Cultural Legacy

It’s actually a very interesting question of which immigrant groups can transmit culture and / or wealth to the next generations.

Russian-speaking immigrants can transmit wealth but not culture.

German immigrants can’t transmit their culture. I live in a historically German area. Everybody has a German last name. We have exactly zero German restaurants. And zero ethnic Germans supporting our German program. The local Oktoberfest is held by WASPS and features Bud Light and hot dogs.

Italians, on the other hand, are great at transmitting culture. The richest program at my department is Italian, even though we have very scarce interest from students. There’s a bunch of third generation Italians who don’t speak a word of the language but donate money to our program and hassle me endlessly as to what else they can do to spread the love for their culture and language. I have more scholarships and awards in Italian than actual students.

In Spanish, by the way, the only scholarship we have was established by a non-Hispanic American. We have a growing Hispanic community but they have no wealth to share and no interest. Chicano writers in the US are completely Anglo. The way they write, the way they think is as Anglo as it gets.

I’m not saying this by way of criticism. It’s simply the way it is. Russian-speaking immigrants make gigantic efforts to transmit their culture to their children and fail every single time. These are people who almost never assimilate culturally because they are in love with their culture and don’t want to let it go. But the children want nothing to do with it.

22 thoughts on “Cultural Legacy

    1. “Greek immigrants hold on to their culture”

      In the early 1980s I could get an hour long daily Greek language radio broadcast (AM radio) in Florida from Tarpon Springs. I stumbled across it and mistook the language for (Iberian) Spanish and was puzzled why I couldn’t understand anything (and then they played ‘Never on Sunday’ and I figured it out).
      I ended up doing a year of Modern Greek and about half the class were heritage semi-native speakers taking the easy way out for foreign language credit.

      Later I heard about a Vietnamese class (non-credit) and went only to find out that all the students were Viet American students who spoke the language fluently to natively but they were illiterate and the class was about teaching them to read and write…

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      1. Sounds about right. When my dad visits VN, he now and then gets people accusing him of being CIA (he wasn’t). They can readily believe that an American GI might become fluent in Viet, but to read and write it? Only spooks were taught that…

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  1. I wonder if there is a connection between how memorably delicious the cuisine of a people is and how easily they pass down culture.

    After all, it does correlate with the ease by which Greeks, Italians, Spaniards, and Portuguese pass culture along.

    As for Germans, I had to do a search to see if they made anything decent besides schnitzel and sausages (which everyone else makes anyway), before getting to the even worse Russians who call dumplings “pelmeni” and that’s pretty much it, so it’s no wonder their kids want to be a different culture that cooks something good. Even Ukranians have borscht somewhere amidst their famous Pickled Everything.

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    1. German food is vastly superior to anything created by Italians food-wise. This is a hill I’m going to die on. :-))

      Russians had the best, healthiest, most varied cuisine in Europe, possibly in the world. But then it was destroyed by the Soviets so now there’s nothing.

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  2. “which immigrant groups can transmit culture and / or wealth ”

    There are a lot of factors at play. Germans in your area probably predate both world wars (both of which… had an effect on the preservation of German language and culture).
    Interestingly at least in the early 1980s (last time I was there) some of the very old German settlements in Texas were relatively strong in preservation of some cultural elements (language less so).
    A stream of new arrivals helps preserve the language as does the idea of keeping a culture alive against a hostile world (Yiddish, maybe non-Soviet Armenian).

    Years ago I read a book on language death (mostly about indigenous minority languages but relevant here too) and the single biggest takeaway was that the single biggest variable in language viability was a feeling that the language was worth using for its own sake (apart from economic or other social considerations). Most immigrants, by definition, value economic or social considerations more than culture so it’s not surprising that their kids pick up that message and not lip service to how great the old country was….

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    1. I suspect that the two world wars created a lot of pressure on German immigrants and their descendants to “de-Germanize”. I’m less familiar with what happened during WWII, but I’ve read several stories of people being conspicuously culturally German being harassed during WWI.

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      1. World War I could be bad if you were living in the U.S., you were visibly of German extraction, and you didn’t live in a German-American enclave (my family did live in such an enclave, so they were fine). But after WWI ended, there was rapid disillusionment in the U.S. and other countries about whether WWI had really been justified, and whether all of the negative claims about Germany had been true rather than war propaganda. In that atmosphere, it was easy to forget whatever antipathy there had been to Germany and German culture in 1914-1918.

        World War II was a very different situation. Hitler was far more of a public villain than the Kaiser had been. And, after the Allies liberated the death camps, there was no going back to a world where having German heritage was going to be basically OK.

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    2. Anti-German sentiment was extremely strong during World War I. The Midwest had hundreds of German language newspapers, social clubs, schools, churches, etc. prior to WWI. Almost all of those things shut down or shifted to English in the space of a year or two. It was complete devastation of everything you need to transmit language and culture.

      Anti-German sentiment was not as strong during WWII because there were many prominent Germans who fled to the US and publicly denounced Hitler and what he was up to, so it was clear to many Americans that not every German supported the Nazis.

      German food in Germany is delicious, but German restaurants in the US tend to be mediocre to downright bad. The best German food is simple stuff, but it’s made with high quality ingredients and attention to technique. I have been to a few German restaurants in the US that were opened by recent immigrants and those are great, but anything run by third or fourth generation German-Americans should be avoided.

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  3. Interesting thing about Italian. I have often come across Italian-Americans who as soon as they heard I was from Italy told me they were Italian (i.e. non-hyphenated Americans) and then were stumped when I switched to Italian. I’m not familiar enough with U.S. culture to understand this pride over one’s ethnicity even when one doesn’t speak the language.

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  4. Solzhenitsyn talks about sons of whites who were with him in prison. They were raised abroad but came back to fight for Mother Russia during World War II because they were raised with a love for Russian culture. Obviously, the Soviets arrested such people when they stopped being convenient.

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  5. Our German-American family transmitted German culture quite effectively from 1876 to 1941. In 1941, my grandfather Schwarz spoke German fluently.

    After 1945, our family abruptly stopped doing transmitting the culture. We stopped cold.

    And I doubt we were the only ones. And that, I suspect, is why today you see so little transmission of German culture in modern America. After 1945, German heritage was simply not something that anybody wanted to transmit.

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  6. —Russian-speaking immigrants make gigantic efforts to transmit their culture to their children and fail every single time.

    I think trying too hard is precisely the reason why they fail. Additionally, in case of the Russians there is a noticeable feeling of superiority (originally along the lines of “they teach subject X in 6th grade in schools in Russia while they teach it in grade 9 in the West). Therefore, kids often subconsciously feel they are forced to choose between being a part of the Russian culture and the local one.
    If this theory is true, it may have interesting implications with respect to wokeness. For many Russian immigrants wokeness is an additional thing that is wrong about the West. And since Russians tend to make their kids feel that they have to choose, we may expect that a lot of Russian-origin kids will eventually turn out more woke than average, especially if their parents are simultaneously into preserving Russian culture and being anti-woke…

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  7. I see all kinds of German culture in the Midwest. Institutions like the Urbana Free Library, all kinds of things established by German exiles from the 1848 movements …

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    1. “all kinds of German culture in the Midwest”

      It’s surprising how strong and pervasive German influence is in all sorts of ways throughout American life. Germans were easily the most… influential immigrant group not of the British Isles. I’ve even seen joking reference to the US as an Anglo-Germanic (rather than Anglo-Saxon) culture.

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  8. OT: Another nail in the coffin of the nation-state – a general is overtly serving liquid capital over country…

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    1. Can you imagine? It just doesn’t get more blatant and overt than this. A military general is prattling about the economy and not even trying to fake patriotism.

      It’s curious that the Q people are convinced that it’s precisely the military that will save us all.

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  9. I live in an ethnically German area and they have at least managed to pass down an old German-American dish, still popular here today:

    https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Goetta

    It takes some real ethnic pride to be able to pretend this shit is any good. And yes, goetta is a big thing at our (huge) yearly Oktoberfest. Unlike your town’s, ours is frequented by ethnic Germans (almost every white person in this area is ethnically German.)

    Jokes aside, yeah, people here don’t care about being German the way Italian-Americans care about being Italian. And we probably come closest to approaching ethnic German pride of any place in America.

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