CM . . .
. Volume VIII Number 8 . . . . December 14, 2001
Part of a 10-book series, these titles chronicle the arrival of various groups of people in North America who came to escape from poverty, war, famine, unemployment, violence, corrupt governments and religious persecution, only to face other kinds of hardships in their adopted countries. Yet these immigrants, who were most often penniless and unable to speak English, triumphed over adversity and became contributing members of society. They brought with them the customs and traditions of their homelands, and, in so doing, enriched not only the lives of their children and grandchildren, but also the lives of their fellow Americans and Canadians.
The books, identical in format, are divided into 14 chapters, each one consisting of a double-page spread. Despite some difficult concepts, the text is simply written and easy for students to comprehend. A glossary and an index are included. Illustrations, consisting of maps, photos (both archival and recent) and sketches, are abundant and colourful. The majority of each book is devoted to the history behind the featured group's immigration - the reason(s) why the people left their homeland, the hardships of the journey to North America, and, frequently, the obstacles and prejudice they faced once they arrived. There are several firsthand accounts, some of them heartbreaking stories. A portion of each book focuses on the traditions, festivals and the many contributions made by both the group at large and by specific individuals who have achieved tremendous success in music, film, architecture, art, science and sports. One minor drawback for Canadian readers is that the majority of famous people listed are American.
The Germans fled to North America to escape from religious persecution. This title highlights the work of Martin Luther who led the Reformation in breaking away from the Roman Catholic Church. Hitler and the atrocities suffered by the Jews in Nazi Germany are also featured. On a positive note, the countless contributions of the German people are discussed - from publishing to food (schnitzel, bratwurst, sauerkraut and hamburgers), music and Christmas traditions such as having a decorated evergreen tree indoors. Famous people of German descent include H. J. Heinz (of ketchup and pickle fame), Milton Hershey (the first to mass-produce chocolate), beermeisters (Coors, Pabst, Schlitz, Anheuser and Busch), Henry Heide (inventor of jujubes), Babe Ruth, Levi Strauss and Dr. Seuss.
The Italians set up shop in small areas of major cities, calling these enclaves "Little Italies." Mutual aid societies, designed to preserve the Italians' heritage and to help their members with scholarships, were formed (The Sons of Italy is one example). A significant contribution of the Italian people was food - pizza, pasta and espresso. Ironically, pasta, considered a luxury in Italy, was very affordable here. Famous Italians include Amadeo Obici (founder of Planters Peanuts), Joe DiMaggio, Francis Ford Coppola and Frank Sinatra. In this volume, film director Martin Scorsese writes a personal account in the "Eyewitness to History" section. He tells of his family's humble beginnings in New York. Those who have followed Scorsese's career will know that his is a "rags-to-riches" story that represents every immigrant's dream of a better life in North America.
Lured by freedom of speech and worship and in the hope of obtaining inexpensive land and well-paying jobs, the Poles journeyed to North America to escape from poverty and foreign control after suffering from several devastating wars. However, life in the new land was not always pleasant - hard work in deplorable conditions, though difficult, was not nearly as demeaning as the insults, jokes and prejudice that the people endured. Contributions by the Poles in the areas of dance, art and music have enriched society. Marie Curie (nee Sklodovska), Wayne Gretzky and the Warner Brothers of film fame (Samuel, Harry, Jack and Albert) are all of Polish descent.
Fleeing from famine, unemployment and conflicts with the ruling British government, the Irish were crammed into freight ships for their trans-Atlantic voyage. Once on North American soil, some of them died in quarantine in what came to be known as "fever shacks." Despite the prejudice faced by this immigrant group, especially the Irish Catholics, the people rose above adversity, forming clubs (many of which did charity work for children) and building churches, hospitals and institutions, one of the most famous of which is Notre Dame University. Their contributions in the areas of music, dance and poetry are particularly noteworthy as are some famous people of Irish descent - author F. Scott Fitzgerald, John F. Kennedy, artist Georgia O'Keefe and Canada's own Timothy Eaton.
Of all of the immigrant groups, the Hispanic peoples are the most diverse because they came from so many different countries. Hispanics are all people of Spanish-speaking heritage - Cubans, Mexicans, Puerto Ricans and Salvadorans. Their contributions extend as far back as Columbus, Ponce de Leon and other Spanish explorers and continue to this day as North Americans embrace the Hispanics' rich musical heritage - from dances such as the rumba, tango and cha-cha to the influence of "salsa" music on jazz, rock and country - and their flavorful cuisine and Spanish-style architecture. Famous Hispanics, such as Walt Disney, Carlos Santana and Gloria Estefan, are mentioned.
Following the bombing of Pearl Harbor, racism against the Japanese became rampant, resulting in the mass arrests of Japanese-Americans and Japanese-Canadians, who were placed in internment camps where they lived in small, filthy rooms that were freezing cold in winter and stifling in summer. It has taken many years for the Japanese people to get over the traumatic effects of the camps and to win millions of dollars in compensation from the governments for their suffering during the Second World War. Their contributions range from food, gardening and martial arts to shiatsu (a method of healing), origami and haiku poetry. David Suzuki, a prominent Canadian scientist and world-renowned environmental activist who has brought science to a wider audience, is a survivor of a British Columbia internment camp.
This series of books, tracing each group's journey to North America and its settlement in the newly-adopted country, is a most interesting read. Though it might be of fairly limited use in an elementary school setting, it, nonetheless, will provide valuable information for multicultural themes and will serve to foster in children an appreciation and understanding of one another's differences.
Gail Hamilton is a teacher-librarian at Bird's Hill School in East St. Paul, MB.
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Copyright © the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.