Americanization: A Movement to Promote the “Right” Culture

This week’s research demonstrated the development of a concept that quickly spread throughout education in America and Topeka. The movement to “Americanize” children and their families was an effort to cleanse immigrant communities of their non-American habits (although this affected other communities, for our purposes I chose to focus on the migrant Mexican community.) Americanization included teaching children and families about cleanliness, thrift, general home economics, and English. While the intentions may seem good, Americanization constructed an implicit dichotomy between the American and Mexican values. One was good. One was bad. One was important. One came from Mexico. One was taught in schools to correct the faults of the other. SceneFromLittleMexicoThe images above are drawings from the Topeka Daily State Journal from 1922 and 1917, respectively, that demonstrate the rhetoric that filled newspapers in the early decades of the 20th century. These images, in addition to the constant news about the Mexican Revolution and the tense climate in the Southwest border, created the precarious situation of Mexican immigrants in Topeka: people that were in a different culture repeatedly reported on the horrors of its Southwest neighbor. Therefore, it should be no surprise when the wave of Americanization hit Topeka, many families were throwing all their support on creating schools that would change immigrants. This anxiety is summed up by Humphrey W. Jones, the principal of the Branner School in 1922: “America cannot endure half foreign and half American…We must assimilate them or they will assimilate us.” The feelings associated with Americanization quickly evolved into an insidious agenda that created “Mexican schools” and created segregation in Topeka for Mexican students.

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