funny thing happened on the way to preserving “Nordic” dominion over this
blessed land. During the Great Depression, out of both necessity and desire, the
U.S.-born children of immigrants from the restricted nations integrated
themselves into American culture and institutions to a greater extent than their
parents had. They spoke fluent English, flocked to Hollywood movies, and danced
to swing bands. Those once slurred as members of inferior “races” also seemed far
less of a threat to “old-stock” Americans during a time of economic calamity widely
shared across ethnic lines.
Greater acceptance made it possible for the
“degenerates” of a decade earlier—Slavs, Italians, and Jews, in particular—to become
a vital part of the New Deal coalition that would dominate national politics
until the late 1960s. As voters, they did much to lift Franklin Roosevelt and
his fellow Democrats to power throughout most of the urban North and Midwest.
As workers, they helped organize the industrial labor movement that surged from
three to 15 million members during the 1930s and the Second World War.
A fine example of the progressive flavor of Americanization
appeared in Out of This Furnace, an autobiographical novel from 1941 about
steelworkers in Braddock, Pennsylvania—the town John Fetterman later served as
mayor long after its economic heyday had passed. The hero portrayed by author Thomas
Bell (born Belecjak) is a second-generation Slovak American factory hand and union
enthusiast nicknamed Dobie. He speaks English without an accent, makes friends
easily with co-workers from other ethnic groups, and believes that organizing unions
is a patriotic duty. “I want certain things bad enough to fight for them, bad
enough to die for them,” vows Dobie. “Patrick Henry, Junior—that’s me.”