An American in the Making: The Life Story of an Immigrant

By M. E. Ravage; Steven G. Kellman | Go to book overview

CHAPTER XII
Shirts and Philosophy

On the whole, I take it, the foreign colony in our larger cities is a little unfavorably regarded by the conventional enthusiasts for Americanization. These kindly ladies and gentlemen appear to assume that the trick of turning American is some kind of an affair of a rubber stamp and an oath of allegiance and bath-tubs. It is quite simple. You go down there, to the East Side, or Little Italy, or Little Poland, and you establish a settlement and deliver lectures and furnish them a pointed example, and behold! the fog lifts, and before your eyes stands the newborn American. The sooner this effective performance is accomplished the better, for it is quite clear that the immigrant invariably hails from an inferior world, with queer notions about manners and the use of soap and fresh air and constitutions, and if he is long left to himself and his fellows he will settle down to this pestiferous imported life of his and never become one of us at all. He will become a confirmed alien, a dangerous, disruptive element.

Into this complacent view the patent fact that Americanism is a compromise does not enter. It is quite overlooked that the adoptive American has always been and will always remain a composite American. My good friends are unwilling to see that the alien has as much to teach as to learn, that his readjustment is inevitably a matter of give and take, and that he only begins to feel at home in this new country when he has succeeded in blending his own culture and ideas and mode of life with those of the people that came here before him. Your selfcomplacent native takes stock of the Americanized alien and cries, delightedly, “See how America has changed him!” But I suppose he would be greatly astonished if the immigrant were to answer, with equal truth, “Look how I have changed America!” Americans can nowise be persuaded that, if there is to be any readjustment, it must come from this sort of mutual reaction; and they will simply laugh at you if you tell them that the foreign colony, far from being a danger, is about the only natural agency by which the process can be effected.

-95-

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An American in the Making: The Life Story of an Immigrant
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Acknowledgments vii
  • Chronology ix
  • Introduction xiii
  • A Note on the Text xxxiii
  • Contents 5
  • Introduction 7
  • Part One - The Alien at Home 11
  • Chapter I - The Prophet from America 13
  • Chapter II - The Gospel of New York 20
  • Chapter III - The Exodus 27
  • Chapter IV - To America on Foot 31
  • Chapter V - Farewell Forever 38
  • Part Two - The Alien Abroad 45
  • Chapter VI - First Impressions 47
  • Chapter VII - The Immigrant’s America 53
  • Chapter VIII - "How Do You like America?" 58
  • Chapter IX - Ventures and Adventures 66
  • Chapter X - Purifications 78
  • Chapter XI - The Ethics of the Bar 86
  • Part Three - The Education of an American 93
  • Chapter XII - Shirts and Philosophy 95
  • Chapter XIII - The Soul of the Ghetto 104
  • Chapter XIV - The Tragedy of Readjustment 110
  • Chapter XV - The Trials of Scholarship 118
  • Chapter XVI - Off to College 126
  • Part Four - America of the Americans 133
  • Chapter XVII - In the Mold 135
  • Chapter XVIII - The American as He Is 143
  • Chapter XIX - The Fruits of Solitude 151
  • Chapter XX - Harvey 159
  • Chapter XXI - The Romance of Readjustment 168
  • Part Five - Postscript- Twenty Years Later 175
  • Chapter XXII - Jeanne’s Sentimental Pilgrimage 177
  • Chapter XXIII - And My Own 189
  • About the Editor 213
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