Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Forgotten Histories

You know, if you listened to some of the stuff coming out of right field, you'd almost forget our entire nation was founded by illegal immigrants.

Throughout our nation's history, we've had relapses into fervent anti-immigrant hysteria. The Know-Nothings, Chinese Exclusion Laws, 1920s quotas, and today Samuel Huntington's "American Creed" all have two things in common. First, they demonstrate an amnesia about how immigration has constantly made our nation stronger, more diverse, and more powerful. Second, they all are directed at certain hated ethnic groups: Germans, Chinese, Southeast Europeans, Mexicans, etc.. In all cases, this ethnic group is imputed to be inferior to the "stock" American, somehow having bad habits and traits that will prove detrimental in the long run. The fact that history has time and again proved us wrong appears to be no object--whoever first decided (probably less than 20 years after our nation's founding) that America had received enough immigration and we hitherto were perfect created an evil power which appears to be immortal.

In this context, Fox News' framing of the illegal immigration issue draws on a long history of xenophobia, racism, and American triumphalism which has long been the source of some our nation's greatest failings.
"Illegal immigrants--violent, carrying disease, and with possible ties to terrorism?"

Of course, some immigrants are violent, are carrying disease, and are tied to terrorism. But it is absurd to essentialize the entire group like that--there just isn't any justification to it.

There has been but one immigration movement this nation has seen that has been characteristically "violent, carrying disease, and [tied] to terrorism." But it isn't this wave. This isn't anti-Americanism. The sins of past bear no guilt on the denizens of the present--so long as we face up to them. But to insist on an asymmetry where they are the disease carrying violent hordes is to deny solid history, and is reminiscent of the worst forms of white supremacy.

Americans speaking on immigration need to look inside the mirror.

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