Immigrants are the current bogeymen in this country’s long history of trying to fix blame on “those people” who upset the status quo. They’re demonized as usurpers come to take our jobs, murder and rape us, engage in terrorism, and/or live off of government assistance meant for U.S. citizens only—depending on which group is in the crosshairs on a particular day. The best response, we’re told, is to erect a wall, deport long-time residents with families and roots here, and/or turn a blind eye to desperate people seeking help.
It’s a role that immigrants unfortunately have played often. I have no doubt that the first settlers in Plymouth Colony probably complained about the second group of arrivals ruining everything.
Today’s heated rhetoric is especially troubling when you consider that nearly all of us are immigrants ourselves. Someone in our family line came to this country from somewhere else, whether willingly or in chains. And practically every group was criticized and ostracized at one point for economic, social, or political ills of the day—so almost all of us had ancestors who were “those people.” My mother was born in Scotland and came to this country when she was 17, in the 1950s. My father’s parents grew up in Ireland and met in Philadelphia as adults after coming over to live with relatives who had immigrated years before.
Throughout childhood my closest relations were men and women who weren’t born in this country but became citizens as adults, plus first-generation Americans like my father. As with most immigrants, they were supremely proud to be Americans and thankful for the opportunities they were given here. Truth be told, they weren’t given anything—my father’s parents had to scrape and claw to get through the Depression and survive a strong anti-Irish backlash sweeping the big cities.
U.S. history is filled with examples of once-demonized groups joining the mainstream and contributing mightily to the national character. Such is Cincinnati’s story with its early German immigrants. As a nation of immigrants, we should remember that “those people” eventually become “we the people.”