Teddy Roosevelt on Immigration, and What it Means to be an American

Roosevelt, 1907:

“In the first place, we should insist that if the immigrant who comes here in good faith becomes an American and assimilates himself to us, he shall be treated on an exact equality with everyone else, for it is an outrage to discriminate against any such man because of creed, or birthplace, or origin. But this is predicated upon the person’s becoming in every facet an American, and nothing but an American…There can be no divided allegiance here. Any man who says he is an American, but something else also, isn’t an American at all. We have room for but one flag, the American flag… We have room for but one language here, and that is the English language… and we have room for but one sole loyalty and that is a loyalty to the American people.”

I completely dissagree with Teddy here, but it begs the question, “what does being an American actually mean?” That is at the root of the debate over Immigrants (or one of the roots). Roosevelt spelled out his version. What’s yours?

(hat tip: MadMouse)


6 responses to “Teddy Roosevelt on Immigration, and What it Means to be an American

  1. You say you completely disagree. Really? All of what he said? Why? If there are only parts you disagree with, what are they? Is it the insistence that all be treated equally? Is it the insistence on a common language? Do you disagree with an undivided allegiance? Being an American means accepting the requirements of citizenship.

  2. You’re right, I should clarify that, lol!

    Certainly I agree with the idea that we should all be treated equally.

    I disagree with the divided allegiance part. And the Common language part.

    The language isn’t a big point of contention to me (we do all need to be able to communicate), but English, while the most common language in America is NOT official. It never has been.

    I like the pliability of America and leaving our languages in flux is a part of that. American English is nothing like the English they speak in England. It’s evolved and changed here, in part because of how we as a citizenry see life. We’re individualists and that breeds change and diversity.

    Traditionally, we’re not traditional, if that makes any sense. Our entire country was founded on the idea of breaking the mold. Individuality means differences, and I like that more and more Spanish speakers means I need to brush up on my Spanish skills to keep up. It’s a way of encouraging progress.

    As for the Divided allegiances part, I think that’s just ridiculous, and smacks of xenophobia. We ALL have divided allegiances. We don’t live in a Communist country like the USSR. Here we all value our families higher than our country. Our spouse, our kids, our parents, this is where our allegiance lies first.

    My step father is Bulgarian. He grew up there. And while he moved here to get away from communism, and prefers the life he has here, he is still also very much a Bulgarian. And he should be. Bulgaria represents family ties, and history, and a vibrant cultural heritage to him. That doesn’t make him less American.

    Currently I and my extended fam reside in the North West. This includes my Grandparents. But they grew up in the South. And part of them is still VERY southern. Does that mean they aren’t REALLY Oregonians? That would be silly.

    The world isn’t so black and white.

    So, after that lengthy diatribe (lol), I hope I clarified what I meant by “disagree.”

  3. Thanks for the clarification. Allegiance to America does not mean we have no allegiances elsewhere. That was not Ted’s point. He obviously did not mean allegiance above family or any thing else except another country. He meant that people who come here to live should abide by the laws and customs of this country. He meant that when it came to the exercising of your citizenship, there should be no divided loyalties. Your father is Bulgarian by birth but surely he no longer abides by the laws of Bulgaria…that would be silly. It also would be silly for me to move to France to live and insist on using English instead of learning to speak French. While the English of the UK is different (and different within the UK) that is beside the point. When I go to Australia, there are certain words that I must come to understand that are peculiar to Australia. To refuse to do so is self-limiting.
    While English may not be the OFFICIAL language of the US (although I am not sure about that), it is the PREDOMINANT language. This is not a bilingual nation (yet). In Texas, where I live, though all of us speak a smattering of Spanish, if you can speak nothing but Spanish you are at a distinct disadvantage on many levels. Let’s understand what Mr. Roosevelt really meant.

  4. You make some good points, and I would largely agree with you. But I’m not sure that Teddy would. Or at the very least, the impact of his words, as they are, lead me to believe otherwise.

    He said:

    “There can be no divided allegiance here. Any man who says he is an American, but something else also, isn’t an American at all.”

    ” … but something else also …”

    This is a pretty harsh requirement. Maybe my sense of nationalism is weak (likely), but I don’t see a problem with someone saying they are a Mexican-American, or a Bulgarian-American. That implies clearly that they are American AND something else. But, the American part is there and strong, and I’m fine with that.

    He said:

    “we have room for but one sole loyalty and that is a loyalty to the American people.”

    Are their loyalties divided among nations? Possibly. But, unless they are running for Political office, I’m not sure that’s a bad thing … It may even be a good thing (their sense of the world as a real community of people, and not competing nation-states is likely stronger).

    Most of us aren’t really defined so much by our National loyalty, as by Economic interest. On the surface we think of ourselves as American, or Canadian, or whatever, but really, Canadians, Americans, and Mexicans (as individual people) are inextricably linked through economic interchange. Loyalty to your nation is somewhat important, but requiring such a strict definition of it is going too far, for me.

    Again, maybe I just don’t find nationalism that important in the modern world. And when it’s taken too far we end up with Nazi Germany, or Polpot.

    We’re all just humans.

    He also said:

    “We have room for but one language here, and that is the English language…”

    I think we can handle more than one. Canada does. Many countries do. China has a ton!

    English is the predominant language, and anyone who moves here and doesn’t learn it is at a serious disadvantage. I’d never advise it. But, It’s a bit weird to get “weird” over whether or not someone else decides to make what amounts to a bad economic decision. That’s their loss, and none of my business.

    Teddy goes too far. He would require everyone to speak English and ONLY English. That’s strange.

  5. You think he went too far but I am fine with what he said and doubt that it had much of a deeper meaning.
    I have a white, Jewish friend who comes from South Africa…keeps referring to himself as African-American. Gets a few laughs.
    I enjoy your blogs and wonder how you have time to do it all. And, obviously you are very interested and many topics. Don’t get burned-out now, y’hear?

  6. Thanks, I’ll certainly try not to burn out, lol! Actually, the luxury of having a number of things on ones’ plate is that when you are focusing on one thing, it serves as a break from the others.

    This blog is certainly used often as a fun way to just blow an hour or two. Some people play video games to relax, others watch TV, I blog. 🙂 The irony is that I don’t even have internet access at my house. I don’t have cable TV either. But, Portland is the land of Coffee shops, and everyone of them has free internet, so it’s no problem.

    And it serves to keep my home mellow and a sanctuary from the wider world.

    Now a Jew from south africa? THAT is interesting!

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