Assimilation

“We should let the immigrant grow as what he is; not as what we think he ought to be"

FREDERICK PHILIP GROVE September 1 1929

Assimilation

“We should let the immigrant grow as what he is; not as what we think he ought to be"

FREDERICK PHILIP GROVE September 1 1929

Assimilation

“We should let the immigrant grow as what he is; not as what we think he ought to be"

FREDERICK PHILIP GROVE

WE ARE worried today over ethnic problems. By certain persons —or shall I call them interests?—a formidable-looking indictment has been drawn up against the immigrant. A great deal is being said about preferred and non-preferred nationalalities. I wonder with how much justification.

According to the reasons stated for the attitude adopted, these opponents of unrestricted immigration fall into two classes. One bases its objections on purely economic grounds; the other, on grounds political, social and spiritual.

Let me deal with the former first. Many of our midEuropean agricultural immigrants stubbornly decline to adopt what those involved in the argument choose to call Canadian ways of dealing with the land. When you enquire more closely into the matter, you find that these Canadian ways are not Canadian at all but originated in the United States of America. The midEuropeans refuse to farm on as large a scale as the average Canadian; they refuse to use machines to the same extent; they refuse to avail themselves to the same extent of the system of credit. We can readily admit that this indictment is true.

The most powerful counter-argument consists in the fact that these Poles, Hungarians and Ukrainians can move into a district abandoned or on the point of being abandoned by Anglo-Saxons and succeed where the latter havé made a failure. This fact nobody who knows conditions will dispute. It may well be that the reason consists not so much in their using better methods, as in their thrift and their ability to get along contentedly with a lower standard of living. Whatever the reason is, the fact remains that they contribute to the national wealth and that they are building empire.

Soil Miners and Soil Protectors

TT HAS been said that while on the American continent less wheat is produced per acre of land than in Europe, more is produced per man employed in the industry. I will frankly admit that this is the American trend; nor will I deny that it runs counter to the whole European peasant tradition. To the European peasant, and more especially the mid-European peasant, the land is a sacred thing, more important than the individual on whom its ownership has for the moment devolved. The question arises: Which of the two trends is from a national point of view the more desirable one? For him who views things from year to year, or from day to day—in other words, for the hand-to-mouth view—the most important thing undoubtedly remains that every man employed in agriculture should produce every bushel of grain which he can possibly produce, even though he may thus occupy more land than he can do justice to. The moment we view the matter from the point of view of a settled country—the result of such a policy is plainly disastrous. It is beginning to be apparent in such a relatively new province as Manitoba. Already we have abandoned farms there. Already, a few years ago, I counted, within a radius of six miles around a once prosperous town, no less than fifty-three quarter sections so fouled with weeds that it had become impossible to farm them. Already, too, there are districts which are being invaded by a thriftless and, by the way, purely Anglo-Saxon tenantry. And that in a province which is in its infancy.

Frederick Philip Grove, by “Settlers of the Marsh,” “A Search for America,” and “Our Daily Bread,” has achieved international literary recognition. Today, after a Dominion-wide speaking tour in which he delivered A12 addresses in twelve months, he is known to thousands of Canadians as a man who is not afraid to speak his mind when in actual contact with many who may iisagrcc with him. His views on the assimilation of the foreign-born immigrant, expressed in this article, arc “different,” but they arc those of the foreign-born immigrant himself.

While there is plenty of free land available, as there was up to a few years ago, the disastrous effect of such a policy does not show on the national balance sheet. An empire like the Canadian West, a province like Manitoba, may plainly be prosperous as a whole because it produces the grain, while every single individual composing the agricultural population may very conceivably be insolvent. I do not say that such is the case; but there are districts where we are marching straight toward such a condition of affairs.

There is a further danger. The West is essentially an agricultural country. Agricultural countries depend for their welfare less on prosperity than on stability. I know a Canadian farmer who has moved from one place to another four times in a single lifetime. I know scores who have changed farms once or twice. Migration seems to their children the natural thing. Their apparent prosperity resolves itself in the last analysis into a voluntarily assumed slavery to implement and loan companies. Consequently, young people crowd into cities and towns. I am, of course, well aware of the fact that these are the growing-pains of every young country.

Does such a policy breed happiness? Does it breed men? So far it has produced wheat. But land has been consumed rather than farmed; crops have been converted into dollars; dollars into first payments on machines and motor cars. May we not question the ultimate wisdom of exporting the fertility of the soil in order to keep the machinery of a so-called up-to-date life lubricated?

Pioneers Still Needed

T HAVE so far accepted as true the

assertion that we produce more wheat per man employed in agriculture than does Europe; but even this assertion may be questioned. We must count in all those who are employed in the implement trade, in the manufacture of implements, in the making of cars, in the transportation of the crops to distant markets, in the handling of these crops; all these are, though indirectly, employed in the production of our grains. Nobody will for a moment deny that their number vastly exceeds not only that of the farmers on* this continent, but also the number similarly employed in Europe where, after all, our so-called up-to-date methods are deliberately repudiated by a peasantry that knows what it is about. If we divided the total yield of the country not by the number of our farmers alone, but by the number of all directly or indirectly employed in producing it, I wonder whether the yield per man would still exceed the yield per man in any but the poorest districts of Europe.

We speak of peasants as if the very word made us shudder. Let us not forget that it is the peasantry which, so far, has enabled every civilization evolved in the past to survive as long as it has survived. The peasantry of Europe has always fed the cities not only with bread and wine, but with new blood and new manhood. Is Canada—evolving as it is a great material civilization imitative of the great material civilization of our neighbors to the south—is Canada reproducing that

manhood which did the pioneering work of a hundred years ago? Is it not a fact that the Canadian-born in Western Canada today, in the country and in the small towns, are becoming soft, mentally and physically; that in certain kinds of hard, manual labor there is an imperative demand for the immigrant, that education, though it is being spread far and wide, is also being planed down to the thinness of a mere veneer? And further: is it not a fact that while we improve the “plant” of life, as the mechanical equipment is commonly called, we sorely neglect the fundamentally human qualities which we sum up in the one word “character?”

But though, through the improvidence of the last generation we have alienated the greater part of our land, and have allowed it to pass into private hands, it remains none the less true that the sort of people we need on the land is still that class which we call the pioneers.

European civilization has in the last 2,300 years become essentially urban; that is, it has neglected all the ruder virtues except the martial ones. If we want to find settlers fit to do our sort of work, we must go to the poor districts of Europe, to the districts where the hardships of poverty have trained the population for the hardships of pioneerdom; to the districts where thrift has been enforced by hard necessity rather than by a long schooling in ironic wisdom; for ironic wisdom does not presuppose to emigration: we must go to those parts of Europe where there is still an indigenous and rude sort of peasantry.

With wide-open ports and unrestricted immigration something resembling a natural quota law has just re-established itself. Last year we had 75,000 British immigrants, 25,000 from northern Europe, 50,000 from what we call the non-preferred nationalities of central Europe. I will not deny that these figures are perhaps, too high—not because they represent a national menace, but because we have been unable to place that many on the land. The remedy consists in a releasing of the high-pressure, rapid-fire salesmanship used by our transportation companies rather than in any governmental restriction of immigration. Yet, even at that, the fact remains that a higher percentage of the third class of immigrants has found its way to settling permanently on the land than of the other two classes.

How are they fitting themselves into the national life of Canada?

The Peasant and Politics

TN THIS connection, other objections L are being raised. It is being said that as soon as they are naturalized, they lend themselves to partisan exploitation by adroit politicians. I have lived among almost all classes of immigrants; in the open country; and I have lived among them in such a way as to be mistaken for one of their number. It is true that among those who are unable or but scantily able to speak the English language, at election time politicians would come in, their cars loaded with cigars and tobacco, their pockets bulging with bright, shiny halfdollar pieces to be distributed among the children. It is true that when they left, the Ukrainian farmer, often unable to judge between parties, would cast his vote for the man who had been most friendly to him and his. If you will think for a moment, I don’t believe you can blame him. He is concerned with establishing himself economically and spiritually. His daily bread is more to him than political institutions; his inner adjustment to a new country, a new world, means more to him than a law that may be passed or voted down. Political opinions, unless inherited—and that is the least intelligent mode of acquisition—are even for him born in the country the last thing he evolves in the process of fitting himself for life: few of our adolescents have political opinions of their own before the age of twenty-eight. Political opinions of his own cannot be intelligently evolved by the immigrant before he has establisheed himself economically and spiritually in his new environment. Politically, the immigrant is necessarily indifferent for at least a decade.

If that is true—and you may take my word for it that it could not be otherwiseon whom does this political exploitation of what is called “the foreign vote” reflect: on the so-called foreigner or on the native politician? I myself refused to vote for the first twenty years of my stay in the country; and I could not convince myseif that I was doing anything but the intelligent thing in thus refraining; for I refused to be exploited, as, had I voted, I should have been, in spite of the fact that the English language was almost native to me. For such exploitation remedies are at hand. I am not concerned with them here. But any group of reasonably sympathetic men can work them out in an hour. What I am concerned with here is the fact that this exploitation does not argue against the immigrant. If he were left alone, he would do, as a not inconsiderable fraction of Anglo-Saxons do voluntarily: he would refrain from voting. Even though we forget only too often that, having invited these people into the country, we are their hosts, they are not so apt to forget that they are our guests: left alone, they would almost think it rude or undutiful on their part to interfere in matters which they consider our business. As a matter of fact, many an immigrant neglects naturalization proceedings when he is entitled to claim citizenship in this country, not because he does not wish to become a Canadian, but because he feels himself to be, at least in desire, so much a Canadian that he rests content to accept any political measures which his hosts may care to impose upon him. “That,” he virtually says to those born in this country, “you had better settle among yourselves.”

Those “Solid Undigested Lumps”

CLOSELY connected with this objection to the immigrant is another: he settles in what is called “solid undigested lumps.”

Now I was tolerably familiar with Europe as it was before the war. In nearly every large city of Europe—in Paris, Bordeaux, Marseilles, Antwerp, Amsterdam, Stockholm, Copenhagen, Moscow, St. Petersburg, Munich, Dresden, Berlin, Athens, Rome, Madrid, Barcelona, Lisbon—I used to know Anglo-Saxon colonies. Certain streets were solidly English. There were English shops, English restaurants; English libraries, English churches, English papers. Why should that have been? Why, indeed, except because these people, for one reason or other, chose to live in foreign climes and clung to each other in “solid, undigested lumps.”

Well, if they did it, can we blame the European settler in this country for doing the same? Consider for a moment. He finds himself suddenly transferred into a world which is alien to him. The less of an education in his own language he brings with him, the more alien this world is to him, alien in speech, manners, morals, economic conditions, spiritual outlook or lack of it. Is it anything but natural that these people should congregate in “foreign districts” or “foreign quarters?” Why! It could not be otherwise. The point is, what in the world is the objection to it?

It is being said they will not mingle. Let me assure you from actual experience, repeated again and again, that it is the other way around. The British will not mingle with them. Why not? From one single reason: from racial conceit. It is a very strange and, to us New Canadians, very incomprehensible, but none the less indisputable fact that the average Anglo-Saxon considers himself superior to all the other races of the world, individually the more so the less reason he has. The fact is the more incomprehensible to us when we reflect that the Anglo-Saxon himself is a blend of Briton, Celt, Roman, German, Dane, and Swede, not to mention the infusions of French, Spanish, Jewish and West-Indian Creole blood. I have lived in mixed districts where small | Anglo-Saxon minorities sat like an army of occupation in conquered territory within solidly Ukrainian, Russo-German, or Scandinavian settlements. It was they —that is, the first generation of British immigrants—who held aloof, not the foreigners, unless they were provoked. It was they who expressed indignation when their sons married Ukrainian, German, or Scandinavian girls. This second generation of Britishers were often anything but slow in recognizing that these girls were clean, pretty, intelligent, thrifty and good cooks to boot.

Assimilation or Absorption?

T AM coming to a point of the utmost

importance.

If assimilation means the absorption of one race by another, the absorbing race not to undergo any change by the process, then there is no such thing as assimilation. You can extinguish a race by preventing it from propagating itself; but, if you want the immigrant to survive and yet to become what you are, you are aiming at an impossibility. Two races living side by side can do one of two things: they can mingle and blend, thereby giving rise to a third race: thus Angles and Normans blended in England; Scots and Norsemen in Scotland; Franks and Gauls in France. Or they can define themselves against each other, as on the whole the continental Europeans have done. This definition may be peaceful or martial: it has, on the whole, been martial in Europe. Yet it does not need to be martial; in fact, I cannot convince myself that such a martial definition of races against each other is the natural thing; for who would deny that the whole trend of civilization, in spite of disastrous recrudescences of the warlike spirit, has been one toward peaceful methods.

But in order to make peaceful definition possible on the large scale, we must first of all learn one important lesson: namely, that no racial strain is intrinsically superior to any other. To learn that lesson should be easy for us who are members of a great empire in which only eleven per cent of the total population is British. Some bond must hold that empire together. What is it? What should it be if not mutual toleration—atoleration perhaps not yet shared by the ignorant, by what we may call the riff-raff of the nations, but stubbornly upheld by those who have learned lessons from history.

Politically, toleration expresses itself not in subordination, but in federation; this is a lesson which it has taken even the mother country centuries to learn. Subordination results in rebellion: force breeds resistance. For an example, look at the American Revolution! Federation, on the other hand, is merely another name for what I have just now called peaceful definition of the races against each other —races which have learned to consider each other as being of equal value and which, therefore, are willing to consider each other as having equal rights.

In order to prepare the way for my ultimate conclusion, I must for a moment speak of these “foreigners” in our midst as perhaps nobody has ever spoken of them before. Don’t forget that I am one of their number.

You want to Canadianize them. What does the word mean? I have already said that you cannot “absorb” them, in the usual sense which thoughtless people attach to the word assimilation. If anyone had told me before I came to this country that a majority of its citizens might want me to cease to be I, I should not have come. In fact, to turn black into white is impossible. But black can be overlaid with a veneer of white. Overlay a Ukrainian with an American veneer, and underneath he must necessarily remain a Ukrainian. Black can also be destroyed and white substituted for it: that process the United States has tried during the last twenty years—in fact, since the United States executed its great change of front, with what I believe to be disastrous results. The theory of the Melting Pot is exploded today.

How do you want to Canadianize them? Politically, economically, spiritually? Politically, you can win their loyalty by giving them, economically, a square deal and by

leaving them spiritual freedom. Economically, you can force them to adopt all the externals of American civilization: the high standard of living, the facile manners of an apparent democracy, the lack of respect and reverence for achievement and experience, the devotion to the mechanics of life, with an obliteration of all that lies beyond these mechanics. Spiritually . . . well, spiritually you can kill them; you cannot conquer them.

The Psychological Side

T-TERE is an essential point: politically, when they arrive, they may be in the nature of minors; economically, they may be backward—I do not say they are: they made a living under conditions vastly harder than conditions are in this country; but they may appear so to you. But spiritually they are, to say the least, not inferior, class for class. They came from countries where the spiritual realm was the only one in which they could assert their individuality. This spiritual realm can be divided into three provinces: the mental, the emotional, the religious. In the mental province we must distinguish between information and intelligence. Why is it that in mixed schools the children of our immigrants almost invariably lead their classes? Where do they get their mental endowment? In the spiritual province it is they, not the native Canadians who bring a tradition. According as they come from various parts of Europe, their endowment varies. The whole Slavic race is astir with music and poetry; Finns and Scandinavians with critical thought. In the religious province . . . Oh, well, why talk about it? Religion means something to them which governs their lives.

Assimilation? You can shear them of the finest flowers of older civilizations. You can destroy; you cannot assimilate. The principle of the melting pot has proved to be a failure in the United States. Are we going to prove it a failure once more?

What other principle is there? I have already named it. There is federation. What does federation mean?

The British Empire is a federation; so is Canada. One-fourth of our population consists of French-Canadians. Are they loyal? If so, why? Why, indeed, except because we have left them their own language, their own religion, their own ideals, their own aims, their own art? Because we have found means to leave them that spiritual freedom, of which to deprive them was fortunately beyond our power when the question arose.

Suppose we tried something similar with our later arrivals? Instead of forcing them into that conformity, spiritual and economic, which has been the aim of unsuccessful endeavors in the United States—a conformity which can be brought about on y by destroying their true strength and by making them into hollow standardized masks—suppose we encouraged them rather to retain their religions, their standards of family life, their reverence for the land; and to develop their often remarkable artistic, mental and mystic gifts; thereby to grow among us as what they are, not as what we think they should be; and suppose we cease laughing at them because they are different—shall we secure their loyalty?

Let me answer that question by another question. Have we or have we not won the loyalty of the French in our midst? Let us cease to standardize; let us individualize them rather ! Let us go and learn from them; they have much to teach. It is true that they scoff at our standard of living, that standard of living which means that we feed our transient appetites with costly foods and live like Lucullus in the midst of a multitude crying for bread. We scoff at deeper things. Let us cease to do so. Let the Icelander explain to us the marvellous depth and significance of his sagas. Let the Slav give us of that music whence the symphonies and the chamber music were distilled to which we listen in our most cultured concert halls. Will they be loyal to a country which allows them to grow as if they were still rooted in their native soil? What is more blessed, to give or to receive? Only by giving can anyone grow.

Canada’s Mission

AND now just a word of a great historical mission which may or may not be assigned to this country, according as we interpret events. One thing is an accomplished fact, whether we approve of it or not. Already all the nationalities of Europe have met on this continent. In Europe they had lived side by side for centuries. They had not blended. They had defined themselves against each other; and they had done so in a martial way. For centuries the United States of Europe has been the cherished dream of advanced minds. That dream has failed in the past. These nationalities, defined against each other in a martial way, meet here in America on common ground, in peaceful intercourse. Ultimately they may blend; perhaps in the course of millennia; perhaps not till the white race as such is forced to close its fronts by the menace held over it by a colored race; merging its national quarrels in a common enmity: it has been that way in the past; more than once, alas. Meanwhile there is a shorter way of arriving at a modus vioendi; the way of peaceful definition.

That, as I see it, if there was providential guidance in the course of history, must have been the intention of that providence which withheld the western continents from the nations of Europe till modern times. That, if we formulate a reasonable aim of geo-politics, would be the mission assigned to America.

Suppose a supermind had, in 1492, foreseen the rush that would throng this continent within four centuries. Suppose that superr.iind had also had the power to determine events, thinking along purely human lines and fired by the desire for an ultimate good. What would that mind have done? How would that mind have reasoned? Thus, I believe.

These many nationalities have tried in Europe to find a way of peacefully living side by side; they have tried to do so by arming themselves; they have failed. I will make them repeat their great experiment here in America without allowing ’ them to arm themselves. But suppose they still choose the wrong way; suppose the first-comers attempt to force the latecomers to conform, to assimilate themselves to those who arrived ahead of them? Then they will fail again; and instead of evolving a great new civilization to which each unit contributes its own particular virtues, they will meet on purely economic and material common ground and merely evolve a high standard of living to which each unit contributes its own particular vices.

I will provide against that, too, such a supermind might have said. I will divide the continent into two great political divisions, the settlement of one of which I will retard. Then, if the first attempt, in the southern division, fails again, the northern division will be able to learn from its mistakes.

Racial Difficulties

\7"ES, I will go still further. I will make that northern division part of a great empire in which slowly, slowly the principle of federation is to work itself out among distant nations that have no immediate contact, among nations which are too different to admit of even the dream of assimilation: Hindus, Kaffirs, Afrikanders, and Malays. Then, perhaps, they will learn, not only from the mistakes made in the southern division, but also from the success of that great federation of nations. Still more. I will hand that northern division over successively to two racial strains, so that the one coming later shall find the older one present, unable to assimilate it and forced to define itself peacefully against it whether it wants to or not. If with these three lessons before its eyes, that northern division, under the rule of the second racial strain, with many other grades coming in, still persists in the European principle of “conform or fight” —then it will deserve to be wiped from the face of the earth.

That, it seems to me, might have been the reasoning of such a supermind. That, in my view, is the mission of Canada in geo-politics. You may see it that way or not. I am one; you are many.

Canada is the meeting-place of many races. Only through such a meeting-place where Slav rubs elbows with Anglo-Saxon, Teuton with Frenchman—and where they can learn, not only to respect each other’s various gifts, but also to recognize that they have more that unites than separates them—only through such a meeting-place of all its children can Europe be redeemed. The children must reconcile the parents. That, I repeat, is, in my opinion, Canada’s mission in geo-politics.

Let us assume that task until with Pericles—for I always revert to antiquity, and there is nothing new under the sun— we can say:“We have no black looks or angry words for our neighbor if he enjoys himself in his own way; and we abstain from the little acts of churlishness—a sneer here, a shrug there—which, though they leave no mark, yet cause annoyance to whoso notes them.”

Then, perhaps, we can make this great dream of federation come true.

I believe this is a new principle to be worked out and to be recognized in this our country. As I have said, it is a principle of far-reaching importance for ourselves as well as for the world at large: this principle of federation and good will, respect and mutual recognition. For what, at bottom, does federation mean? It means free intercourse between men and women of many different races, each of them variously endowed, and each entitled to equality within a common loyalty. “The very word,” exclaims Herodotus, “is beautiful, Isonomial”—a word which we may equally well translate by “equality before the law,” by “federation,” by “unity in diversity,” or by “fair play.”