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Are Germans taking over America?

Census figures appear to show that seven million more Germans have suddenly gone to America.

This week I found myself in Bremerhaven, home of the well-crafted Auswandererhaus – the German Emigration Centre – and I came across an interesting tidbit of information which I thought was worth mentioning here.

It seems that the Germans are multiplying over in the US, and, with an increase of seven million in the last decade, have nearly overtaken the Hispanics as America’s largest ethnic group (49.8 million versus 50.5). The Irish and the African Americans are trailing in their wake, despite popular perceptions to the contrary.

These German Americans seem to mostly live in what is called a ‘German belt’ of the US that extends from eastern Pennsylvania to the Oregon coast. A majority of counties in Pennsylvania, Michigan, Illinois, Missouri, Iowa, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Kansas, Nebraska, Wyoming, Montana and the Dakotas are predominantly German, and they make up a plurality of Ohio and Indiana counties.

So have seven million more Germans suddenly gone to America? Of course not. I think Germany would have noticed the small matter of seven million suddenly leaving home.

The thinking behind the surprising statistical change is that Americans of German descent are suddenly prouder of being German again. And that, where on previous census papers they might have declared themselves as of ‘European’ descent, or even simply ‘American’, they are now proud to stand up and be counted.

So what has happened in the last decades to bring about that change in attitude? For one thing, the collapse of the Berlin Wall, and the success of reunification. Then the successful hosting of the World Cup. And finally the increased interest in tracking one’s ancestry, particularly amongst a newer generation who don’t feel the same responsibility for the darker side of Germany’s 20th century history as their parents might have done. Presumably Germany’s current economic strength and leadership within Europe has a part to play, too, although the final chapters in that particular story have yet to be written.

It’d be interesting to see, in the next census, whether the sudden surge was just a blip. And whether it has any wider, cultural, impact. Why isn’t there a German fast food-chain equivalent of Taco Bell, for example? And given the number of movies that have come out of Hispanic America, Italian America and African America, isn’t it about time that Hollywood turned its attention on the Germanic community, too?

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