"Much of what's driving human migration is the fact that 80 percent of the world's wealth is being controlled in the industrialized West by 20 percent of the world's population. As a society we have to face up to the consequences of this global imbalance." -Tram Nguyen, author of "We Are All Suspects Now: Untold Stories from Immigrant Communities after 9/11", was one of the "boat people" rescued while escaping Vietnam. She was relocated to Kansas in 1979.
Way back in 18th century Pennsylvania, as Germans flocked into our country, Benjamin Franklin was convinced that his home had become a "colony of aliens." "Why," he asks, "should we suffer outsiders who prefer ethnic enclaves where they establish their language and manners to the exclusion of ours?" Down through the ages we've heard similar ranting.
In his article "A Shameful Tradition", in the March-April Utne magazine, Daniel Tichenor, from The Nation, outlines the history of our country's immigration woes. He writes of the Irish Catholics' influx in the 1840s during their country's potato famine. One would like to believe that times have changed to the degree that Americans wouldn't turn starving people away from our plenteous coffers.
Even back then, Tichenor writes, "from the 1850s through the 1870s, Chinese workers were recruited to California as cheap contract labor for mining, railroad construction, manufacturing and farming." Just as today, the hostility arose between varied cultures. From 1871 on, California barred the Chinese from entry and imposed special taxes on Chinese owned businesses.
The more I learn, the more I believe that immigration is a mater of human rights, and that our country's democratic freedoms should set a precedent for philanthropy in a global society. How can American citizens continue to live in their own narrow factions, and assume that their tenets, politics, religions, traditions, and orientations are the only acceptable way, imposing our authoritative seniority onto other cultures?
There can be no justice without mutual understanding and respect for others' rights to their beliefs (within the laws of the land). If our elected officials are not willing to sit down at the conference table with other world leaders, then we've built a wall between the United States and
the rest of the world. Our clout and integrity are being sacrificed, reducing our "land of the free" to "the enemy", as we've indicated through racial profiling, white supremacy, stubborn self-righteous resolve, and failure to negotiate.
Tram Nguyen is bitter about U.S. greed and assumed power. She writes, "In reality our public coffers are being looted to provide tax breaks for the rich." "This is the era of the multicultural society, and it's a challenge for white progressives to enter into this conversation." "We live in a country that prefers to punish and incarcerate." She speaks of anti-immigration leaders as, "bold enough to identify themselves as racists. They have a very race-driven agenda."
Back in 1907, Theodore Roosevelt issued his ideas on immigration. He spoke these words: "In the first place, we should insist that if the immigrant who comes here in good faith becomes an American and assimilates himself to us, he shall be treated on an exact equality with everyone else, for it is an outrage to discriminate against any such man because of creed, or birthplace, or origin. But this is predicated upon the person's becoming in every facet an American, and nothing but an American"¦There can be no divided allegiance here. Any man who says he is an American, but something else also, isn't an American at all. We have room for but one flag, the American flag"¦we have room for but one language here, and that is the English language"¦and we have room for but one sole loyalty and that is a loyalty to the American people."
It isn't that cut and dried, however. The disputation is not only about civil rights - it's about human rights. It's a far different world than it was in 1907"¦even more so since 9/11. As Nguyen relays, "In fact, the U.S., which has 5 percent of the world's population, uses 25 percent of the world's resources."
"And after September 11," she states, "papers just weren't being processed. As a result, many people who had been trying to stay within the system were branded criminals." "African Americans have borne the brunt of racial profiling and harsh sentencing measures, but immigrants are a rising percentage of the prison populations."
The United States will not be defeated as long as America embodies virtuous, moralistic, and humanitarian principles"¦our true colors shining through. Is it happening?
Janet Burns has been a lifelong resident of Lewiston. She can be
reached at: email@example.com