The Argentines, the Portuguese and the Greeks

Arthur M. Swanstrom, Carey Morgan, 1920

What line shows the attitudes about the immigrants of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries? "Helped the country grow." From what region did earlier immigrants come? Northern and Western Europe.

What fear is revealed in the line "still they keep a-coming and now everywhere you go…"? After the mid–1890s, where did "Argentine, Portuguese and Greek" immigration originate? Southern and Eastern Europe and Latin America. What was the fear of many Americans about this wave of immigration? New immigrants would gain political power, would not "assimilate." What does it mean to "assimilate"?

What elements of prejudice can you see in this song? Stereotyping, fear, classifying "us" and "them." What resentments about new immigrants are expressed in the song? Don't know the language, successful, not "staying in their place."

The last verse is the "punch line" for this song—what is it? "When we start to sing "My Country 'tis of thee"…" Who does this poke fun at? Why? Native-born Americans from established ethnic groups, who have become complacent about the United States.

What laws came about because of the attitudes expressed in this song, written in 1920? Immigration Act of 1924 fixed immigration quotas at 1880 levels, favoring immigrants from Northern and Western Europe. How long did those restrictions last? Quotas were abolished in 1965. Did liberalizing immigration laws mean the end of prejudice against newcomers? Where have you seen prejudice against recent immigrants? What can be done to counteract this kind of prejudice?

"The Argentines, the Portuguese and the Greeks" performed by Nora Bayes on Come Josephine in My Flying Machine, New World Records [NW 233], © 1977. You can hear this performance of the song in its entirety online on YouTube.

Nora Bayes (1880–1928) first recorded this song in 1920. She was a prolific performer in vaudeville and several of the early Ziegfield Follies (1907, 1908, 1909). Bayes's many popular recordings reflect popular music trends throughout the early decades of the twentieth century.

This recording begins with the introductory verse, which in vaudeville fashion is overpowered by the chorus. It omits the second verse about ethnic food and some of the original chorus, and substitutes new, topical choruses.

Another performance of the song by Layton & Johnstone, African American artists, was recorded in the 1920s and is available on Spotify.

View the lyrics for "The Argentines, the Portuguese, and the Greeks."

View the published score for the song.

Arthur Swanstrom (1888–1940) and Carey Morgan (1885–1960) collaborated on several songs, the majority of which were for written for vaudeville, as was this song. Morgan worked for forty years as a salesman for the Smith-Corona Merchant Co. while he wrote songs. Swanstrom was primarily a producer of musical shows but also wrote lyrics.

Nora Bayes one of the performers assicated with this song
Nora Bayes

This song uses humor to express alarm over the increasing tide of immigration, especially from areas outside of northern Europe, symbolized by the Argentines, Portuguese, and Greeks. It stereotypes jobs, cars, and attitudes associated with "foreigners" and conveys a rising jealousy of the success of these new Americans. The song ends with a grudging admiration of their patriotism toward their adopted country and favorably compares these immigrants to indigenous Americans.

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