According to the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey, German ranks as the most common first ancestry in Erie County, with one in six residents claiming it as their first ancestry. However, they also remind us that it hasn’t always been cool to be German-American. During World War I and World War II, many Americans were not open about their teutonic roots for fear of an anti-German backlash or to establish more concretely their American patriotism. Elders were not interested in passing along any cultural pride to their children. Students were made fun of or shunned for their unusual names. Their culture was put on the defensive as schools stopped teaching the language and many families anglicized their names. Catholic masses were no longer celebrated in the people's native language.
Outward pride in their culture may be coming back as the younger generation demonstrates more curiosity and less anxiety about their heritage. Oktoberfests are increasing in popularity and ethnic restaurants, concert halls, and bars are experiencing an upturn in customers.
Buffalo, New York has lost much of its German population who were lured to the suburbs as their socio-economic status rose. Small towns south of the city claim up to one-third of their residents as German, while Buffalo now has the lowest concentration of that ancestry in Erie County, at 7.3%. This conclusion was reached after an analysis of Census Bureau figures by the Buffalo News.
Two German restaurants have been popular Erie County spots for several generations. Scharf’s has recently moved from Buffalo’s East side to the suburbs, and has been in existence since 1967. Ulrich’s has thrived in the heart of the city since 1868. Ethnic food such as sauerbraten, sauerkraut, spaetzle, wienerschnitzel, potato salad, Bratwurst, Hasenpfeffer, and Stollen are in great demand, even from non-Germans.
Now that the Oktoberfest season is upon us, in September and October, people will party with beer steins as they listen to oompah bands dressed in lederhosen. Although there is a healthy, renewed interest, the cultural celebrations will probably not reach the proportions that are seen in Erie County at Irish, Italian, and Polish festivals. In the heart of Buffalo, 50,000 people gather for the St. Patrick’s Day Parade. A like number will dance the polka in the Central Terminal area on Dyngus Day, or head to Hertel Avenue for the country’s second largest Italian street festival each summer.
Census Bureau figures for 2010 reveal the statistics in Erie County concerning the heritage of the four nationalities under consideration here. Germans make up 19.6%, Polish 17.2%, Italian 14.9%, and Irish 11.7%.
It is encouraging to realize that diversity is accepted here, and no one is less American for being proud of their European heritage. It is also a happy outcome that young German Americans do not feel the sting of animosity that their parents and grandparents might have endured.
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