Ruben Navarrette recently wrote:
“It's nothing new. We live in a country that has -- for more than 220 years -- held the curious distinction of being a nation of immigrants that doesn't like immigrants. Our national motto isn't really "E Pluribus Unum." It's more like: "There goes the neighborhood." Whether they come legally, illegally, or with a letter of reference from the Queen of England, every batch of foreign arrivals to these shores is instantly considered inferior to those who came before.”
Navarrette, referring to our 220 year immigration history, misses the point entirely. Written in the late 1800s when immigration was nearing its peak and the U.S. population was only about 50 million, Emma Lazarus’s famous sonnet was an expression of her empathy for those who had fled the anti-Semitic Pogroms in Eastern Europe. It was a counterpoint to the disparaging remarks made from time to time about immgrants. The sonnet is a poignant reminder of our immigrant past but the operative word in that phrase is the word “past.”
Navarrette ignores the fact that our population has now increased six-fold. As a syndicated columnist he should fully understand that conditions are different today than they were in the mid to late 1800s. There are many things in our past: child labor, prohibition, lack of women’s suffrage, Jim Crow laws, and segregation. Few thinking Americans want to go back to that “past” yet some of us continue to cling to the idea of “our immigrant past” without a second thought about its appropriateness as a model for the fully-settled and fully-developed America of today with a population of more than 300 million people.
Our immigrant past of the 18th, 19th and early 20th centuries should not be our guide for the future. Times, society and the availability of natural resources have changed dramatically. Navarrette erred when he wrote that the U.S. does holds "the curious distinction of being a nation of immigrants that doesn't like immigrants." Foreigners have been largely treated the same whether it was the Irish who came to America, the Poles who immigrated to Ireland or the Turks who came to Germany. There is nothing unique about the U.S. in this regard. It is an altogether natural reaction to foreigners especially if they do not speak the language of the country to which they have immigrated and even more so if they have entered that country illegally. This kind of reaction to foreigners is a universal human frailty. It is a rare thing to be able to free oneself from this human condition. It is therefore unreasonable to judge the human race harshly with regard to its treatment of foreigners.
Ben Franklin, one of the Founding Fathers, did disparage Germans at one time saying that they were too stupid to learn English. Navarrette considered this to be evidence of Franklin's "ugly prejudice and nativism." But Franklin was probably not the first nor the last to have said something disparaging about the Germans. The French regularly referred to the Germans, especially the German soldiers in WW I and II, as "Boches" (rascals or cabbage heads). Others thought of the French as spineless based on their inability to defend their own country against aggressors. The French, in turn, look down their Gallic noses at just about everyone who doesn't speak French.
Yet Navarrette says, "Behold, the musings of one of our nation's first bigots: Benjamin Franklin who clearly thought the English superior and the Germans inferior." It is not bigoted to argue that a failure to acquire a common language is a barrier to acquiring a common culture essential to a functioning society. I think he judged Franklin far to harshly and clearly overstated Franklin's offhand remarks as a simple case of "ugly prejudice and nativism." This was and is a natural reaction to foreigners observable in every society on earth. That is simply the human condition the world over. The Germans turned out to be one of the most technologically advanced societies in Europe but that may not have been obvious to Franklin at the time if he was unable to communicate with them.
It's hard to say whether Ruben intended the adjective "ugly" to apply to both the words "prejudice" and "nativism" or just the former. I, like many others, consider nativism a normal expression of patriotism and a desire to preserve and protect one's quality of life and standard of living. Those qualities can easily be threatened by excessive population growth. Nativism often manifests itself as fully-justified, anti-immigrant sentiment when those immigrants are almost solely responsible for excessive population growth and demands on finite natural resources. It is important to understand that as the current and most important basis for such sentiment.
It is not unusual for a more advanced culture to consider itself superior to one that is less advanced. The national income per capita, UN rating and the number of Nobel prizes awarded might be some objective measures of this. This is neither necessarily a permanent condition nor a denial of the potential of other cultures. Rather it is a measure of what is not what could be. One has to wonder whether Navarrette considers himself to be superior say to an individual from a cannibal society.
It is clear that the pro-immigrant forces choose to use the word "Nativist" in a pejorative sense as Navarrette did above. Nativism favors the interests of certain established inhabitants of an area or nation as compared to claims of newcomers, illegal aliens or immigrants. It may also include the re-establishment, perpetuation or preservation of such individuals or their culture, a completely legitimate objective for any society.
Nativism typically means opposition to immigration, population growth,or to efforts to curb specific ethnic or cultural groups that have entered and are present in a country illegally and in such overwhelming numbers as to be considered hostile or alien to the natural culture. Depending on their numbers, it may be assumed that they cannot be or will choose not to be assimilated and will simply re-create the very culture and conditions they fled their homelands to escape: overpopulation, poverty, joblessness, crime, disease, corruption, and oligarchy.
Opposition to immigration is common in many countries because of issues of national, cultural or religious identity. The phenomenon has been studied especially in Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the United States, as well as Europe in recent years. Thus nativism has become a general term for 'opposition to immigration' based on legitimate fears that the immigrants will distort or undermine existing cultural values and, through their higher fertility rates, reduce the quality of life and standard of living of the "natives." This opposition to immigration has been expressed through criticism of multiculturalism.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel told a gathering of young members of her conservative Christian Democratic Union (CDU) party this year that the "multikulti" concept – where people of different backgrounds would live together happily – does not work in Germany. At "the beginning of the 1960s our country called the foreign workers to come to Germany and now they live in our country," said Ms. Merkel at the event in Potsdam, near Berlin. "We kidded ourselves a while. We said: 'They won't stay, [after some time] they will be gone,' but this isn't reality. And of course, the approach [to build] a multicultural [society] and to live side by side and to enjoy each other ... has failed, utterly failed." More than 30 percent of Germans believe Germany is "overrun by foreigners" who had come to Germany chiefly for its social benefits.
Some immigrants were indeed inferior in many respects to those who came before because of the economic conditions in the old country had made them almost subhuman. Emma Lazarus admitted as much when she referred to them as "...tired, poor,...huddled masses,...the wretched refuse of your teeming shore, the homeless, tempest-tossed." The condition and culture of the Irish that developed while they were subsisting on rotten potatoes is a good example. Frank McCourt in his Pulitzer Prize winning book Angela’s Ashes described other aspects of the Irish culture that most would find abhorrent. The Irish were discriminated against because of those characteristics. They may have seemed inferior to others because their economic situation dictated their appearance and their living conditions in the tenements. Avoiding disparaging remarks about them would have been difficult. On the other hand, it would have also been difficult to make a plausible case against their potential as human beings given the right influences and role models here in America.
Others were treated in the same manner as the Irish. I mentioned above that Ben Franklin was not favorably impressed by the Germans even though they were known to be industrious with well-maintained neighborhoods. They believed in orderliness. (Alles in ordnung!) Who knows what experiences Ben Franklin had with the Germans that caused him to lose his cool and make a public display of his low regard for them. I don't know the timing of his remarks but if they were made after the arrival of Hessian mercenaries who were quartered in private homes, one could begin to understand Franklin's antithesis to them. I recall that an innocent immigrant of German extraction was lynched somewhere in the Midwest at the time of the WW I. Some Americans were also actually arrested for speaking German over the phone. The street where my grandfather lived in Dallas, Texas was renamed from Germania Street to Liberty Street during that same time period even though German immigrants were and had been an important part of Texas and U.S. history. I understand that fully 20% of Americans are of German extraction. My German cousin once said, “I believe every American has a German grandmother!”
We are all familiar with the plight of the Japanese who were rounded up and sent to relocation or internment camps depending on where their citizenship and loyalties seem to lie. Those who were Japanese citizens and who wanted to return to Japan to fight against the Americans were interned as required by the law. As I recall, they used to drill with stick guns within the camps, making clear that they were indeed enemies of the U.S. Others were simply relocated partly to protect them from incidents like the lynching of the German I referred to above and partly to remove any possibility of espionage to aid the Japanese enemy when we were most fearful of that prospect. Unfortunately, the U.S. government not only violated their rights but did nothing to protect them from economic loss. “Snow Falling on Cedars” is one of my favorite movies. It portrays young love and mutual prejudice. Again this appears to be the human condition.
Working for logical immigation reform based on a stable population, a recognition of the finite nature of our natural resources and the adverse impact of continued growth on our quality of life, standard of living, national interest, character, language, sovereignty and the rule of law. Pushing back and countering the disloyal elements in American society and the anti-American rhetoric of the leftwing illegal alien lobbies. In a debate, when your opponents turn to name calling, it's a good sign you've already won.