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Julie Notarianni color illustration of Lady Liberty blushing and covering her mouth. The Seattle Times 2006
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Saturday, May 11, 2013
In our nation’s history, immigrants have never been totally welcome. This goes against the common belief that the Statue of Liberty guarding New York harbor has always welcomed all with the words engraved on its pedestal: “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.”
After all these inspiring words, where shall we begin? How about with saintly portrayed Founding Father Benjamin Franklin, who warned that Germans are too stupid to learn English and, therefore, represent a political threat to America. He adds, “French, Russians and Swedes are generally of what we call a swarthy complexion, as are the Germans also, the Saxons only excepted who with the English make up the principal Body of White People on the face of the Earth . . . . Why should we in the sight of superior beings darken its people? . . . But perhaps I am particular to the Complexion of my Country for such kind of Partiality of natural to Mankind.”
He said all this in 1759. What would be said of a person today who uttered these same thoughts?
Fast forward to the immigration of thousands of Irish in the mid-1800s, when George Templeton Strong, a Whig politician in New York, commented that Irish workmen at his home had “prehensile paws rather than hands” and thus denounced the “Celtic Beast” while the Know Nothing political party was created to keep more Irish from coming to the U.S.
Then waves of Chinese brought over to build Western railroads led to the Chinese Exclusion Act and these words from U.S. Sen. James G. Blaine: “Either the Anglo Saxon race will possess the pacific slope or the Mongolian will possess it. Whether the legislation shall be in the interest of the American worker free laborer or for the servile laborer from China. . . . You cannot work a man who must have beef and bread, and would prefer beer, alongside a man who can live on rice.”
The Sacco-Vanzetti show trial of the 1920s brought out the distrust of Italians, and the internment of thousand of Japanese during World War II brought out the hate against American-Japanese citizens. The Vietnam War brought thousands of Vietnamese to the U.S., and led the Ku Klux Klan to protest their getting into the Louisiana shrimp business.
Today, we focus on Mexicans and Muslims, but a recent Roanoke College poll points out that area Virginians are far more tolerant than people in the country.
How do I know so much about immigration? I am one of the people “allowed” in after World War II under the Displaced Person Act of 1946, which gave the OK to Latvian refugees to immigrate, but not Jews and Catholics.
But I ask, when does an immigrant become a true citizen? I was naturalized at age 12 in 1956, yet in 1971 at age 27, a bus driver tried to get me arrested in Washington, D.C., not Topeka, Kan., for speaking a foreign language on his bus and “for speaking it quickly!” And in 2010, 54 years after becoming a U.S. citizen, I was asked by an immigration official checking my passport in northern Idaho after a trip to Canada with my wife, Margo: “Why were you born in Latvia?”
One of the few Americans who comes out non-prejudiced in this historical immigrant debate is Abraham Lincoln, who said in 1854: “As a nation, we began by declaring that ‘all men are created equal.’ We now practically read it, ‘All men are created equal, except Negroes.’ When the Know Nothings get control, it will read, ‘All men are created equal except Negroes, and foreigners, and Catholics. When it comes to this, I should prefer immigrating to some country where they make no pretense about loving liberty — to Russia, for instance, where despotism can be taken pure and without the base alloy of hypocrisy.”
Weather JournalEarly mix, then ice storm Sunday