Will Bachmann propose retroactive repeal of 1862 Homestead Act in fight against federal hand-outs?


In English-only bill is unnecessary but assures Drazkowski’s re-election, a recent column about anti-immigrant legislation sponsored by state representative Steve Drazkowski, St. Paul Press columnist Ruben Rosario observed:

Which leads me to what’s really the bedrock driving this English-only push: a perception that the immigrants of today are refusing to learn English or not quickly enough when compared with those very romanticized European-centric immigrants of yesteryear.

B.S., to put it as plainly as I can in a family mainstream newspaper. Joe Salmons, who heads the German department at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, pretty much debunked that often-anecdotal myth.

Analyzing old census data and other historical documents, Salmons and a university colleague concluded in a 2008 study of the German immigration experience in Wisconsin that “many immigrants and their descendants remained monolingual, decades after immigration had ceased.

Elsewhere in the column, Rosario suggests that Drazkowski’s introduction of an Arizona-style law might predispose the Mazeppa pol to throw other back-to-the-future style bills in the hopper like opposition to observing Martin Luther King Jr’s birthday and the revived “displaying those “no dogs or Mexicans” signs that once adorned Arizona eateries and other public venues in the not-too-distant past.”

Word comes to us tonight from Iowa that Michele Bachmann, the competitive gentlewoman from Minnesota’s Sixth Congressional District, may have felt a need to upstage the Draz. Kathie Obradovich, political columnist for The Des Moines Register, reports in Bachmann impresses some top Iowa Republicans:

Bachmann’s speech included a lengthy description of her ancestors’ arrival in America from Norway, their hopes and aspirations and the challenges they faced. She didn’t segue into today’s immigration issues, but noted that the country’s original settlers “didn’t come here for a federal handout.”

This is a stunner, even by Michele Bachmann’s high standards of truth telling. After all, as one timeline of immigration to America notes:

The Homestead Act provides free plots of up to 160 acres of western land to settlers who agree to develop and live on it for at least five years, thereby spurring an influx of immigrants from overpopulated countries in Europe seeking land of their own.

In fact, many European settlers came to this country to get a handout: 160 acres of land west of the Mississippi; one didn’t need to be a citizen, merely have the desire to become one. Norwegians jumped on it:

The end of the Civil War brought about a great increase in Atlantic crossings. The number of Norwegian emigrants leaped from 4,000 in 1865 to 15,726 in 1866, heralding the era of mass migration. The migration occurred until 1873 when, in the course of only eight years, some 110,000 Norwegians left their homeland. The second, and also the greatest, period of emigration lasted 14 years from 1880 to 1893, when on the average 18,290 left annually-ten for every 1,000 Norwegians. During this time Norway’s emigration intensity was the second greatest in Europe, surpassed only by Ireland. . .

. . .The majority of Norwegian agrarian settlements developed in the northern region of the so-called Homestead Act Triangle between the Mississippi and the Missouri rivers. The upper Midwest became the home for most immigrants. In 1910 almost 80 percent of the one million or more Norwegian Americans-the immigrants and their children-lived in that part of the United States.. . .

That federal hand-out–along with crushing poverty in Norway–provided an incentive to come to America. Like today’s immigrants to the United States, they worked pretty hard. There is one big difference between today’s and yesterday’s immigrants, though, when we consider “federal handouts.”

Today’s documented immigrants are ineligible for most federal benefits until they have been here for five years or have become citizens; the undocumented worker can legally receive very few “federal handouts.” The federal hand-out of 160 acres of land to improve that the nineteenth century immigrant received was touted as an economic development tool. Not that there wasn’t any protest about this: indigenous people weren’t very happy about the federal handouts.

Since immigrants coming to the United States to bag federal hand-outs bothers her so much, perhaps Bachmann will propose a reactive repeal of the Homestead Act and a radical unsettling of America west of the Mississippi. It’s not a new idea.

Next, she might demand an apology from all those Norwegian-Americans who, like Germans, clung to their traditions and language long after their ancestors got off the boat:

The cultural baggage of Norwegian immigrants included their specific local dialect and a Danish literary language. The latter played a significant role in the immigrant community, attaining a nearly sacred quality. It was the language of their institutions, secular and religious, and of sacred and profane literature. The immigrants had little appreciation for the linguistic reforms in the homeland; often such changers were viewed as a betrayal to a common cultural heritage. Changes in the official written language in Norway made the older form even more difficult to retain in America. A newspaper such as Decorah-Posten in Decorah, Iowa, persisted in using a Dano-Norwegian orthographic tradition from the 1870s well into the 1950s. The situation created confusion among teachers of Norwegian at American high schools, colleges and universities, who felt obligations to the language of the immigrant community. Only just before World War II did they in principle agree to teach the written standard-generally the Dano-Norwegian bokm’al – which at any one time was recognized as the official one in Norway.

English was another threat to the maintenance of the Norwegian language in America. Rural settlement patterns protected spoken Norwegian so it still can be heard in some Norwegian communities. According to researcher Joshua A. Fishman, about half of second generation Norwegians in the period 1940 to 1960 learned the language; and in 1960 there were as many as 40,000 of the third generation who had learned Norwegian. As of 1990, about 80,000 speakers of Norwegian remained in the United States. In Minnesota, Norwegian, with 16,000 speakers, is the second most common European language after German. Across the country there are still two bilingual newspapers, Western Viking in Seattle and Nordic Times in Brooklyn. The bygdelag promoted the use of rural vernaculars and, indeed, their annual reunions provided an environment where rural speech was honored and encouraged. It was, however, a mixed language with English words and phrases integrated.

Perhaps Bachmann could find an expert to free the children of those immigrants from the numbing cycle of living off federal hand-outs.