From the first Europeans to cross the land bridge into North America to our Serbian friends who were fleeing the Bosnian war, the United States has owed most of its culture and ethnic make-up to immigration. When the Irish and Chinese came over as indentured slaves, they became the bedrock that much of our industry is founded on. From winery caves to the railroads, their labor built much of the early United States. Now, they are a successful part of the country’s fabric.
Each wave of immigrants was greeted with fear and skepticism. Established groups were quick to take advantage of the vulnerable groups who were eager to work at even the most menial tasks. Immigration is not for the weak or foolish, so eventually the new Americans began to rise up the social and economic ranks as entrepreneurs and successful workers.
The word immigration, according to the Merriam Webster Dictionary means the passing or coming into a country for the purpose of permanent residence. Most of the early groups to come to America, embraced it as their home. The Japanese American Creed states that all Japanese will strive at all times to be the best American they can be. In the movie America, America directed by Eliz Kazan in 1963 a young Anatolian Greek yells to the sky, “I am an American!” when he finally arrives in the United States as a shoe shine boy.
Perhaps the recent dissatisfaction over immigration reflects a changing attitude in those who are coming to the country. Instead of embracing the America culture, they promote the culture of their country of origin. Instead of learning English, they want to have an interpreter ready to help them at school, at businesses, and even at hospitals. I recently walked into a hospital in Boise, Idaho, a city of 200,000 people. There was a menu of languages laying on the table in the waiting room. A person could select from the menu, and a person would be called to interpret for them.
I remember when I was teaching in Phoenix in the 80’s. A young man did not want to write a story from his childhood. When I was discussing it later in the faculty room, one of the teachers told me that he was from Romania, which had just been released during the fall of the Soviet Union. They shared that his childhood was probably traumatic and that he had only been speaking English for two years. He did not even have an accent. His family had thoroughly integrated into their new community.
Franklin Roosevelt had this to say about immigration.
“In the first place, we should insist that if the immigrant who comes here in good faith becomes an American and assimilates himself to us, he shall be treated on an exact equality with everyone else, for it is an outrage to discriminate against any such man because of creed, or birthplace, or origin. But this is predicated upon the person’s becoming in every facet an American, and nothing but an American…There can be no divided allegiance here. Any man who says he is an American, but something else also, isn’t an American at all. We have room for but one flag, the American flag… We have room for but one language here, and that is the English language… and we have room for but one sole loyalty and that is a loyalty to the American people.”
― Theodore Roosevelt
I think that he had the answer to our current immigration policy. Open doors to anyone who is willing to embrace the United States, its traditions, cultures and language. Closed doors to those who reject them.