Though I no longer live in the Baltimore region, I have long family ties to the area. My great-great-great-grandfather, Louis Loewenstein, came to the United States from Germany in 1849. He landed in New York but quickly made his way to Baltimore where he spent the last 50 years of his life. His future wife, Catharine Rupp, came to Baltimore earlier, having been brought over as a child by her parents in the late 1830s. Ironically, their hometowns in Germany are just a few miles apart.
Louis Loewenstein prospered in Baltimore and, though he never ran for elected office (as far as I know), he was politically engaged and an advocate for the welfare of immigrants to the city, many of whom were less fortunate than he had been.
On Sept. 22, 1883, The Sun published a letter by my ancestor in which he endorsed, in his role as president of the Tenth Ward German-American Club, a German-speaking candidate for a judgeship on the city’s Orphans’ Court. In the letter, he argues that it is important to have at least one judge on the Orphans’ Court fluent in German, in a city in which nearly 90,000 people spoke it as their first language, to “intelligently guard and protect the interests of the aforesaid large and prosperous portion of our citizens.”
Loewenstein's letter provides an interesting historical parallel to the debates we still have with regard to immigration and the government's role in providing multi-lingual services to an immigrant population. Today, German-Americans, like most of their western-European immigrant counterparts, are fully assimilated into American society. Few take notice of a German surname, and many of us with some German ancestry, myself included, no longer carry one.
It is all too easy to forget that, once upon a time, we were immigrants here, too, and subject to the same sorts of discrimination our more recent immigrant brethren suffer even now. We had to justify our existence here. We had to fight for recognition, and for legal representation. Those of us who have been here long enough to have the luxury of giving our ancestry little thought would do well to think of those who wear the shoes we wore a century or more ago.