You don't have to be millionaires to dance to good dance music in the US
October 17, 2017 12:09 PM   Subscribe

"I'm an American. The Immigration and Naturalization Service of the United States, in cooperation the National Broadcasting Company, has invited a number of naturalized citizens to talk about the American citizenship which they have recently acquired, a possession which we ourselves take for granted, but which is still new and thrilling to them. Today, we are delighted to have with us as [a] guest with us on this program, the distinguished scientist, Doctor Albert Einstein, who has this very morning, just a few hours ago, taken his citizenship examination." In 1940, on the eve of the United States' entrance into World War II, then-President Franklin D. Roosevelt's Immigration and Naturalization Service wanted to promote tolerance toward immigrants.
Listeners of the weekly program, which aired on Sunday afternoons, tuned in to hear top celebrities of the day discussing what they thought was great about living in the U.S.

"You don't have to be millionaires or even well-to-do to dance to good dance music in America," said Canadian-born bandleader Guy Lombardo.

Pulitzer Prize-winning author Thomas Mann is known for works such as The Magic Mountain, Death in Venice and Buddenbrooks. "Democracy can and will triumph," the German-American proclaimed on the show.

And another German-American, Academy Award-winning actress Luise Rainer, talked more directly about becoming a citizen: "To me it is a thrilling thing to be able to say with all my heart: I am an American."
In total, there were more than 60 I'm An American broadcasts, including special radio plays for I'm An American Day, which Congress created in 1940 as an annual celebration of all new citizens — and which continues today as Citizenship Day (Sept. 17).
The government was using its power to promote good feeling toward immigrants, but that welcome wasn't extended to everyone. During the same period, Congress passed the law that would eventually lead to Japanese internment camps.

Most of the show's guests were white European immigrants who made the U.S. seem like an easy place to be a newcomer.
More audio clips from the program are embedded in the original Atlas Obscura article by Sarah Laskow, and the Kurt Weill Foundation for Music has a transcript of an interview with Kurt Weill for I'm An American, when the program was produced by Department of Justice of the United States with NBC in 1941.
posted by filthy light thief (7 comments total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
According to the NPR article, the Library of Congress has copies of all 60 recordings, but I failed to find them online.
posted by filthy light thief at 12:11 PM on October 17, 2017 [1 favorite]

first use of LuiseRainer tag. tag game is strong.
posted by lalochezia at 12:46 PM on October 17, 2017 [1 favorite]

Sometimes, one wishes history would repeat itself.
posted by infini at 2:11 PM on October 17, 2017

When our family became naturalized Canadian Citizens it was a pretty special event. At least for us. We dressed up in our finest clothes. We took photos next to a RCMP (because of course there was a Mountie fully dressed in uniform).

We went out to eat and toasted our joining this wonderful country. It's now coming up on 15 years. The first three our status was as Landed Immigrants. And it's something we take pride in. Especially voting. That was a big part of our getting our citizenship, being able to participate in our democracy was important to us.
posted by Fizz at 2:35 PM on October 17, 2017 [6 favorites]

These are good stories. I'm glad they are being documented.
posted by Fizz at 3:10 PM on October 17, 2017 [1 favorite]

I recently came across a web page of Dorthea Lange’s censored photos of Japanese internment camps and some of the quotes are horrifying…

The Japanese race is an enemy race and while many second and third generation Japanese born on American soil, possessed of American citizenship, have be come ‘Americanized,’ the racial strains are undiluted.

General John L. DeWitt, head of the U.S. Army’s Western Defense Command

We shouldn’t forget this history either.
posted by jabo at 3:40 PM on October 17, 2017 [11 favorites]

I wrote to the Library of Congress and they said they have the recordings but they can't put them online due to NBC and the copyright.
posted by Rufous-headed Towhee heehee at 2:21 PM on October 19, 2017

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