My Ethnic Background

Each ethnic group in the world has difficulty assimilating into a new environment. How does this happen? Does assimilation truly happen or do ethnic lines just blur with time until differences disappear? Like many Americans this writer’s ethnic background is hard to trace and that being the case it is convenient to explore one known branch. In this case the Texas Germans are that branch, however, each ethnic group has encountered struggles which are similar in many ways.

The largest Ethnic group in Texas is the German population. The German immigrants began to arrive in Texas in the 1830s. In 1850 more than 5% of the Texas population was German. Even as recently as 1990 when the United States census was taken there were 1,175,888 Texans claiming pure German ancestry and 1,775,838 claiming partial German ancestry. This works out to 17.5 % of the total population. Three labels describe the migration of the German people to Texas. These labels or terms are “dominant personality”, “chain migration,” and “America letters.” The first term dominant personality refers to one individual starting the process of voluntary migration. This individual was a true pioneer. In addition, this person was usually an ambitious, leader who thought that emigration would be an answer to problems of economic, social, political, or religious natures. In Texas one individual did the most in relation to bringing Germans to migrate to Texas. The man’s name was Friedrich Diercks. He originally immigrated to America and thought he would settle in Missouri. However, at that time there was land up for grabs in Stephen F. Austin’s colony in Texas. Mr. Diercks made an application and got a land grant of over 4,000 acres in Austin County. This was the center of what would be called the German Belt. Mr. Diercks wrote many letters to friends in Germany telling them the greatness of Texas. He expounded on the good points, embellished a bit, and left out things like lack of water horny toads and rattlesnakes. Probably, these stories were the originally tall tales of Texas. These kinds of letters encouraging migration became known to migration students as “America letters.” These letters started a chain migration as friends told friends and so on. (Jordan T., n.d.)


Towards the last part of the 1830’s a group of nobleman had an idea to colonize German peasants in Texas. They were after the economic benefits of course but also they also hoped to relieve the overpopulation of peasants in certain parts of Germany. They formed a company called in English the German Emigration Company and helped thousands of Germans to migrate to Texas. It is possible that these noblemen envisioned the colony leading to something bigger since Texas was an independent republic. A second colonization was started by a Frenchman named Henri Castro. This resulted in about 2,000 German-speaking settlers to move to Texas. (Jordan, n.d.)

Cultural Pluralism

Not only in Texas but also in all of America German immigrants largely kept their German heritage. There were German towns, schools, churches and even the beginnings of a political group that each politician was becoming aware of and began to address in order to obtain that substantial American-German vote. There were religious groups such as the Amish, Huterites, and the Mennonites. Therefore, by the 1850s American-Germans were a well-established group in the United States. At this point American-Germans could be considered pluralistic within America since they were co-creating America with the other immigrants and well established colonists. (Rippley & Reichmann, n.d., chap. 11, para.12)


On the other hand, Germans were also rapidly assimilating into America taking more acceptable American names and marrying out of their Ethnic group. Even ministers and priests were using English in their ceremonies and business was conducted in English. This was all happening as early as before the colonies won their independence from Britain. This effort to assimilate into America by all immigrant groups was a goal appropriately coined as “equality” with “Yankeedom.” (Rippley & Reichmann, n.d., chap 11 para.10)


During the 1800s, all immigrants including the American-Germans suffered under xenophobia due to a surge of extreme nationalism. During this time, there was a group called the America Party, but more popularly know as the “Know Nothings”, which begin trying to stop immigration to the United States and to limit the rights of immigrants already living here. (Rippley & Reichmann, n.d., chap. 9, para.9)

Prejudice and Racial Discrimination

When the United States went to war with Germany American-German lives changed forever. In 1917, the Espionage Act was passed and soon after that the Sedition Act of 1918. These laws aimed at protecting Americans just like the Patriot Act fueled prejudice and racial hatred. (Wikipedia, n.d.)

During World War II many German-Americans were put into internment camps at great personal loss. In addition, Germans from Latin America and Peru were brought to the United States and interned. Later these individuals were used as a prisoner exchange. There is no record of how many actually made it back to their countries after the war. (Jacobs, n.d.)

The human cost of these civil liberties violations was high. Families were disrupted, if not destroyed, reputations ruined, homes and belongings lost. By the end of the war, 11,000 persons of German ancestry, including many American-born children, were interned. (Jacobs, n.d.)

Anti-Germanism started in World War I and World War II continues throughout the world even today, but the effect on the German-Americans was to submerge their culture and force assimilation with the loss of much of their cultural background. This is appropriately addressed by the well-known author Kurt Vonnegut as follows:

. . .the anti-Germanism in this country during the First World War so shamed and dismayed my parents that they resolved to raise me without acquainting me with the language or the literature or the music or the oral family histories which my ancestors had loved. They volunteered to make me ignorant and rootless as proof of their patriotism (Vonnegut, 1981)


Although being of German origin it is conclusive that this writer’s heritage is as lost as was previously stated by Kurt Vonnegut. Therefore, this writer feels no more affiliation with German-Americans than with mainstream America. However, through studying ethnic struggles within the United States a true American cannot help but feel one with all ethnic groups. This brings about full realization that the painful struggle for “equality with Yankeedom” is humankind’s struggle and this is a struggle that no one can escape.


Jacobs, Arthur D. (n.d.) world war II – the internment of german americans civilians retrieved December 11, 2005 from

Jordan, Terry G.,(n.d.), germans, retrieved December 11, 2005 from

Rippley L. J. & Reichmann E., (n.d.), the german americans an ethnic experience, retrieved December 11, 2005 from ttp://

Vonnegut, Kurt (1981), New York: Delacorte Press, 21

Wikipedia the free dictionary, alien sedition acts (n.d.) retrieved December 11, 2005 from

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