The Immigration Double-Standard

7 03 2018

NYCYes! Whether we like it or not, whether we want to admit it or not, we are a nation of immigrants. A mere 1.7% of Americans self-identify as Native, which means that the remaining 98.3% of us can trace our lineage to other lands. Many of our fore-bearers came as conquering white colonizers; others were brought here against their will to be enslaved by Whites; and still others came because of the opportunities they believed were waiting for them in the ‘land of the free and the home of the brave’ . . . a ‘city set on a hill’ . . . destined to be a ‘shining light to all the nations.’

That is certainly the story of my family. My paternal grandfather left Italy for Ellis Island in 1923, on ship named “Patria,” when he was only 18 years old. He settled in Niagara Falls, New York where he worked as a crane operator for 41 years. My maternal great-grandparents also came from Italy, and they, like so many other Italians, opened taverns and worked in the restaurant business. Some of them, no doubt, enjoyed their ‘careers,’ but like most immigrants, they weren’t picky. They found whatever jobs they could, and did whatever the needed to do in order to put a roof over their heads and food on their tables. I’m not sure any of them actually dreamed of waiting tables and doing other peoples’ dishes – not any more than Chinese immigrants in Detroit dreamed of doing other peoples’ laundry, or Mexican immigrants in Southern California dreamed of picking other peoples’ fruit. But that was the work that was available – the work that no Americans wanted to do – and so immigrants stepped in. They worked long, and hard, and sought to be productive and responsible members of American society.

Inspite of being an introvert, when my grandfather socialized, it was likely with other Italians who had settled in Niagara Falls. They spoke Italian together, held onto customs and practices that reminded them of their home, and longed for that day when they would be reunited with their family. In time, Italian immigrants learned to speak English, and fluently; they came to appreciate hot dogs and apple pie as much as spaghetti and meatballs; and while not true of my grandfather, many of those in Niagara Falls did eventually bring their extended family to the ‘cataract city.’

It’s really not all that unusual a story. In fact it’s not just AN American story; in many ways it’s THE American story. But unfortunately, while it’s the story of so many Americans, it’s one that sadly appears to have been forgotten.

These are the stories that made America the great melting pot that it is today. I like to think of us as a great stew, with meat, carrots, potatoes, and if we’re lucky a few dumplings. We’re all unique, with our own taste and texture; but together we create something wonderful! Italians, Chinese, Mexicans, and countless other immigrants, along with America’s native people and African-Americans, all bring spice and sweetness to this country that we now call home. And whether by force, choice, or chance, we are all Americans. Each of us has different backgrounds, traditions, and even some stereotypical traits that have been appropriately assigned to us, but we are still united by our citizenship in one of the greatest countries on the face of the earth.

Are we perfect? Certainly not! But this is our home. And home is about people, not perfection!

So if this story is so common to so many, why does there appear to be such a stunning double standard when it comes to the place of the immigrant in American society in 2018?

“Half of them can’t even speak English!” “They just keep to themselves and don’t really even want to integrate!” “They just want to bring their families here, so the government will take care of them!”

May be we all need a brief history lesson!

First and foremost, we need to remember that first-generation immigrants always prefer their native tongue, and thus they will likely always speak in broken English. Some, perhaps many, work hard to learn English; but in most of their homes, English will never be the primary language that is spoken there. But their children? . . . and their children’s children? . . . they will speak English just like you and I. They will attend schools and universities where they will be taught in English, and because most will so want to be seen as “American,” speaking their parents’ and grandparents’ first language will almost always be avoided.

Second, because we are a nation that values diversity, the children of immigrants will almost always interact with and befriend people who are not like them. First generations will naturally gravitate towards those from their ‘old country.’ But our history proves that in time that changes. Eventually, Germans hang out with Jews. The Irish date Koreans. Blacks marry Whites. And Italians and Danes have babies, together!

As a third generation Italian I will always have a fondness for Italian bakeries; and as second generation Danes my children will always prefer Danish candy. But we’re all American: and so we’ve all learned to appreciate Pad Thai and Tikka Masala, Hip Hop and Samba, Yoga and mindful meditation. My Muslim and Native American friends have taught me more about God than many of my Christian friends. My African and Eastern European friends have taught me more about patriotism than many of my military friends. And my Hispanic and Latino friends have taught me more about love of family than many of my white friends.

So America – what’s up with this double standard? Do we not remember our own stories? Do we not know what our grand-parents and great grand-parents experienced when they first came to the shores of America? Do we not understand that the very people we are seeking to ‘wall-out’ today – the ‘dreamers’ we are seeking to send home and the ‘chain migrantion’ we are seeking to break – involve the very same people who made us who we are today? Do we still not see the sin of ‘nativism,’ and the systemic nature of the prejudices that result? Or are we simply so selfish, so blind to the freedoms and blessings that have been given to our families, that we are going to continue to arrogantly and naively believe that we’re ‘diverse enough,’ that we don’t need need ‘any more cultures or religions to teach us anything.’ or that some notion of a ‘white America’ needs to be sought and perpetrated upon the rest of the world?

America is the great nation that it is because of immigration. It’s our story. It’s YOUR story. So let’s not forget it. Let’s stop talking about walls, and letting our fears govern the way we live. Let’s stop selfishly worrying about the cost of the issues surrounding immigration, when they pale in light of so many other, more important issues facing our nation. And let’s stop demonizing the people that we once were – immigrants, looking for a better life in a place called the United States of America.

Our double-standard is hypocritically offensive!



One response

7 03 2018
Barbara Eyre

This is awesome, Bob. Yesterday, our book group discussed how the immigrants take the jobs that “white Americans “ won’t, and how blessed we are that they do! This blog is the truth.

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