyone to apply for children's allowance (Kindergeld) as well as a special type of unemployment benefit (Arbeitslosengeld II).

8. References

[1] Migrant crisis: Migration to Europe explained in seven charts”, in: BBC, 4.4.2016.

[2] Mirel, J. E. (2010). Patriotic Pluralism: Americanization Education and European Immigrants. Cambridge, MA and London: Harvard University Press, 13.

[3] Hanley, A.C. (2012). Immigrants as Americanizers: The Americanization Movement of the early twentieth century (Master Thesis).

[4] Hartmann, E.G. (1948). The Movement to Americanize the immigrant. New York: Columbia University Press, 270.

[5] Apple, R.D. Golden, G. (1997). Mothers & Motherhood: Readings in American History. Columbus: Ohio State University Press

[6] Cf. Hartmann, E.G. (1948). The Movement to Americanize the immigrant. New York: Columbia University Press, 257.

[7] ibid. 258.

[8] Fairchild, H.P. (1911). Greek immigration to the United States. New Haven: Yale University Press, 237.

[9] ibid. 85.

[10] Cf. Mbembe, A. (2014). Kritik der schwarzen Vernunft. Berlin: Suhrkamp.

[11] Nagler, J. (2000). Nationale Minoritäten im Krieg. »Feindliche Ausländer« und die amerikanische Heimatfront während des Ersten Weltkriegs. Hamburg: Hamburger Edition, 96.

9. Appendix

Citation: Panagiotou, Johanna (2018): CATEGORIZING 'POOR' MIGRANTS: Europeanization VS Americanization. Heraklion: IAKE, 4th International Conference on Human Rights, p.p. 714-721.

First published in the following conference proceeding:

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