By Brian McCook
“McCook offers an insightful comparative study that carefully situates in time Polish immigrant communities in the Ruhr valley and in Pennsylvania and demonstrates well their social and political evolution. He makes a strong case for the modern relevance of the Polish experience in discussion of immigration and government policy today.”
The Journal of American History
“The Borders of Integration offers a welcome new approach to migration and labor history. The analysis rests on comparison and leads up to concrete suggestions for contemporary policies of integration, based on the divergent rates of return migration in post-World War I Westphalia and Pennsylvania.”
Nations and Nationalism
“McCook renders his complex material with a graceful clarity that makes this work a pleasure to read. Summing Up: Highly recommended. All levels/libraries.”
“McCook has produced a formidable piece of comparative history…. Present debates about immigration are often uninformed by historical examples and lacking in explanations regarding the mechanism by which integration works. As such, McCook’s Borders of Integration should be welcomed by those scholars who wish to engage seriously and soberly in the hot-button debates of assimilation and multiculturalism in present-day America and Germany.”
German Studies Review
The issues of immigration and integration are at the forefront of contemporary politics. Yet debates over foreign workers and the desirability of their incorporation into European and American societies too often are discussed without a sense of history. McCook’s examination questions static assumptions about race and white immigrant assimilation a hundred years ago, highlighting how the Polish immigrant experience is relevant to present-day immigration debates on both sides of the Atlantic. Further, his research shows the complexity of attitudes toward immigration in Germany and the United States, challenging historical myths surrounding German national identity and the American “melting pot.”
In a comparative study of Polish migrants who settled in the Ruhr Valley and northeastern Pennsylvania, McCook shows that in both regions, Poles become active citizens within their host societies through engagement in social conflict within the public sphere to defend their ethnic, class, gender, and religious interests. While adapting to the Ruhr and northeastern Pennsylvania, Poles simultaneously retained strong bonds with Poland, through remittances, the exchange of letters, newspapers, and frequent return migration. In this analysis of migration in a globalizing world, McCook highlights the multifaceted ways in which immigrants integrate into society, focusing in particular on how Poles created and utilized transnational spaces to mobilize and attain authentic and more permanent identities grounded in newer broadly conceived notions of citizenship.
Brian McCook is a senior lecturer in history and politics at Leeds Metropolitan University. He is the recipient of fellowships from the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation, the Social Science Research Council, the German Historical Institute, the Kosciuszko Foundation, and the Woodrow Wilson Center. More info →
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During Poland’s century-long partition and in the interwar period of Poland's reemergence as a state, Polish writers on both sides of the ocean shared a preoccupation with national identity. Polish-American immigrant writers revealed their persistent, passionate engagement with these issues, as they used their work to define and consolidate an essentially transnational ethnic identity that was both tied to Poland and independent of it.
At midcentury, two distinct Polish immigrant groups—those Polish Americans who were descendants of economic immigrants from the turn of the twentieth century and the Polish political refugees who chose exile after World War II and the communist takeover in Poland—faced an uneasy challenge to reconcile their concepts of responsibility toward the homeland. The new arrivals did not consider themselves simply as immigrants, but rather as members of the special category of political refugees.
Polish émigrés have written poignantly about the pain of exile in letters, diaries, and essays; others, more recently, have recreated Polish-American communities in works of fiction. But it is Danuta Mostwin’s fiction, until now unavailable in English translation, that bridges the divide between Poland and America, exile and emigration. Mostwin and her husband survived the ravages of World War II, traveled to Britain, and then emigrated to the United States.
The Grasinski Girls were working-class Americans of Polish descent, born in the 1920s and 1930s, who created lives typical of women in their day. They went to high school, married, and had children. For the most part, they stayed home to raise their children. And they were happy doing that. They took care of their appearance and their husbands, who took care of them.