February 15, 2015

UNCLE TOMAS'S:

The silent minority (The Economist, Feb 7th 2015)

ON A snow-covered bluff overlooking the Sheboygan river stands the Waelderhaus, a faithful reproduction of an Austrian chalet. It was built by the Kohler family of Wisconsin in the 1920s as a tribute to the homeland of their father, John Michael Kohler, who had immigrated to America in 1854 at the age of ten.

John Michael moved to Sheboygan, married the daughter of another German immigrant, who owned the local foundry, and took over his father-in-law's business. He transformed it from a maker of ploughshares into a plumbing business. Today Kohler is the biggest maker of loos and baths in America. Herbert Kohler, the boss (and grandson of the founder), has done so well selling tubs that he has been able to pursue his other passion--golf--on a grand scale. The Kohler Company owns Whistling Straits, the course that will host the Ryder Cup in 2020.

German-Americans are America's largest single ethnic group (if you divide Hispanics into Mexican-Americans, Cuban-Americans, etc). In 2013, according to the Census bureau, 46m Americans claimed German ancestry: more than the number who traced their roots to Ireland (33m) or England (25m). In whole swathes of the northern United States, German-Americans outnumber any other group (see map). Some 41% of the people in Wisconsin are of Teutonic stock.

Yet despite their numbers, they are barely visible.

Just finished a heart-rending book, The Train to Crystal City, about the concentration camp we sent German nationals and their families to (as well as Italian and Japanese Americans and others), during WWII.  A reminder that as recently as seven decades ago they weren't even white yet, nevermind invisible.







Posted by at February 15, 2015 9:15 AM
  

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