Please note: The following essay was written for a college class taken through University of Phoenix. No part of this essay should be copied for use in further classes.
This essay will examine the immigration of Swedish-Americans from Sweden to the United States. While the presented information may not be applicable in all cases, the methods described herein apply to the families researched. The issues of colonization, segregation and discrimination are explored based on the best interpretation of research and data on hand, with comparison and consideration to the present-day given.
Swedish American Tercentenary
In the days of Christopher Columbus and the Mayflower, various European colonist groups set forth to venture to what is now the United States. While some moved westward with the hope of becoming free of political or religious persecution, others went to America seeking riches and expansion of their companies. Still others, such as the Swedish immigrants, were sent there as a chartered effort to expand their home country's land and holdings. In this, the Swedish fall into the latter category, sent to America to colonize under their government's command (Beijbom, 1996.)
The Swedish immigrants came with purpose, and in large numbers, beginning nearly two decades after the Mayflower landed. They came in large numbers, forming cohesive communities which kept primarily to themselves. In these large Swedish communities, people from many trades, with many skills lived and prospered as they could. According to the research and records of the House of Emigrants in Växjö, Sweden (1996), "Roughly one fifth of all Swedes had their homes in America right before World War I." With the Swedish population being roughly six million strong in this time period, this means that the number of Swedish American colonists had blossomed to one and a half million people.
Taking these large numbers into account, and the concentration of the Swedish American people in large cities, the division between Swedish communities and the dominant English speaking people was solidified in the fact that there were two issues preventing Swedish people from integrating into American society: language and employment. Where Swedish Americans lived in large numbers, rather than the Swedish being forced to speak English to succeed, the opposite was true for "outsiders." A language barrier inhibits commerce, prevents people from meeting on common social ground comfortably, and created a pattern of avoidance between English speakers and the Swedish living in their communities.
In addition to the language barrier's strength, the overall lack of trade skills present in the original colonists and later immigrants alike meant that there were plenty of Swedish people who fulfilled jobs for which they were underpaid, though when compared to Sweden's agricultural crisis and the abundance of opportunity which America heralded, immigrants continued to flow into the country. It would take several generations for Swedes and other groups to mingle and meld together, but the segregation during that time was clear.
The Swedish immigrants faced a single dominant form of discrimination: dual labor. In comparison to other immigrant groups, the Swedish people came from a poor country that relied largely on agriculture to provide both work and sustenance for its people. Sweden was slow to build up technologically, so while there were tradesman and skilled laborers, most of the colonists were farmers, and as such this created many situations wherein a Swede would take a position as a general laborer for much less pay than the job could have garnered.
This situation, though it seemed bleak, was overcome by the early 1900's, as entire suburban areas became predominantly Swedish American owned and operated areas - areas such as Chicago. To work, live or interact with a majority of these Swedish suburban sprawls a visitor would be nearly forced to, on some level, learn the Swedish language and customs. To a minor degree, this spurred a scenario of discrimination toward all others on the part of the Swedish, but again, this discriminatory activity would clear itself up in short order as well. To be sure, just as there are areas in present day America where foreign languages are dominant over English, the general populace of America is bilingual, which is a compromise allowing both the immigrant and the natural born citizen to meet on even ground in social and commercial situations.
Personal Cultural Identification
In a way, I believe I identify with both mainstream United States culture and the assimilation of the Swedish people into American society. At once, the Swedish culture moved with the millions of Swedish people who came here, and though it changed, it remained strong in a community sense. At the same time, the Swedish people who made their lives in America adapted to be more accepted here. My Swedish family came to America four generations ago, my great-great grandfather moving his entire immediate family as well as his wife's family to Boston, Massachusetts. By the time I was born, my father's family had formed their own sub-community in the suburbs of Boston, and I identify with them very well.
Beijbom, U. (1996.) A Review of Swedish Emigration to America. European Emigration. Retrieved June 8, 2008, from http://www.americanwest.com/swedemigr/pages/emigra.htm.
mac on October 16, 2012:
francis5k on February 19, 2012:
great article! nice one!