Sunday, January 28, 2018

Immigration: two things to remember!

In this time of Sturm und Drang over immigration:

First, there were brown people in North America before any white people of European stock arrived. They spoke hundreds of languages before Dutch, French, Spanish, German, and English arrived. They hunted, fished, foraged, and GREW hundreds of different foods and herbs—many of which were taken up by the Europeans and sent off to the rest of the world. America’s tomatoes would become Italy’s food; her tobacco would fuel economies in Europe and Asia and bring on its diseases; her cotton would clothe the world and her corn would feed it. Most importantly, for the future of North America and the United States, pieces of the wisdom of the Iroquois would find their way into our original written documents and the form of the government itself.

Secondly, we should remember that before California, Texas, Arizona and New Mexico were part of these United States, Mexicans, Mestizos of mixed European and American Indian blood—brown people, had lived in and developed economies, cities, and societies in those places. (And yes, that too was a displacement of indigenous brown people—but also a mixing.)

The mythology of a white, Eurocentric culture as foundational, and of brown culture as arriving later and being of immigrant origin is exactly that, mythology. Yes, there was forced immigration of black people from Africa—and their contributions to American culture are substantial and generally acknowledged. And there have been huge migrations of people of all colors from Europe and Asia—often, as with Irish brought as slaves, British Islanders and Europeans brought as indentured servants, and the Chinese brought to work on the railroads, their in-migrations were not quite voluntary. Even the “voluntary” immigrants, those fleeing hunger in Ireland, forced military service in Germany, the family land holdings and divisions in my grandfather’s Norway, and wars and oppression of one kind and another across the world, have not always made their migrations by choice.

So this mass of immigrants has helped create a nation, but the nation was not created in a vacuum, or by divine providence, or without damage to many. And it has been built and continues its growth on the substantial lands and cultures husbanded and developed over millennia by others. And those black and brown people—the ones here first and the later imports—have played and continue to play roles in the ongoing historical drama of the United States.

It is convenient to cherry pick history for an argument; it is more difficult—and truer to the nation we set out to be—to acknowledge all of that history.

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