Today I remembered something I first read about in Jeffrey Eugenides’ novel Middlesex. The protagonist’s grandfather Lefty moved to America from Greece after the Greco-Turkish War began. He started his life in America working in Detroit at Ford Motor Company, obviously not knowing much English and very new to American culture. Upon taking the job, he was required to enroll in the Ford English School, and was subject to assessments (basically illegal searches) by Ford agents in his home. They were concerned about whether their workers were following traditional American ideals and immersing in the culture. If immigrants did not conform, they were fired. When Lefty graduated from the Ford English School, he and all the other men in his class took part in a ceremony in which they dressed in the traditional clothing of their home countries, walked up a set of stairs into a large pot, changed into a suit, and walked out sporting an American flag. Keep in mind that this was a fiction novel, and so a ceremony like this sounded absurd to me. I was later surprised to find out that the ceremony was actually held on July 4th, 1917. This strongly exemplifies the American perception of immigration in the early 1900’s, marked by exclusivity and then homogenization for those lucky enough to get in. I’ve attached a couple photos here.
November 14, 2013
Welcome to the Melting Pot