Incorporating immigrants into society entails a transformation from “other” to “us.”
Leo Chavez, The Latino Threat: Constructing Immigrants, Citizens, and the Nation
We are all immigrants or the children of immigrants. Even those “original Americans,” the Indians, walked across a land bridge from Siberia some thousands of years ago…
They came in waves, reflecting events and conditions in the Old World, some driven by war, famine, or prejudice, some lured by tales of gold and free land. They came from every nation, from every class, and from every religious persuasion. We are a diverse people…
For the first one hundred years of our national life, immigration was free and unrestricted.
• Thomas Neil, from Scotland, 1929: There was no work in Glasgow – seven shipyards and they was all shut down. I said I’m going to America where a man can make a living. I came out of the Skandia, and I went through Ellis Island and the immigration man says, “Where you from?” and I says “Glasgow.” And he says “What state is that in?” and I answered, “It’s in a hell of a state,” and he let me in.
American Mosaic: The Immigrant Experience in the Words of Those who Lived It (Juan Morrison and Charlotte Zabusky)
You smooth son of a bitch, let me lay it on the line for you, and your boss. Johnny Fontane never gets that movie. I don’t care how many Dago, Guinea, wop Greaseball Goombahs come out of the woodwork!
Okay my Kraut-Mick friend, Johnny will never get that part because I hate that pinko punk and I’m going to run him out of the Movies.
From the movie The Godfather (click here to read the script)
So, we have this fantasy that we have always been accepting of immigrants. And, we have, generally – after a long-enough time. But from the days of “No Irish Need Apply” (“NINA”) to the prejudice and discrimination against the Polish, Jewish, Italian, Hispanic, Chinese, Japanese, Black… (and, don’t forget the Native Americans)… the list really is endless as we look back on how we viewed and treated those who were the “other” among us.
We put the Statue of Liberty on our political advertising materials, but far less often are the words included that you can read at the base of the statue:
“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
Emma Lazarus, The New Colossus
The promise of America has always been more welcoming than the reality of the not-so-welcoming spirit and actions among many Americans.
But, if the phrase, the claim, “a nation of immigrants” means anything, it means that we aspire to actually be a nation of immigrants.