- These people aren’t like us-- they’ll never assimilate like my ancestors did
- They’re taking jobs away from us
- Therefore we have to keep them out and restrict immigration
It was said about about the Irish. It was said about the Italians, the Jews, the Poles, the Germans, the Russians, every new immigrant group: every time this country has experienced a social, economic and/or political major change. That’s who the “real Americans” blame. But people I know and grew up with, the children and grandchildren of immigrants themselves, are spouting this kind of talk TODAY, on social media and elsewhere.
When I post about this, I get angry “reminders” that “MY ancestors did it the RIGHT way.” My answer is, you don’t KNOW what your ancestors had to do to get INTO this country, or what they had to do to get BY in this country. Our abomination of a president cites crime in the immigrant community, labeling them all with the same brand. One of the most xenophobic and racist people I know, someone I grew up with, works for ICE, a harccore Trumpist who has been promoting hate speech for years on social media unchecked.
By the way, want to talk about crime among immigrants? Ever heard of a movie called “The Gangs of New York”? In the early 1900’s, when New York WAS predominantly Irish, the NYPD listed over 300 gangs in NYC, the majority of them Irish. This was long before the Mafia or Murder Incorporated or MS-13. Yes, those same Irish who “did it right.”
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: the immigrants coming today are fleeing death, poverty, crime and other hardships… same as the Irish and Italians did. They have a right to be here. Immigration reform needs to happen, NOT immigration restriction. This is a country made up of immigrants, and if we turn our back on that and refuse to accept and HELP the strangers, then we’re no better than the Know Nothings of the 1840’s or the America Firsters of the 1930’s.
Long Island in the 1920’s was home to one of the largest Ku Klux Klan enclaves, made up of WASP’s who felt the country was going to shit because the Irish and Italian “mongrels” (yes, they really used that word) were taking over. Today that same area is made up of well to do Irish and Italians who complain the same way about Hispanic/Latino immigrants today. But someday, that area too will be home to thriving communities of second and third generations Mexicans, Indians and Salvadorans, to name a few.
This country IS going through a major change. It’s no longer, to quote Elton John, a “white man’s world,” nor should it be. (If America’s not for everybody, then it’s not America.) But people in many parts of this country fear just that, and that abomination in the White House has been playing on it since long before Charlottesville. So let’s embrace who we are and what we’re becoming: a human community, not a whites only club, or a men’s only club. Let’s embrace what Lincoln called “the better angels of our nature,” and let’s the embrace the newcomers. For they are us, just as we are them.
I know people will read this and some may say, “You’re nuts,” “You’re delusional,” “You’re part of the problem,” even”You forgot where you came from.” But the real problem is that the forces of hate have been growing in this country, egged on in no small part by a trickster and con artist masquerading as a leader. America hasn’t always been great, but it could greater, if we realize and act on the realization that we’re all part of the same human family.
Dr Pat McNamara is a Fordham Urban Studies Graduate and a Senior Editor at Paulist Press