Immigrant Minds, American Identities

Immigrant Minds, American Identities : Making the United States Home, 1870-1930

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The author sums it up best: "What I call 'homemaking myths' are stories told in immigrant/ethnic groups both to bolster members' confidence in their identities as Americans and to prove to other Americans, in particular the traditionally dominant groups, that their particular group has a unique right to a home in the United States. "show more

Product details

  • Hardback | 256 pages
  • 156 x 230 x 24mm | 580.6g
  • University of Illinois Press
  • Baltimore, United States
  • English
  • New.
  • 0252025628
  • 9780252025624

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Ethnic celebrations in the United States, ranging from Columbus Day to St. Patrick's Day, offer a way of affirming that a given ethnic group has a home in America. Immigrant Minds, American Identities explores the stories that connect ethnic identity with a rightful, even an honored, place in America.Focusing on a period of American history marked by a sharp division between Anglo-Americans ("Americans") and non-Anglo European immigrants ("foreigners"), Orm Overland examines the creation of "homemaking myths" -- stories that weave immigrants into the basic fabric of America by linking them to the pivotal events and ideas of their new homeland. Devised by individual ethnic leaders and spread through ethnic media, banquets, and rallies, these myths were a response to being marginalized by the dominant group and a way of laying claim to a legitimate home in America.Overland discerns three types of home-making myths: foundation myths, sacrifice myths, and ideology myths. These stories uncover a role for immigrants in the nation's founding, a place of honor in the nation's wars, and strains of American democratic political ideology in the immigrants' ethnic past. They proclaim that immigrants, in the person of their ancestors, disembarked from Christopher Columbus's ships, fought in the Union army, and fostered American values of freedom and democracy in their native lands. Leif Erikson carries the banner for Norwegian Americans; Polish Americans claim close ties between the Declaration of Independence and the Polish constitution; Jewish Americans claim the principles of the U.S. Constitution are rooted in the words of Moses and the prophets. By virtue of such contributions, homemakingmyths maintain, immigrants come to America not as foreigners but as ready-made ideal citizens of the Republic.Taken individually, such claims ring with ethnocentric narcissism. However, Overland shows that the plots and themes of home-making myths share so many characteristics that they must be considered an American phenomenon rather than one peculiar to an individual ethnic group. As a symbol of the immigrant's insider status, these stories have played a crucial role in forming American ethnic identities and carving out a place for immigrants in an Anglo-dominated society.show more

Review quote

"Adds much to the contemporary quest for a more inclusive US history." -- Choice "A valuable contribution to the field of American ethnic history... [Overland] forces the reader to re-examine the philosophical and theoretical meanings of ethnicity in American history -- and maybe even the role of myth in shaping a singular and unique American identity and history." -- History "Amasses a tremendous amount of convincing evidence... [Overland's] analysis contributes to scholarship that attempts to complicate the notion of ethnicity ... Overland's work will be fascinating to anyone concerned with shifting and competing notions of America itself." -- April R. Schultz, American Historical Review "Succeeds in offering a sypathetic portrait of both the origins and forms of immigrant home-making myths among European immigrants and American minorities -- indigenous peoples, Spanish-speakers in the Southwest, and the descendants of African slaves -- who were excluded not only from the circle of national belonging but from citizenship and its rights." -- Norma J. Hervey, The Annals of Iowa "An intriguing and lively work that makes a convincing case for taking ethnic booster literature and celebrations seriously. The book's strength lies in its examination of language and activities that trumpeted ethnic exclusivity and finding a pattern, one that helps define the American experience." -- Bruce Leslie, American Studies in Scandinavia ADVANCE PRAISE "This is a terrific book, an extensive and nuanced study of the various intellectual moves by which European immigrants laid claim to the New World as 'home.' ... Immigrant Minds, American Identities should interest anyone concerned with U.S. diversity in the making and with the fierce contests over that hypnotic ideal, America." -- Matthew Jacobson, author of Whiteness of a Different Color: European Immigrants and the Alchemy of Raceshow more

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