Im­mi­grants have al­ways been feared in Amer­ica

The Taos News - - FAVOR Y CONTRA - By Daniel Brown

The re­cent ob­scene im­ages of im­mi­grant chil­dren be­ing tear-gassed at our south­ern bor­der should turn the stom­ach of ev­ery con­scious Amer­i­can. Equally dis­gust­ing are the bla­tant lies spew­ing from our so-called pres­i­dent about these women and chil­dren, now flee­ing the vi­o­lence that past ad­min­is­tra­tions helped to cre­ate.

Amer­i­can in­volve­ment in Cen­tral Amer­i­can coun­tries, such as Hon­duras, Gu­atemala and El Sal­vador, is a cen­tury-old story. It is a story of the United States sup­port­ing mur­der­ous right-wing dic­ta­tor­ships and pro­tect­ing the in­ter­ests of wealthy landown­ers and ex­ploita­tive Amer­i­can cor­po­ra­tions. Now that in­iq­ui­tous bill is com­ing due.

The ter­ror of im­mi­grants com­ing to North Amer­ica is noth­ing new as the mil­lions of Na­tive peo­ples doomed to die from the ar­rival of Euro­peans could tell you were they alive. White Amer­i­can su­prem­a­cists, how­ever, have warned about the dan­ger of im­mi­gra­tion for nearly 300 years.

The first recorded case came from none other than Found­ing Fa­ther Ben­jamin Franklin who was aghast by the ap­pear­ance of Ger­mans dis­em­bark­ing on our shores. Since they were set­tling mostly in his home colony of Penn­syl­va­nia, Franklin wor­ried that the An­glo-Saxon pu­rity of the fu­ture Key­stone State would be de­filed by “swarthy” Ger­mans, al­leg­ing that “those who come hither are gen­er­ally of the most ig­no­rant stupid sort.” Franklin also feared that the world didn’t con­tain enough white peo­ple.

Those “swarthy” Ger­mans would even­tu­ally be­come the most pro­duc­tive farm­ers in Amer­ica and, in Penn­syl­va­nia, come to be the pi­ous and in­dus­tri­ous off-the-grid Amish.

The Ir­ish, a mil­lion of whom fled the Potato Famine of 18451849 (an­other mil­lion would starve to death in Ire­land,) hold the du­bi­ous dis­tinc­tion of be­ing the most de­spised im­mi­grants ever to land in Amer­ica, an in­con­ve­nient truth that im­mi­grant-haters with names like Lim­baugh, Han­nity and In­gra­ham would do well to re­mem­ber.

Con­tem­po­rary ac­counts from “na­tivist” cit­i­zens of the time con­sid­ered the Ir­ish lower than African slaves and feared that they were agents of a pa­pist plot to take over the na­tion. Signs read­ing “No Ir­ish or dogs al­lowed” were com­mon in the North­east where the Ir­ish set­tled, and news­pa­per il­lus­tra­tions com­monly por­trayed them as brawny, thug­gish brutes.

Next on the list of the wretched refuse on our teem­ing shore were hun­dreds of thou­sands of Jews flee­ing per­se­cu­tion from East­ern Europe in the 1880s. Never pop­u­lar any­where, se­cret Jews first came to Amer­ica with the Span­ish in the 1500s, and New Mex­i­can his­to­ri­ans have spec­u­lated that out of the first His­pano fam­i­lies who founded Santa Fe, a ma­jor­ity of them had crypto-Jewish roots. They were, how­ever, a mi­nor­ity.

The great wave came from Poland, Ru­ma­nia, the Aus­troHun­gar­ian Em­pire or, like my ma­ter­nal grand­fa­ther, czarist Rus­sia. Rus­sia at the time was the most anti-Semitic na­tion on earth. Iron­i­cally, Ger­many was one of the more pro­gres­sive. It was cus­tom­ary to draft Jewish boys into the Rus­sian army for 20 years in or­der to “Kill the Jew and save the Rus­sian” although the dis­mal qual­ity of the czarist mil­i­tary of­ten de­nied such sav­ing.

When my grand­fa­ther Lehrman was 16, his mother gave him a tiny bit of money and told him to scoot. He walked 800 miles to Ham­burg, Ger­many and sailed to El­lis Is­land. From there, he set­tled in Har­ris­burg, Penn­syl­va­nia, sold goods from a horse and buggy and even­tu­ally be­came a re­spected civic leader whose pros­per­ous busi­ness em­ployed thou­sands.

His suc­cess story is one of mil­lions shared by Chi­nese, Korean, Viet­namese, Colom­bian, Cuban, West In­dian and so many other im­mi­grants who came to Amer­ica and made it great long be­fore a cheap cam­paign slo­gan den­i­grated its mean­ing. Ev­ery wave of im­mi­gra­tion has first been feared, then as­sim­i­lated and even­tu­ally shown to have en­hanced our na­tional char­ac­ter. All these cul­tures, which in­clude indige­nous, early and late ar­rivals are in­ter­min­gling and cre­at­ing a unique stew of cre­ativ­ity and vi­brancy that, at its best, is the true shin­ing city on the hill.

Such a vi­sion, un­for­tu­nately, can change. If Trump and his min­ions con­tinue their racist ha­tred of dark-skinned im­mi­grants who come here to flee op­pres­sion, then maybe it’s time to tear down the Statue of Lib­erty. Af­ter all, our cur­rent pol­icy is a vi­o­la­tion of what she stands for. If we want to spit on those tired, poor, hud­dled masses yearn­ing to breathe free, then let us as a na­tion cease to be hyp­ocrites and ad­mit that we’ve sur­ren­dered to our low­est and most im­pure fears and prej­u­dices.

Daniel A. Brown is an artist, writer and for­mer pub­lic school teacher liv­ing in Ar­royo Seco.

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