Thursday, July 4, 2019

Excerpts from John Palmer Gavit's "Americans from Abroad" (1926)

On this particular Fourth of July, I want to share some excerpts from a very short book by John Palmer Gavit titled Americans from Abroad.

Gavit (1868-1954) was primarily a journalist during his lifetime, but also a social welfare worker, a trustee for the Common Council for American Unity and a member of the New York Microscopic Society. One of his biggest contributions, according to a fascinating (for newspaper folks) 2012 article in the Columbia Journalism Review, is that in 1903 he published The Reporter’s Manual: A Handbook for Newspaper Men, which was a very early precursor to The Associated Press Stylebook.

Americans from Abroad, published in 1926, was part of the Reading with a Purpose series from the American Library Association. Other titles — of which I have a handful — include Biology, Ten Pivotal Figures of History, Philosophy, Our Children, Pleasure from Pictures, Mental Hygiene and Citizenship.

In the introduction to Americans from Abroad, this is noted about the author: "As a journalist for more than forty years, John Palmer Gavit has been in a position to observe and interpret the contribution which men and women from other countries have made and are making to civilization in the United States. As a social worker during much of this period he has come into intimate neighborly touch with the lives of the foreign born."

And here are the excerpts I have chosen from Gavit's short volume:

  • "Imagine yourself driven by force of circumstances beyond your control — 'a push from behind or a pull from before,' or both — from your own country to a foreign land."
  • "Perhaps you are a child, taken thither by your parents thus circumstanced; happy if you are be old enough to realize and remember the bewilderment and wonderings of such a situation."
  • "Perhaps you go alone — all the more poignantly alone if you must leave behind those nearest and dearest, to shift as best they may while you seek a footing, a shelter and a living to which later you hope to summon them — when?"
  • "Now you must go, across wide lands and deep waters, to being anew among strange people, to whom your traditions, customs, inhibitions, habits of thought, religion perhaps, your point of view in general and your speech in particular are as uncouth and outlandish as theirs seem to you."
  • "You must sacrifice, with many kinds of loss and discount, things and values which have meant more to you than you appreciated; both in order to untangle yourself from old ownerships and responsibilities and to provide means for your journey and the period before you have found or made new footing. All the more if you are desperately poor."
  • "The harder it has been for you to stay where you are, the harder it will be to go where you may do better!"
  • "From every other country under the sun to these shores they have flocked to escape from conditions at home and in hope of finding in this environment opportunity to harness fortune more propitious."
  • "The population of the United States, baring a bare handful of Indians of pure blood ... is comprised of immigrants and the descendants of immigrants."
  • "Be it remembered also and constantly that upon this occasion we are not considering the highly controversial subject of immigration policy in any of its aspects. To be sure, the ethical and practical implications of that policy and its administrative application at present and during the past century and a half of our national existence — to say nothing of the two centuries or more of the earlier pioneer and colonial periods — have greatly conditioned and do condition today the physical and spiritual experiences and reactions of the newcomers. Both policy and administration are mightily different now that we are strictly, even fiercely and often inhumanly, begrudging our latchstring. In earlier times we welcomed, however clumsily, new brains and hands to help us in developing the wonder-country that we had usurped from its primeval inhabitants. While the bare physical conditions of travel are easier and the journey shorter and simpler, the guardians of our gate are in stricter, harsher mood."

No comments:

Post a Comment