On the morning of September 2, 1944, the first allied forces arrived in the province of Hainaut in Belgium. Mons and Brussels were liberated the next day. Other major cities followed in quick succession: Antwerp (September 4), Gent (September 5-6), Liège (September 7-8). In the course of ten days most of Belgium was liberated by the British (mostly in Flanders) and the American (in Wallonia) forces.2
Everywhere they went, the troops were welcomed with open arms. People danced and celebrated in the streets and women threw their arms around their liberators as they passed by. The Yanks and Canucks brought chocolate, Coca-Cola, cigarettes, and candy. They were carefree and lighthearted and soon enough captured the hearts of numerous girls. Ellie Shukert and Barbara Scibetta, both daughters of war brides, estimate that approximately one million women married American GIs during and after World War II.3
The answer to this question is complicated. Most Flemish immigrants at the end of the nineteenth and early twentieth century told their family and friends they spoke Flemish [Vlaams]. It is also what they told census enumerators. However, more recent Flemish-Americans, myself included, probably will tell you that they speak Dutch [Nederlands]. Were your ancestors wrong? Or are we both right? Is there a difference between Flemish [Vlaams] and Dutch [Nederlands]? What word should we use when we talk about our Flemish ancestors? If you are confused, you are not alone.
Not long ago, a friend passed me an article published in Texas Highways, a monthly publication of the Texas Department of Transportation, which featured an interview with West Texas columnist and raconteur Lonn Taylor. During the interview, Taylor mentions a little Mexican restaurant in Fort Davis, Texas, called Poco Mexico, which is owned by one of the oldest Hispanic families, the Dutchover family. And here is where it got interesting for me: the Dutchovers’ founder was a Belgian immigrant by the name of Anton Diedrick.1
Between 1880 and 1920 some towns in Belgium experienced a real “America-rush.” Although alternatives to overseas migration were still available and used by many, Belgians were attracted to the New World in increasing numbers.
The first “Belgian” settlement in America dates back to 1624, when some thirty Protestant families, “for the most part Walloon,” landed at Manhattan island aboard the “Nieuw Nederland”.1 They had fled religious persecution in the Spanish Low Countries (present day Belgium), and sought refuge in the town of Leiden in the Netherlands. There some of them had come in contact with the West India Company, who organized and financed their emigration to the New World.2
One of my favorite Belgian singer songwriters, Willem Vermandere, wrote a song that captures the grief and sorrow of a mother who watched all but one of her sons emigrate to America in the early twentieth century.
Acht kloeke zeuns had moeder Cordula En zeven zijn der naar ‘t vreemde gegaan Zo wijd over zee daar lag Canada Moeder Maria, lat dat schip nie vergaan Lat dat schip nie vergaan
Did you know that during the first two decades of the twentieth century, Moline, Illinois, was the major center for the Belgian immigrants? Not only did the area receive a large portion of the new arrivals, but the city even hosted its own Flemish newspaper, the Gazette van Moline.1
Today, about 356,405 people in the United States claim Belgian ancestry, an estimate which appears to be low, especially when compared with the estimated number of Dutch Americans: 4,289,116.(1) Did that many more Netherlanders immigrate to the United States?