Being the New Kid in Town

Suppose your family moved to a foreign country and all around you, kids spoke a different language, wore different clothes, ate different food and played different games than you were used to. You would feel pretty confused.

The first thing you would do would be to look for somebody else who spoke English. Then, if that person were American and—even better—from Iowa, it's probably a safe bet that you would quickly become friends.

Happy to Be Here

If your family had emigrated from America to escape an oppressive government or because they were very poor in the United States, you'd feel happy about the move and would want to become part of this new culture. But at the same time you would keep up your own customs. You would probably speak English at home, eat hamburgers and pizza, drink pop, and maybe try to teach some of your own games to your new friends at school.

Immigrants in the Past

Back in the 1800s foreign-born immigrants in Iowa went through a similar experience. They tended to band together with people who spoke the same language and had the same way of life. Even immigrants from English-speaking countries liked to socialize with people from their own country during the first few years after their arrival.

Some immigrants wanted to become "real Americans" as quickly as possible. "Let's leave European ways in Europe," they thought. But others felt they should contribute some of their own culture to the American character

Almost every ethnic group that came to Iowa established schools so that they could teach their own religion and language to their children. There were also social halls where immigrants got together for special celebrations or meetings

It was more difficult for older immigrants to learn a new language and change their ways of doing things. Young children found it much easier to adjust. Those who went to public school usually adopted American ways quickly.

Adapted from original article by Jane Mitchell, The Goldfinch 3, No., 2 (Nov. 1981). Iowa City: State Historical Society of Iowa.
© State Historical Society of Iowa

 

 


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