Thursday, November 11, 2010

USA loves Immigrants. REALLY?


It is a well established fact that The United States is a country of immigrants. No debate on that historical fact. Americans have shown true affection for some immigrants: those who have been here for awhile –- a long while.

As the Irish Catholics began coming in large waves in the early 19th century, Protestants feared being taken over by the “bloody hand of the Pope.” There were even riots in Philadelphia, setting fire to the Irish part of town.

Richard Shenkman’s book “Legends, Lies, and Cherished Myths of American History,” relates after the Irish immigrants, the Southern and Eastern Europeans began arriving. Many old-line Americans reacted as if the country was being invaded by a horde of criminals. One old New Englander, Thomas Bailey Aldrich, lamented: “O Liberty, white Goddess! Is it well to leave the gates unguarded?”

Shenkman’s book calls attention to excesses of our countrymen. Bernard Weisberger, “American Heritage” editor, writes “Richard Shenkman briskly applies the varnish remover to American history.”

Even into the 20th century, our “more civilized” century, immigrants were not treated much better. In a popular book endorsed by Theodore Roosevelt, the racist Madison Grant suggested the state had a moral obligation to put certain immigrant types to death.

In the 1920s the federal government decided to limit those coming into the country. Russia was allowed two thousand, China and Palestine, a thousand. It was not so many years ago that Vietnamese fishermen on our Texas Gulf Coast were threatened with their fishing rights and livelihoods.

It is often overlooked that historians estimate that of the twenty million immigrants who came to America between 1820 and 1900, about five million returned to their homeland. Immigrants have always returned home in great numbers. (“A People’s History of the United States” by Howard Zinn)

Early on John Jay wrote in “The Federalist Papers,” America was “one united people, a people descended from the same ancestors, …sharing the same language, professing the same religion, … very similar in their manners and customs.”

Not everyone agreed with Brother Jay. A French immigrant farmer, whose wife was Dutch, had four sons. Each married wives from four different nations.

In 1790 three out of five Americans were not of English origin; two out of five didn’t even come from English-speaking backgrounds (“The Melting Pot” by Arthur Mann).

The term “melting pot” came into circulation much later, about 1908. Webster’s dictionary included it in 1934. Then sometime later it was suggested America was not a “melting pot” but a “salad bowl.”

Tennessee State Rep. Curry Todd takes issue with America as either a “pot” or a “salad.” His idea is more like “spoilt curry.” Curry Todd has trouble with the birthright citizenship clause in the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which reads: "All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside."

Rep. Curry Todd was quoted in USA TODAY (Nov. 11) volunteering that pregnant immigrants will "multiply" like "rats …" Sounds more like an Oklahoma senator than a gentleman from the Volunteer State.

The beat goes on. As the Austrian neurologist Sigmund Freud said: the cerebral challenged will be with us always. (I have no written proof Brother Freud actually said that – it might have been old fogey Thomas Bailey Aldrich.) Adiós.

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