German-American "Immigration"

Essay by KortEvanCollege, Undergraduate February 2004

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The fate of immigrants, refugees, and migrant workers was experienced by the more than seven million Germans who emigrated to America over a period of three centuries. Their experiences ought not be forgotten. For these lessons from America can be learned and adapted by nations faced with large-scale immigration today. These include Germany, where the flood of non-German-speaking immigrants -- with their clubs, houses of worship, schools and newspapers in inner city neighborhoods -- is widely and at times harshly criticized as a misdirected development. In reality, however, these practices of present-day immigrants resemble age-old approaches that German immigrants to America implemented successfully in the decades before they or their children and grandchildren became fully Americanized.

No one knows the number of German-Americans today. For no one can determine whether somebody with a German grandmother and a grandfather from Luxembourg on his mother's side, with an Irish grandmother and an Italian grandfather on his father's side, and with parents who simply consider themselves "American" is German, Irish, Italian, or what? The figures of 50 or 60 million German-Americans reported in the press after the 1980 census is based on a statistical game that is at best questionable.

In that year the census asked about the country [countries] of origin of each individual, or his or her ancestors. Of the 226 million Americans, 17.9 million responded with "Germany." Additionally, 31.2 million reported that there were also Germans among their ancestors. Altogether, a total of 49.2 million Americans, or 21.7% of the total population, claimed to have had Germans among their forefathers. The fact remains that no one knows just how many "German" Americans there are today. What the melting pot has put together, statisticians can no longer untangle.

European mass immigration to the United States began in earnest only after the...