When She Leaves for America She Won’t Come Back the Same

When She Leaves for America She Won’t Come Back the Same

By Bobby Buscher

“Americanization Through Homemaking,” 1929. Courtesy of the Library of Congress: American Memory: Immigration, American Expansion.

The visual Americanization Through Homemaking, written by Pearl Idelia Ellis , offers assimilation to Mexican women into the American imagination through domestic labor and gendered roles. Courses include methods of food preparation, child rearing, and monetary budgeting. The instructional guide offers an American identity by instructing Mexican immigrants in gender and domestic practices of American women. Mexican immigrant women that moved to the U.S. were absorbed into American paradigms of domestic conquest.

In Manifest Domesticity, Amy Kaplan writes that the home is often imagined as a microcosm of the nation (Kaplan, 582). The home then fosters national policy and customs as well as educates the unfamiliar with the customs, values, and expectations of the nation. The home is often positioned as the natural or proper place of women and mothers. Women and mothers become civic servants to advance national policy, cultural expectations, and methods of inclusion and assimilation into the nation through domestic practices. For many migrants and immigrants, the U.S. sought to incorporate them into national culture and sovereignty by removing them from their original home, Americanizing them,  and having the women return to their families and export the new American customs, values, and expectations to their families for the purpose of duplication.

In the latter half of the 19th century, American Indians were removed from their homes to be made American by stripping them of their traditional cultural practices and replacing them with U.S. cultural expectations via boarding school education. Many of the boarding schools are marked with an arch dividing savagery from civilization (Archuleta, 24). Through traveling under the arch the American Indian leaves her home and is “detribalized, [made] fluent and literate in English, economically self-sufficient, hardworking, and self-disciplined (Archuleta, 56). At the schools, the American Indian women are introduced to methods of housekeeping, dress making, child rearing, and culinary arts (Archuleta, 116).  The school transmitted images and beliefs of a modern and civilized domestic setting for women to occupy and cultivate. It also exposed the “‘civilized’ standards of familial affection and love” to their parents (Archuleta, 58-59).

The process of Americanization is tied to notions of domesticity and often rails on women, in particular mothers, as the pillars supporting the nation because in women’s homes are the nation’s future citizens. The nation’s well being is the responsibility of the mother because

SHE is responsible for the cleanliness of her house.

SHE is responsible for the wholesomeness of the food.

SHE is responsible for the children’s health.

SHE, above all, is responsible for their morals, for their sense of truth, of honesty and decency, for what they turn out to be.

Excerpt from “Women in the Home: National American Woman Suffrage Association,” 1910. Courtesy of the Library of Congress: American Memory: Immigration, American Expansion.

The quote is taken from a National American Woman Suffrage Association pamphlet. The pamphlet is dated 1910 and is from the organization’s headquarters in New York. The pamphlet argues for women’s right to vote so that mothers can better ensure the health and safety of their children as well as amend the failings of husbands and men that have negatively impacted homes and the nation as a whole. In the claim for equal voting rights, there is a position of women as defenders of the home. With the power to vote, women can ensure the well being of their children by combating poor regulations that impact the meats and produce fed to her family. It is the duty of women to be care providers that are naturally disposed to be protective and morally aware.

Americanization through domesticity follows some paternalistic tropes and ideas. Organizations that teach domestic practices control the person’s behavior by imposing rules on the person to mold them into a predetermined design (Crawford). The YWCA organizations are “moral oases” for young women that have left their home (Matt, 142). There, the young are showed the “amenities of idealized middle-class home: a piano, a parlor, a library, a sewing room” (Matt, 142). Not all immigrants stayed in he U.S., but upon returning home some built American houses (Matt, 161). Part of Americanization through domesticity is to spread ideal notions of the home.

MOTHERS need the ballot to regulate the moral conditions under which their children must be brought up.

Excerpt from “Why women want to vote. Women are citizens, and wish to do their civic duty.,” 1910. Image Courtesy of the Library of Congress: American Memory: Immigration, American Expansion.

A pamphlet from the National American Woman Suffrage Association in New York dated 1910. The pamphlet shares the same request for women’s right to vote as the previous pamphlet. The quote above continues the gendered notion that mothers are responsible for the morality of their children and the environmental factors that influence the child’s moral development.  The similar argumentative framework, that mothers need the ability to vote to endorse policies that ensure the health and welling of their children, is reproduced and creates power in numbers for asserting a gendered discourse pertaining to women and mothers. The more often an argument is asserted in multiple articulations, even in quite similar modes, the more the argument is held to be true. Here the repetition continues the notion that mothers are responsible for the moral upbringing of their children, more so than the father.

When leaving home to come to the U.S., women were Americanized through domestic practices that included them in an American imagination with a hope of exporting the domestic and gendered practices to others during a return to their original homes. Immigration and internal migrants distanced women from their home and traditional activities. When away from home, the import and adoption of new practices became easier, and it replaced old ideas. Women that left their home for the U.S. did not return to their home they left as they were, but as Americanized and spreading their new customs.

“Two Phases Of Emigration,” 1878. Courtesy of North America Immigrant Letters, Diaries, and Oral Histories.

This visual is from Harper’s Magazine dated 1878. The caption on the right read “Europe’s Contribution to America,” suggesting that European immigration to America brought undisciplined and refined settlers. On the left the caption reads “America’s Contribution to Europe,” suggesting that America has refined and cultivated the settlers, and are bringing their civil American customs to share with Europe. The return to native lands is to demonstrate superior behavior and methods of living.

This post was completed as an assignment for the American Studies course, “The Concept of Home.”  A list of the readings that informed this assignment can be found here.  

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3 thoughts on “When She Leaves for America She Won’t Come Back the Same

  1. Here domesticity is being used as a tool to Americanize and conform people, more specifically immigrants to a certain lifestyle and customs. This is an important view because it goes against the other idea, that immigrants bring their own culture and then the Americas absorb it into their own giving birth to things such as mexican-american or italian-american traditions. Also as mentioned some immigrants went back home, and it makes us think how they helped change their own country and culture.

  2. This is interesting in the way that in order for women to adapt to the American culture, they were to become domesticated. It is also important to realize that even though some woman were opposed to these ideas, that whenever they were to go back to their “homeland” they would end up bringing the Americanized traditions with them.

  3. Americanization is a tool of destruction and it is all in a effort to feed the idea of capitalism. Immigrants were basically brainwashed from traditional values to the modern American one’s and then went on to infest their new ideas into their old culture. It makes you think about myself today, what are my true traditional values and customs?

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