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100 years ago in Spokane: Debate rages on whether immigrants should learn to be American

 (Spokesman-Review archives)
(Spokesman-Review archives)

From our archive, 100 years ago

Many of the “aliens” – i.e., immigrants – in Spokane gathered at the Spokane Chamber of Commerce to discuss how they should be turned into Americans.

Or, even whether they should be turned into Americans.

While all of representatives of the various groups – Japanese, Greeks, Italians, Norwegians, Danes and Swedes – agreed that night school classes to learn to read and write English were valuable, they were wary about attempts to “force American citizenship and American ideals upon their countrymen.”

The Rev. T.T. Ove said he did not want to learn American ideals, because the only American ideal was the “banker-money” ideal, which he declared was not an ideal at all.

Dr. David Levine, one of the members of the Chamber of Commerce committee on alien education, said he felt his committee was “commencing at the wrong end.”

“We should not be too enthusiastic about their becoming Americans,” he said. “The foreigner brings something to this country Americans do not possess – a sense of loyalty – and he learns loyalty does not exist here. He is asked to throw aside his allegiance to his old land, to turn back on all its glorious traditions and history and to grasp a colorless something which means the abnegation of everything dear to him. America needs to look after its own household. The foreigner should be made to realize that America cherishes the traditions he cherishes and wishes him to bring them to the new American civilization.”

Another member of the committee disagreed, saying that the night schools “did not force ideals on anybody, but taught the principles of citizenship to those about to become citizens merely that they might vote with some degree of intelligence.”

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