It’s time to Break It Down!
Yesterday in Las Vegas, Nevada, President Obama said “Now is the time for common sense, comprehensive, immigration reform.”The topic of immigration has been in the Top 10 of most political lists since Mr. Obama entered the White House.In part, this is true because he promised to address Immigration Reform during his first term, but did not do so in a comprehensive way.
After winning a second term, propelled in large part by attracting 70% of the Latino vote, both the President’s promise and Latinos’ insistence that he honor it have surged to a place near the top of the charts in importance. In fact, it is not just the President and Democrats who feel now is the time to move on this issue. Republicans, given their surprisingly poor showing in the Presidential and Senatorial elections, are motivated to rehabilitate their relationship with the Latino community.
- “What’s changed, honestly, is that there is a new, I think, appreciation on both sides of the aisle — including maybe more importantly on the Republican side of the aisle — that we have to enact a comprehensive immigration reform bill.” (This past Sunday on ABC’s “This Week.)
All of this newfound attention to “dealing with” the issue of immigration strikes me as more than a little ironic. For decades, I have detected a certain disdain for immigrants.And further back than I have observed, historical evidence, from a variety of citations, indicates immigrants have been subjected to some serious rites of passage as they inured themselves to the “exceptional” existence men and women experience here in America; Land of the free; home of the brave.
The Irish, Polish, and various groups of Latinos, among others, have faced great resistance in their efforts to settle here in America. But hold up!Let’s go back and examine the sheer hypocrisy of the notion that somehow, immigrants are a bad for America.
Depending upon what or how you remember your American History, Christopher Columbus discovered America. He didn’t of course, but that is probably how a lot of folks recall it.
In 1492, Columbus landed in the Bahamas. He made four separate voyages to the Americas, including to the Greater Antilles, to the Lesser Antilles, and to Venezuela. Columbus, an Italian, claimed all four of these locales for the Spanish Empire. Christopher was many things; among them, an explorer, a colonizer, a directionally challenged navigator, and perhaps most significantly…a bald-faced liar.
The “Gentleman from Genoa,” after having his proposal rejected by John II, King of Portugal, persuaded King Ferdinand II of Aragon, and Queen Isabella I of Castile (who had united a number of Kingdoms of the Spanish Empire) that he could search for and find a western route to the Orient. In his quest to reach Japan, he landed in the Bahamas archipelago. In this and his subsequent voyages, he reported to the Spanish rulers that he’s landed in and was occupying the East Indies. In support of this falsehood, he “named the inhabitants of the area Indios,” Spanish for Indians. That was his story and he stuck to it.
Amerigo Vespucci, also an Italian, was a financier, cartographer, navigator, and explorer. Between 1499 and 1502, Vespucci made two voyages to what would later be named America, in his honor. He disproved the notion that Brazil and the West Indies were Asia’s eastern outskirts, as conjectured by Columbus; instead, they were a separate landmass, hitherto unknown to Afro-Eurasians. They were part of what was at the time known colloquially as the New World.
But this geo-historic puzzle is not complete. While not part of the typical American’s lore, Leif Ericson, a Norse explorer arrived in North America, and established a settlement at Vinland, on the northern tip of Newfoundlandin modern day Canada, in 999. Columbus’ arrival would not occur until 1492, nearly 500 years later.
Columbus, Vespucci, and Ericson had at least two pursuits in common. They were all explorers, of course, but perhaps more important each of the men was a colonizer. As such, they claimed the lands they “discovered” for the governments they represented. Moreover, they were granted considerable authority over the land areas they claimed.
The territory that we now know as the United States of Americawas not successfully settled until much later. Jamestown Settlement in Virginia was established in 1607. To clarify; it was not the first colony in the United States. However, it was the first successful English Colony.
On July 4, 1584, an expedition dispatched by Sir Walter Raleigh landed at Roanoke Island, in Dare County, North Carolina. On August 18, 1587, Virginia Dare became the first child born in Americato English parents in the short-lived Roanoke Colony. As such, Ananias Dare and his wife Eleanor became the first American immigrants to have a child born in the New World. Ms. Dare became the first child potentially eligible for coverage by the modern-day DREAM Act. In short, that’s when it all began. For the next 425 years, life in America has been shaped, molded, and quite frankly dominated by immigrants…and of course slaves.
You see, this is part and parcel to a plethora of dirty little secrets that regularly go untold from day-to-day in America. Fortunately, we live in an era when unmentioned does not necessarily equate to undocumented. So it is, when the air is filled with all the bluster and banality about how the well-being of our great Republic is threatened by the scourge of a profusion of immigrants, I remember those expeditions to Roanoke, and to Jamestown; I recall the slavers’ treks to the Port of Charleston, and in quiet reflection, I think about the words of “The New Colossus,” a sonnet, written in 1883 by Emma Lazarus, the words of which were engraved on a bronze plaque mounted on the lower level of the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty in 1903:
Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limb astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightening, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!
This land is your land, this land is my land
From the California to the Staten New York Island,
From the Redwood Forest, to the Gulf stream waters,
God blessed Americafor me.
And when I envision the dimensions and demographics of “This Land” when the settlers, or immigrants, or whatever you prefer to call them, arrived, I see that “This Land” was already inhabited. But that’s not all; I am reminded that large portions of America’s indigenous people were wiped out by virulent strains of a variety of diseases that the Europeans brought to the “New World.” Moreover, many of those who survived were dispossessed, uprooted; driven away from the only place they had ever called home…or killed, if they resisted.
In clear-eyed retrospect, I can see why many people are so concerned about the inherent dangers of immigration. If one ascribes the motives and actions of the original settlers and their benefactors to contemporary immigrants, potential consequences could, in their view, indeed be dire. In fact, if the horizon were to incorporate those dynamics, the gun-lobby’s fixation could also be explained.