Treasures from the Archives (2): Pre-Mature Americans

March 31, 2011

The socialization and assimilation of second generation children of immigrants promoted by World War II is a relatively well-known phenomenon.  Peter Carroll has argued that for many of the children-of-immigrant volunteers in the Lincoln Brigade, service in Spain was, in a complex way, a path towards Americanization.  This insight is powerfully borne out in this Mike Gold column from the Daily Worker, written on the occasion of the return to New York of some 300 veterans aboard the Ausonia in December of 1938.  I found a clipping of the article in a scrapbook in the Milton White Collection, ALBA #278, one of the most recent ALBA acquisitions.  (White himself is mentioned in paragraph 9.)  Notice how throughout the article, the fight in Spain, and antifascism more broadly, are construed as a kind of crucible from which e pluribus unum.  “…young Americans, with the look of people who have been places, who could have told them apart?”

Change the World:  A Great Precedent Has Been Set

By Mike Gold

December 20, 1938

Daily Worker

A clear cold day, with winds that purify the streets and set the blood tingling.  A winter sun that lights up the battlefield of New York.

Along the waterfront, where great trucks thunder by endlessly as to battle, thousands of people have gathered.  They carry many banners, the bands play, songs are sung.

Truck drivers lean down and ask the meaning of this sudden holiday.  A man in a lumberjacket shouts up at them:  “Our boys from Spain are coming home.  Why wouldn’t we be happy?”

The boat has been docked for hours.  But the boys are still going through customs.  And then the first one appears.  He is a young Italian seaman.  The crowd cheers, but he rushes up and down the line.  “Where’s the waterfront boys?”

He finds his delegation.  He also finds his sister and her two boys.  She kisses him, he kisses her.  He kisses the children.  Tears are in his eyes.  “Never thought you’d see your uncle Joe again, didya?”  Italian friends press around him, and male and female kiss him, loudly and fondly.  Everybody within his radius kisses Joe, the Italian kid who left the sidewalks of New York to go fight Moors, Nazi bombers and fascist Blackshirts –the New York kid who made world history in Spain.

“No more of this,” he suddenly yelled, happily.  “I wanna big spaghetti feed and some wine!”  And he jumps up and down on his game leg, to show his sister it isn’t really as bad as it had sounded in the

Milton White is pictured here with in the early 1940s, probably with the guitar he acquired in Spain. Milton White, ALBA #278


More and more of the boys drift through the red tape.  Here a Jewish family greet their youngster.  He is a tall, blond, handsome “Nordic” who looks as American as Gary Cooper.  His father is short and round-shouldered, a little immigrant tailor.  And the European immigrant and his tall American son stand with arms around each other, hugging each other, and Mother kisses her boy, and there is more of that universal kissing and weeping.

The scene is repeated at different spots on that windy waterfront street where the big trucks thunder by.  Here a young group of Irish lads, in the berets of the Brigade greet their people; there a young wife is kissing her young soldier husband; a Negro boy is surrounded by joyful Harlemites, who have come out with banners and baby carriages to show their pride that Harlem had shared in the historic fight against the fascists.

“Canarsie Welcomes Home Andy Boryski” was the legend on a cluster of banners.  “Coney Island Welcomes Home Its boys.”  The Lower Bronx, the East Side, Brownsville, all the districts seem to have sent boys across.  “Lincoln Place Welcomes Milton White” said a placard.  And Milton seemed overjoyed to find the boys and girls of his native street.  He had brought back a guitar from Spain, and one of the boys guarded it proudly for him.

Ah, New York, New York, how many harsh and libelous things have seen said and written about you?  You are supposed to be money-mad, unneighbourly, hard-boiled, crazy only for pleasure:  the courtesan and the alien among American cities.  Yet when the call came that democracy was in peril in Spain, these same sidewalks of New York poured a stream of its best sons to stand against the artillery, the bombs and the professional troops of the fascists.  Let no one ever write another word against New York after such battles and such homecomings.

New York mothers and fathers bit their lips with the grief of parents, but let their boys go.  Many of those boys haven’t returned in the past few weeks.   They will never return; they are an eternal part of the Spanish soil.  But many of the mothers and fathers of those absent boys were also down at the docks.  They were there to demonstrate that whatever the cost, they were with their boys in spirit, and would continue the fight against fascism.

Many other states were represented, of course, in the ranks of the Internationals who returned on the Ausonia this past Tuesday.  But the out-of-town boys were also taken into the great heart of New York.  As the ranks of the veterans marched from the docks towards Union Square, young Americans, with the look of people who have been places, who could have told them apart?  The cheering along the sidewalks was for all, for Californians and Canadians as well as New Yorkers, for black as well as white, for Jew and Gentile, for proletarian and white collar and professional.  The unity of the people was marching in that line.


One Response to “ Treasures from the Archives (2): Pre-Mature Americans ”