The European American Experience (USA Today Cultural Mosaic)
By: Karen Sirvaitis
Publisher: Twenty-First Century Books
Publication Date: August 2010
Reviewed by: Deb Fowler
Review Date: December 2010
Europeans began coming to the United States, once known as the New World, in the seventeenth century, for a variety of reasons. Some came, like the Pilgrims, to escape religious persecution while others “saw the new nation as a place of opportunity and freedom.” Many recall from reading history that some people, like the Irish, came to the United States to escape famine that wiped out a third of the population in their homeland. What started out as a trickle soon turned into a flood and by 1924 more than thirty-five million people had arrived on our shores from European countries. In addition to baggage they also brought along their languages, customs, food, and many other aspects of their cultures. Even though many languages were spoken in the New World, it was the “British Americans [who] gave the United States one of its most obvious cultural traits–the English language.”
Naturally European immigrants wanted to maintain ties with their countries and as a result more that twelve-hundred foreign language newspapers sprang up. Many people wished to assimilate and took English language classes, which enabled them to communicate with their neighbors, get jobs, and give them a sense of belonging. Nevertheless, we see snippets of many cultures in our language and “English speakers also learned new words from their European neighbors.” Most of us have heard words or phrases such as bon voyage, ciao, kaput, and klutz. Early settlers also left their imprint on numerous place names across the country. For example, the Catskill Mountains drew its name from the Dutch. Catskill means “wildcat creek” in Dutch. If you listen closely to accents, you will be able to hear the European influence in many of them.
As the European people immigrated, they also brought their many talents right along with them. Literary contributions abound and authors such as Ole Rolvaag, James Fennimore Cooper, Willa Cather, and Frank McCourt enriched us with their talent. Immigrants also brought along their “old folk songs and ballads,” while their descendants garnered many fans for their work. Do you know who Dino Crocetti and Stephani Germanotta are? You’ll find out who these two stars are and will read about many more who are of European descent. You’ll read about individuals who hit it big on the silver screen, became artists, architects, trendsetters, sports stars, and Olympic champions. You’ll also learn about settlers who came here to establish religious communities, you’ll be able to see snapshots of assorted religious groups, you’ll learn about holidays, celebrations, ethnic foods, and you’ll learn about many other fascinating cultural offerings from European Americans.
This is a wonderful “cultural mosaic” of things that European Americans have contributed to the tapestry of our country. There is no one book that can cover everything about the influence Europeans had on the United States, but this is an excellent, well-written overview. There are numerous informative sidebars, photographs, and the text is interspersed with a few interesting USA Today articles. For example, there is one from 2009 that discusses Julia Child and how she brought French cuisine to Americans though her cooking shows and writing.
There are many examples of individuals from the arts to sports that many young people will recognize, but some will leave them clueless but interested. For example, they will learn about Jimmy Sturr, a musician who won sixteen Grammys, but young readers may never have heard his name. Fun and fascinating is a simple way to describe this book. In the back of the book are portraits of several famous European Americans, instructions on how to explore your heritage, an index, a glossary, a European American Snapshot, a selected bibliography, and additional recommended book and website resources to explore.
Quill says: This is an excellent resource to learn more about how European Americans have contributed to our nation from their contributions to literature to their influence on architecture.