The immigrant experience can be a dialogue between personal agency and acculturation—the desire to seek a better life while dealing with the challenges of adapting to a new culture. Immigrants in the United States have expressed this experience through various forms of communication, including the process of learning English, letters,...
social clubs, works of art, diaries, and dreams. The documents generated from these events and organizations provide students with a unique archive through which to examine US history.
Anna Maria Klinger’s letters to her parents provide a firsthand account of personal experiences and social observations during a significant wave of German immigration to the US in the nineteenth century. While she could find jobs as a domestic worker with other German families, Klinger discovered that learning English was the path to better employment. In her letters, Klinger expressed the need to learn English through immersion in English-speaking environments instead of remaining with families who only spoke German.
After establishing herself, Klinger supported the immigration of her brothers and sisters to America. In her following letters, Klinger celebrated the news of her sister Barbara’s job at a bakery and the developing English language skills of the children.
As she worked and confronted the issues of income and language, Klinger also continued the dialogue between agency and acculturation in her dreams. She shared these dreams in letters to her parents, commenting on a feeling of homesickness yet, at the same time, feeling a sense of gladness at establishing herself in America.
Hoerder, Dirk and Jörg Nagler, eds. People in Transit: German Migrations in Comparative Perspective, 1820-1930. Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1995.
Wehner-Franco, Silke. Deutsche Dienstmädchen in Amerika 1850-1914. Münster, Waxmann, 1994.