What I Learned from Viewing 37 Immigration Maps

1903 Map

Back in February 2017, VOX published a series of maps under the title “37 Maps that explain how America is a nation of immigrants.”  I recently spent some time with these maps and here is what I learned (or was reminded of):

  • Native Americans were immigrants
  • The United States has more immigrants than any other country in the world, but Luxemborg and Israel have more immigrants per capita.
  • Prior to 1965, Germany sent the most immigrants to the United States.  After 1965, Mexico sent the most immigrants to the United States.
  • The most concentrated immigrant enclaves: French in southern Louisiana, Germans in the Dakotas, Norwegians in North Dakota, Dutch in western Michigan and northwest Iowa, West Indians in Manhattan, and French Canadians in North Dakota.
  • Slaves came to America from Africa, the West Indies, and South America by the hundreds of thousands as forced immigrants.
  • Over 17,000 migrants come to America a year as victims of human trafficking.
  • More immigrants to America speak English today than at any other point in American history
  • The grandchildren of Latino immigrants “barely speak Spanish.”
  • Immigrants are forestalling the decline of the Midwest
  • America was not a “global destination” until the 1965 Immigration Act
  • “Unauthorized immigration” was in a generally steady decline between 2000 and 2010.
  • The anti-immigrant Know Nothing Party candidate, Millard Fillmore, won the state of Maryland in the 1856 presidential election.
  • The U.S. “border zone” includes Bangor, Maine; Salem, Oregon; Grand Rapids, Michigan; and Burlington, Vermont.

Look at the maps here and tell me what you take away from the exercise.

James Dobson Visits the Border and Shows His Nativism

Detention

Court evangelical James Dobson, the evangelical who is most associated with the idea of “family values,” visited the Mexican border and wrote a letter to his supporters.  I have published it here:

Dear Friends,

Several weeks ago, I was invited by White House staff to visit our southern border at McAllen, Texas, where federal agents are struggling to deal with a massive influx of poor and destitute human beings. They come in never-ending waves. Please believe me when I tell you that the media and leftist politicians have not been truthful about what is going on there. It is a human tragedy. 

I promised the exhausted U.S. Custom and Border Patrol agents that I would go home and tell as many people as possible what I had seen “up close and personal.” Today, I am attempting to fulfill that commitment.

Approximately 5,500 people show up every day in districts organized along our southern U.S. border. McAllen is the site of only one of them, but it is the busiest and most besieged. The “refugees” arrive exhausted and ragged from walking hundreds of miles. Among them are large numbers of children, many of whom are unaccompanied by a caring adult. Last year, 382,000 aliens were apprehended for illegally crossing into this country and almost 100,000 of them were minors. Some of the kids have been abused along the way. Many of them carry lice, scabies or other diseases. Currently, the facility I visited is experiencing a flu epidemic, and there are no additional beds on which to lie. Some of the women have been raped. More than 70 people of all ages are sent to local hospitals daily along the southern border. Doctors and medical staff are overwhelmed by their patient load. Remember that word, “overwhelmed.” It describes every aspect of the effort to deal with the situation there.

The most heart-wrenching experience occurred during our tour of the holding area. It is a huge gym-like building consisting of dozens of fenced-in areas. Each one is crowded with detainees standing or sitting shoulder-to-shoulder on benches. They stared out at us with plaintive eyes.

I noticed that almost none of them were talking to each other. The children looked traumatized and frightened. Tears flooded my eyes as I stood before them. They had no toys or dolls, except for a few items bought by compassionate border patrol agents. One tiny little girl clutched something that resembled a doll bought for her by an agent. There are few provisions made to accommodate the children. The week before we were there, a delegation of agents went to meet with members of Congress, and begged them for additional money to buy Pampers, toothbrushes, and other necessities. They were turned down flat. These meager supplies have to be purchased with the border patrol budget, which is stretched to the limit. 

I then walked up to a fenced area holding many skinny young men. An agent standing beside me asked if I would like to speak to them. He offered to translate for me, to which I replied, “Please tell them that God loves them.” Then I said, “Now tell them that I love them, too.” They smiled and waved timidly. 

My heart aches for these poor people. Lest I be misunderstood, let me make clear that I am among the majority of Americans who want the border to be closed to those who attempt to enter illegally. There has to be a better solution than this. I have wondered, with you, why the authorities don’t just deny these refugees access to this nation. Can’t we just send them back to their places of origin? The answer I received was “No,” for reasons I will explain.

Only 10 percent of the detainees are Mexicans. This year alone, people have come to our southern border from 127 countries, including Bangladesh, Pakistan, Turkey, India, China, Palestine, Albania, San Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and other nations around the world. They speak their native tongues, which means they can’t be understood by each other or the staff. What are we to do with them? The Mexican government will not take them back, and there is no place to send them. Our current laws do not permit us to repatriate them to their country of origin. This is a disaster with no solution or projected conclusion. 

Let me tell you how these desperate people come to be our responsibility. They are the lowest rung of many societies. They sell their shanties and any other possessions to scrape together $3,500 to $10,000 to pay “coyotes” to guide them. I don’t know what happens to those who can’t meet this demand. Apparently, most manage to pay the fee, and arrive penniless and profoundly needy. I was told that some of the vulnerable children are “recycled” repeatedly to help men gain entry to this country. An unknown number of these men are hardened criminals and drug runners, and they are difficult to identify. Most make their way across the border.

Here’s something else you should know. I have been under the impression that these would-be immigrants try to cross the Rio Grande River and outrun or evade the agents. That is not true of most. They come in large groups, from 100 to 400 people at a time. As I write this letter, a record 1,200 people arrived together at El Paso. The refugees quickly give themselves up to agents. That is why they have made this journey. They know they will be fed, medicated, and treated humanely, even if they are in holding areas while they are in our custody. Then they will be released on American soil. This is the system set up by a liberal Congress and judges. It is a well-known fact that President Obama’s administration established many of these unworkable policies, and Congress is steadfastly unwilling to change them. Every effort at reform has been overridden or ignored. It is set in stone. Democrats want massive numbers of immigrants who will someday become voters. Some Republicans support the policies because they want cheap labor for agricultural purposes. The border could be fixed, but there are very few in authority who seem to care. 

Getting back to my story, our group of national faith leaders and humanitarian organizations was taken to a grassy park underneath the international bridges where the “coyotes” bring the refugees. We stood 50 feet away from them and watched as about 200 people sat on the ground. Then buses arrived to transport them to Border Control. Agents have to work fast because another group will be showing up soon, and then another and another. The would-be immigrants are taken to the center and given cursory medical exams. Then they are segregated by sex and age and placed in the fenced-in areas to be held for the next 20 days until they are processed and given a Notice to Appear. If that sounds inhumane, what would you or I do? There is simply no other place to “house” them. 

Mismanagement of the border has a long history. A federal judge years ago issued a ruling called the Flores Settlement Agreement. It is still the source of many problems. It requires that any unaccompanied alien child must be released within 72 hours. This is now the law of the land, and poor people around the world know it. A single male typically seeks to find a child and a woman to help him “game the system.” Clearly, many of these are “fake families,” but there is no documentation in Pakistani or Bangladesh to challenge their claims. Lawyers at home have told them to claim that they are fleeing from oppression or seeking asylum. They are allowed to plead their cases to judges, but there are too few of them to keep up with the volume. These people are given a court case and released. The vast majority are never seen again. Most then become “anchor babies” who are citizens with rights to bring members of their families. Others are given transportation to an American city where they disappear into the culture. 

In addition to this influx of people from places around the world steeped in poverty and despair, Senator Chuck Schumer authored and helped pass a “lottery” system, whereby winners are brought to the United States. They become permanent residents, who then begin bringing their families to our shores. Thank you, Senator.

Ten years ago, 90 percent of illegals apprehended at the border were single males, mainly from Mexico. Now, more than 50 percent show up with babies and children, and 90 percent of them are from countries other than Mexico with 64 percent being family units or unaccompanied alien children. Together, they claim to be “families” and within three weeks, they will be home free in America. Is there any doubt why there have been more than half a million illegal immigrants this year alone?

Before I conclude, I must tell you about the agents who have to deal with this chaos. They are compassionate men and women, sworn to uphold federal law and protect our borders.

They obviously care about the detainees, and I respect them highly. They work tirelessly feeding people three times a day and providing clean clothing. They must also maintain the portable toilets in the cells. It is a never-ending task. There are only two large showers in the facility, one for males, the other for females. Their capacity is for only 20 people at a time, which is insufficient.

The border patrol agents administer this program, but most of them didn’t sign up to be caregivers. Agents were trained to patrol the border and apprehend drug runners, traffickers, smugglers, murderers, and every kind of lawbreaker. This is very dangerous work. But, please understand this: the border patrol agents are so busy caring for refugees seeking entry to the United States that they have very little time to police the borders. It is so porous that huge quantities of contraband, including all kinds of narcotics, flow into this country every day. Then it is transported northward to America’s cities to be consumed by adolescents and millennials. Lawless gangs, such as MS-13, are also pouring into the culture, making violence for inner cities a way of life. 

There is one more aspect to the work of the agents that you should know. They are openly hated by citizens who resent the work they do. They are routinely vilified and mocked and demonized. Their families are also subjected to ridicule. These agents need our appreciation and prayers. They have one of the most thankless jobs in America. 

The situation I have described is the reason President Donald Trump’s border wall is so urgently needed. He seems to be the only leader in America who comprehends this tragedy and is willing to address it. Those who oppose him do everything they can to impede his effort. That is why I went to the border to see the situation for myself. I came away with an array of intense emotions. First, I was profoundly grieved over the misery of thousands of people. Second, I felt a deep appreciation for those who are doing their best to help in an impossible circumstance. Third, and frankly, I was angry at the political fat cats who have deliberately allowed this chaos to occur for political or financial gain. They, and their friends in the fake media, have told the American people that there is no crisis at the border! Shame on them all.

What I’ve told you is only a glimpse of what is occurring on the nation’s border. I don’t know what it will take to change the circumstances. I can only report that without an overhaul of the law and the allocation of resources, millions of illegal immigrants will continue flooding to this great land from around the world. Many of them have no marketable skills. They are illiterate and unhealthy. Some are violent criminals. Their numbers will soon overwhelm the culture as we have known it, and it could bankrupt the nation. America has been a wonderfully generous and caring country since its founding. That is our Christian nature. But in this instance, we have met a worldwide wave of poverty that will take us down if we don’t deal with it. And it won’t take long for the inevitable consequences to happen.

Thanks for letting me set the record straight.

Here are some thoughts:

1. James Dobson saw what is happening at the border and he believes that what he saw was immoral.  This separates Dobson from some other court evangelicals and “family values” advocates who think that there is no crisis of human dignity at the border.

2. When Dobson says “thank you” to Chuck Schumer for his lottery system I can’t tell if he is being serious or sarcastic.

3. Essentially, Dobson says that we must treat these refugees with Christian love.  He even told a group of detained men that Jesus loves them.  Then, several paragraphs later, he concludes that the building of Trump’s wall is the only way to solve this crisis.  I must admit, the early paragraphs of Dobson’s letter surprised me.  He seems to show real Christian compassion.  But then I got to the end of the letter only to find that his Christian compassion got hijacked by his nationalism.  We love you.  God loves you.  But you can’t come into our country.  Sorry.

Don’t get me wrong, we have a humanitarian crisis at the border. But Trump and the politicians have failed to offer creative solutions for how to fix it.  Instead, they just blame their political opponents.  I am no expert, but there must be a way to balance compassion and security.

4. At the end of the letter, Dobson takes a really ugly turns toward nativism.  He says that these refugees and immigrants are unskilled, illiterate, unhealthy, and violent.  He adds that they will soon “overwhelm the culture  as we have known it.”  He makes an appeal to history: the United States has always been a generous, caring, and Christian country, but in this instance (italics mine) we have met a worldwide wave of poverty that will take us down….”

I italicized the words “in this instance” because Dobson makes it sounds as if Americans have been warm and fuzzy toward newcomers in the past, but this instance is different.  These immigrants, he suggests, are a serious threat to American culture.  Dobson shows his ignorance of American history here. Historically, this kind of nativism arises whenever people fear immigrants and they demographic change they bring to the country.  I have offered a few examples of this below.  Read these quotes carefully and notice how the rhetoric is nearly identical to the language Dobson uses in his letter.

In a May 9, 1753 letter to Peter Collinson, Benjamin Franklin described German immigrants as “the most ignorant Stupid Sort of their own Nation.”  He did not believe that they could assimilate to our political culture, saying that since they are “not…used to Liberty, they know not how to make a modest use of it.”  He worried that these Germans were coming to America “in droves.” (Notice Dobson’s use of the word “flooding” to describe refugees).  Franklin concludes: “in short unless the stream of their importation could be turned from this to other colonies…they will soon so out number us , that all the advantages we have will not in My Opinion be able to preserve our [English] language, and even our Government will become precarious.”

In Franklin’s Observations Concerning the Increase of Mankind (1751) he writes: “Why should Pennsylvania, founded by the English, become a Colony of Aliens, who will shortly be so numerous as to Germanize us instead of our Anglifying them, and will never adopt our Language or Customs, any more than they can acquire our Complexion.”‘

In his 1835 speech, “A Plea for the West,” evangelical preacher and reformer Lyman Beecher warned against the “danger from the uneducated mind [that] is augmenting daily by the rapid influx of foreign emigrants, unacquainted with our institutions, unaccustomed to self-government, inaccessible to education, and easily accessible to prepossession, and inveterate credulity, and intrigue, and easily embodied and wielded by sinister design.” He added, “In the beginning this eruption of revolutionary Europe was not anticipated, and we opened our doors wide to the influx and naturalization of foreigners.  But it is become a terrific inundation; it has increased upon our native population from five to thirty-seven percent, and is every year advancing….”  Notice Beecher’s argument here.  We have always welcomed immigrants, but this instance (the influx of Irish Catholic immigrants) is different.

Here is nativist Frederick Saunders in 1856:  “The foreign voters, who are proved to be ignorant and in every incompetent, are admitted to the enjoyment of the electoral franchise.  We, who never knew what a blind and passive obedience to law is, can form no adequate idea of the recklessness and delirium which seize hold of so many foreign immigrants the moment they put foot upon our shores.  We admit that some of them are men of intellectual culture, while it will not be denied that too many are persons of the most degraded character, and destitute even of the most meager attainments….”  When I read this quote about Irish immigrants I thought about Dobson’s remarks about these immigrants voting for Democrats and their lack of education.

Here is Texas congressman John Box in 1928: “The admission of large and increasing number of Mexican peons to engage in all kinds of work is at variance with the American purpose to protect the wages of its working people and maintain their standard of living.  Mexican labor is not free; it is not well paid; its standard of living is low….To keep out the illiterate and the diseased is another essential part of the Nation’s immigration policy.  The Mexican peons are illiterate and ignorant.  Because of their unsanitary habits and living conditions and their vices they are especially subject to smallpox, venereal diseases, tuberculosis, and other dangerous contagions.”

Of course my own people (on my father’s side), the Italian immigrants who arrived to the United States at the turn of the 20th century, were also considered unclean, smelly, illiterate, unskilled, and violent.

There is nothing new about Dobson’s words here.  He is not only echoing his president, but he is also echoing some of the darker moments of American history.

Scholars Respond to Trump’s Border Policy

immigrants

The Chronicle of Higher Education is running a piece on the way scholars stepped-up to the plate during the “Trump border crackdown.”  I am glad that The Chronicle is noticing our work.  Here is a taste of Mark Parry’s article:

…In recent weeks, seemingly every Trump immigration move has prompted a real-time counter-mobilization of academic research, either by scholars themselves or by journalists calling on their expertise.

You see that in John Fea and Yoni Appelbaum’s breakdowns of how a biblical passage cited by the attorney general was used by defenders of slavery. You see it in Aliza Luft and Daniel Solomon’s analysis of Trump’s animalizing rhetoric. You see it in the debate over whether it’s fair to call America’s migrant detention centers concentration camps. (The answer, say two experts, is a qualified yes.)

For some scholars, research that had percolated for years suddenly carries an immediate resonance. On Monday, for example, the political scientists Emily M. Farris and Heather Silber Mohamed published a journal article documenting how news outlets stoke fear of Latino immigrants through imagery depicting them as criminals. Farris drew on her research in a Twitter thread contrasting two images that have shaped the family-separation narrative: the photo of a little girl crying as a border agent frisks her mother, and a picture released by the Trump administration of faceless boys in detention.

“We should think about how those images play a role in who we think is deserving of our concern,” Farris, an assistant professor at Texas Christian University, said in an interview. She added, “Images are powerful, and we don’t necessarily think about them as mediums for the ways we can interpret different policies.”

In interviews with The Chronicle, other historians and political scientists emphasized a dilemma of engaging this debate: how to raise alarms about the potential for human-rights abuses while conveying a nuanced understanding of a fast-changing situation. (Trump signed an executive order on Wednesday intended to stop family separations. It remained unclear on Friday how relatives would be reunited.)

The academics’ challenge is complicated by a paradox of scholarly communication right now. Thanks to social media and the proliferation of outlets like Vox and Monkey Cage, scholars are mixing it up in public like never before. But some scholars are frustrated that academe’s fact-backed warnings don’t penetrate to policy makers or large swaths of the public. Their struggle: getting readers to consider their evidence without dismissing them as Ivory Tower elites yet again denouncing Trump.

Read the entire piece here.

Does Nativism Still Exist Among U.S. Catholics?

Ganges

Catholic University historian Julia G. Young believes that it does.  Here is a taste of her piece “‘We Were Different‘”:

A few years ago, I taught an undergraduate course on migration at the Catholic University of America. During one lecture, I compared nineteenth-century Italian migration and contemporary Mexican migration to the United States. A hand shot up, and a student—one of several with an Italian surname—objected. “They’re not the same,” he protested. “My great-grandmother came here legally, and learned English—Mexicans don’t do that.”

As a historian who studies Mexican immigration to the United States, I’m used to hearing statements like this. Concerns about new immigrants’ legal status and failure to assimilate are widespread, and nativism has re-emerged in recent decades. Still, I wondered why this proud young Italian-American Catholic was so unwilling to compare his ancestors to the Mexican Catholic immigrants of today. Why did he not feel a sense of sympathy and solidarity for contemporary immigrants, who share so much with the great waves of Irish, Italians, Poles, and other immigrants of the late nineteenth century?

At the time, I didn’t quite grasp how many U.S. Catholics feel the widespread American discontent over immigration. After all, the Catholic hierarchy is vocally pro-immigrant, and the U.S. Catholic population is entirely composed of immigrants and descendants of immigrants. Catholics have a proud tradition of social justice, and numerous Catholic organizations have done immensely valuable work to protect immigrants. Nevertheless, in our new Trumpian era of border walls and travel bans, it has become more apparent to me (and others, such as Paul Moses in a recent piece for Commonweal, “White Catholics & Nativism,” September 1, 2017) that white Catholics have a nativism problem of their own.

Given the history of Catholic immigration to the United States, perhaps I shouldn’t have been surprised. Catholic nativism toward other Catholic immigrants is a recurring sentiment that dates to at least the second half of the nineteenth century, when the influx of Catholics changed the religious landscape of the United States. From then until today, Irish, Italian, Polish, Mexican, and other Catholics have fought over power, identity, religious practice, and shared spaces.

Read the entire piece at Commonweal.

Happy Columbus Day

Mulberry_Street_NYC_c1900_LOC_3g04637u_edit

Mulberry Street, NYC, circa 1900

That’s right.  I said it.

I have blogged about Columbus statues here and here, but I also want to call your attention to Yoni Appelbaum‘s piece at The Atlantic: How Columbus Day Fell Victim to Its Own Success.”  The subtitle is “It’s worth remembering that the now controversial holiday started as a way to empower immigrants to celebrate diversity.”

Here is a taste:

Christopher Columbus has been, from the first, a powerful symbol of American nationalism. In the early American republic, Columbus provided a convenient means for the new nation to differentiate itself from the old world. His name, rendered as Columbia, became a byword for the United States. Americans represented their nation as a woman named Columbia, adopted Hail, Columbia! as an unofficial anthem, and located their capitol in the District of Columbia.

Italian-Americans, arriving in large numbers in the late nineteenth century, took note of the reverence which their famous countryman enjoyed. It was a far cry from the treatment they themselves received. Many Americans believed Italians to be racially inferior, their difference made visible by their “swarthy” or “brown” skins. They were often portrayed as primitive, violent, and unassimilable, and their Catholicism brought them in for further abuse. After an 1891 lynching of Italians in New Orleans, a New York Times editorial proclaimed Sicilians “a pest without mitigation,” adding, for good measure, that “our own rattlesnakes are as good citizens as they.”

Italians quickly adopted Columbus as a shield against the ethnic, racial, and religious discrimination they faced in their adoptive country. They promoted a narrative of national origins that traced back beyond Plymouth or Jamestown, all the way to San Salvador. How could a nation, they asked, reject the compatriots of its own discoverer?

Instead of accepting Italians, many nativists chose to reject Columbus. They cast about for a racially acceptable discoverer of the New World, and found him in Leif Erikson. The exploits of the great Viking explorer, recorded in Icelandic sagas, were already being promoted by Norwegian immigrants, eager to find acceptance of their own. If America did not, after all, owe its existence to an Italian Catholic, then there would be no need to accept his modern compatriots. “At a moment of increasing fear that the nation was committing race suicide,” explains historian Joanne Mancini, “the thought of Viking ghosts roaming the streets of a city increasingly filled with Irish, Italian, and Jewish hordes must have been comforting to an Anglo-Saxon elite.”

Read the entire piece here.

 

Khizr Khan Has Introduced the Idea of Empathy Into Our Democratic Culture

Khizr Khan, the father of American military hero and Purple Heart winner Captain Humayun Khan, has been all over cable news this week after his moving speech at last week’s Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia.

Here is the speech:

A lot has been said about the speech and Khan has taken his fifteen minutes of fame to send out a powerful message about American identity.

As a historian, I am always struck whenever Khan uses the word “empathy” in his criticism of Trump.  I like this term.  Not only is the concept of empathy essential to the survival of American democracy, but it is also vital to the discipline of history.  The study of history requires empathy.  Thus, if my logic is correct, the study of history might also be useful to a robust and thriving democratic life in the United States.

As the readers of The Way of Improvement Leads Home know, I have been making this argument for several years.  I most recently wrote about empathy in a Christian Century piece on the recent police shootings in Dallas, Minneapolis, and Baton Rouge.   But since I am the proprietor of this blog, and we are always getting new readers, I reserve the right to make it again.

Here is what I had to say about empathy in my Why Study History: Reflecting on the Importance of the Past:

As historian John Cairns notes, empathy “is the passport to gaining a genuine entry into the past as a foreign land, and something distinct from our time.”  Empathy requires the historians to step into the shoes of historical actors in order to see the world as they did, to understand them on their own terms and not ours.  Historian John Lewis Gaddis writes, “Getting inside other people’s minds requires that your own mind be open to their impressions–their hopes and fears, their beliefs and dreams, their sense of right and wrong, their perception of the world and where they fit within it.”  The practice of empathy may be the hardest part of being a historian.  This is largely because our natural inclination, or, as Sam Wineburg calls it, our “psychological condition at rest,” is to find something useful in the past.  We want to make the past work for us rather than enter into it with an attitude of wonder about what we might find and the kinds of people and ideas we might encounter.  Historical empathy thus requires an act of the imagination.  The practice of bracketing our own ways of seeing the world in order to see a strange world more clearly requires discipline on the part of the historian.  It demands a certain level of intellectual maturity.  It requires a willingness to listen to the past…

Empathy differs from sympathy.  Empathy is all about understanding.  It is an attempt to discover why a particular individual in the past acted in the way that he or she did.  It might even mean exploring such actions in an attempt to grasp how he or she reflects the mentality of all of those living in that time and how such a mentality differs from our own.  Sympathy, however, carries a deeper moral component than empathy.  The sympathetic person develops an emotional attachment–such as a desire for the other person to be happy–that can sometimes make empathy difficult and might even get in the way of an accurate historical interpretation.

To illustrate the differences between empathy and sympathy, let me relay a conversation I recently had with my fourteen-year-old daughter.  Allyson had just finished reading Harriett A. Jacobs’s Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, Written by Herself, in her eighth-grade American Studies class.  Published in 1861, the book tells the story of how Jacobs was physically and sexually abused by her master and, in an attempt to escape the torture, hid for roughly seven years in a storeroom crawl space.  Allyson returned home from school emotionally shaken by Jacob’s story.  This was her first exposure to such a graphic slave narrative.  Her response was outrage, anger, and sadness.  She sympathized with the plight of Jacobs, but she was unable to empathize–to rid herself of what she perceived as the moral injustice done to this slave woman.  She failed to fully understand the world of the nineteenth-century South in which Jacobs lived.  My daughter developed an emotional connection with Jacobs, and I was glad that she did.  She grew as a moral being through the reading of the narrative.  But she was unable to understand Jacobs historically because sympathy kept getting in the way.  This, of course, should be expected from a fourteen-year-old.  Historical thinking of this nature, as I noted above, requires intellectual maturity.

And this:

The sixteenth-century writer Montaigne once said, “Every man calls evil what he does not understand.”  Our everyday lives will always be filled with disagreements and misunderstandings, but a democratic society will survive only if we are able to live civilly with them.  We are correct to believe that in the United States we have a “right” to our opinions and beliefs, but there are also times when we must rise above private interests and temporarily sacrifice our rights for the greater good of the larger community.  Such a view of the common good, which the late Pope John Paul II called “solidarity,” requires that we see others, even those who we may believe are “evil,” as neighbors and “sharers on part with ourselves in the banquet of life to which all are equally invited by God.”  To put an alternative spin on Montaigne’s quote, “The more you know about another person’s story, the less possible it is to see that person as your enemy.”adbb2-why2bstudy2bhistory-baker

Because we all have our own views and opinions, civil society requires conversation.  We may never come to an agreement on what constitutes the “common good,” but we can all commit ourselves to sustaining democracy by talking to and engaging with one another.  As author and activist Parker Palmer puts it, “Democracy gives us the right to disagree and is designed to use the energy of creative conflict to drive positive social change.  Partisanship is not a problem.  Demonizing the other side is.”  The inner working of this kind of democracy is described best by the late historian and cultural critic Christopher Lasch in his book The Revolt of the Elites and the Betrayal of Democracy.  His description of the mechanics of democratic conversation is worth citing in full:

“The attempt to bring others around to our point of view carries the risk, of course, that we may adopt their point of view instead.  We have to enter imaginatively into our opponent’s arguments, if only for the purpose of refuting them, and we may end up being persuaded by those we sought to persuade.  Argument is risky and unpredictable, therefore educational.  Most of us tend to think of it…as a clash of rival dogmas, a shouting match in which neither side gives an ground.  But arguments are not won by shouting down opponents.  They are won by changing opponents’ minds–something that can only happen if we give opposing arguments a respectful hearing and still persuade their advocates that there is something wrong with those arguments.  In the course of this activity, we may well decide that there is something wrong with our own.”

Empathy.

Some Great Stuff Today at Religion in American History

If you do not read Religion in American History, you should. In the last day or two Paul Harvey and his cast of American religious history bloggers have posted some great stuff.  First, check out Harvey’s tribute to civil rights activist Fred Shuttlesworth, who died today at the age of 89.  Then check out Chris Beneke’s brief review of The Anointed: Evangelical Truth in a Secular Age by Randall Stephens and Karl Giberson.  I have a review copy of this book on my shelf and I hope to get my own short review out very soon.  Finally, take a look at Emily Clark’s reflections on lived religion in an ethnic Catholic family.

Good stuff.

Paul Lukas: Report Cards Saved My Life

In 1996 Paul Lukas “stumbled upon” nearly 400 report cards from the Manhattan Trade School for Girls.  Most of them were from the 1920s.

If I found these report cards I would probably think of some way to analyze them and turn them into a book or an article.  Lukas has decided to devote his time and energy to tracking down the family members of these former students and returning the cards.  (I do hope that these cards are copied and placed in an archive somewhere).  Most of the girls who attended the Manhattan Trade School were born to immigrant parents–Italians and Jews mostly.

Lukas tells his story in a fascinating article at Slate.  Here is a taste:

I discovered the cards in 1996 (more on that in a minute). I found them fascinating, but I didn’t have a good sense of what to do with them, so for a long time I just kept them as curios and occasionally showed them to friends. Eventually, though, I decided to track down some of the students’ families (including Marie’s). Even after doing it numerous times, I still find it a bit surreal to call a stranger on the phone and hear myself saying, “Hi, you don’t know me, but I have your mother’s report card from 1929. Would you like to see it?”

While a few people have responded to that opening line with suspicion or caution, most have been gracious, and curious. They’ve opened their homes to me and shared their family archives. And they’ve been captivated by the report cards, often learning new things about their loved ones and filling in gaps in their family histories. Most of them knew very little about this vocational school their ancestors had attended.

That school, the Manhattan Trade School for Girls, turns out to have been a very interesting place. And a well-documented one, too. Within a decade of its 1902 founding, a book about it had been written and a 16-minute film about it had been shot. All of which comes in rather handy if you happen to be researching a bunch of the school’s students.

This Week’s Patheos Column: An Immigrant’s Tale

Last weekend I drove the two and a half hours from Harrisburg, Pennsylvania to Parsippany, New Jersey for the purpose of conducting an oral history interview with my 100-year-old grandfather.

As a history professor, I regularly teach a course entitled “Immigrant America.” In this course, students are required to do a taped interview with an immigrant and write an eight-page paper about how the experience of this particular person illustrates some aspect of the American immigrant experience.

I talk a lot about my grandfather in that course. He came to the United States from the tiny village of San Felice, Italy in 1913. He was 3 years old. My grandfather has witnessed much of “The American Century,” a phrase used by historians to describe the rise of American power in the 20th century.

Read the rest here.

The St. Louis Hegelians

Forget about Frederick Jackson Turner’s frontier thesis. Well before the University of Wisconsin history professor suggested that the key to American identity was the settlement of the frontier, a group of Georg Hegel disciples were arguing that history had a direction, and it was all pointing to St. Louis.

Here is a taste of Kerry Howley’s article at The Daily:

In 1856, a Prussian immigrant named Henry Conrad Brokmeyer retreated deep into the Missouri woods with a gun, a dog and a copy of “Science of Logic,” a philosophical text by Georg Hegel. Alone with Hegel’s thoughts over the next two years, Brokmeyer became convinced that this abstruse work by a German 25 years dead could save the nation from the very divisions about to lead it into civil war. It didn’t, of course, and Missouri, a border state, would not escape a gruesome guerrilla war. But a decade later, Brokmeyer and a friend named William Torrey Harris convinced the elite of St. Louis that Hegel’s work was central to the recovery of their country, their city and their own lives. The Civil War, Brokmeyer said, was part of a dialectical process. In what turned out to be one of the oddest episodes in the history of American thought, a group of men known as the St. Louis Hegelians declared that the direction of history led to eastern Missouri.

Brokmeyer sold a warped Hegelianism just flattering enough to believe: History had a direction. That direction was west, from Europe to the United States. History would unfold in the direction of a world-historical city, culminating in a flowering of freedom under a rational state. While Hegel had assumed Europe to be the place to which all of history pointed — when he said “west,” he meant from Asia to Europe — Brokmeyer said history would keep on rolling across the Atlantic, toward the biggest American city west of the Mississippi: St. Louis.  

Read the rest here.

What is Happening to Little Italy?

My grandmother was born in Little Italy, New York and I have taken students there in the past, but according to this article, New York City’s enclave of Italian culture is shrinking.  In fact, you would be hard pressed to find many Italians who still live there.  Here is taste:

In 1950, nearly half of the more than 10,000 New Yorkers living in the heart of Little Italy identified as Italian-American. The narrow streets teemed with children and resonated with melodic exchanges in Italian among the one in five residents born in Italy and their second- and third-generation neighbors. 

By 2000, the census found that the Italian-American population had dwindled to 6 percent. Only 44 were Italian-born, compared with 2,149 a half-century earlier.

A census survey released in December determined that the proportion of Italian-Americans among the 8,600 residents in the same two-dozen-square-block area of Lower Manhattan had shrunk to about 5 percent.

And, incredibly, the census could not find a single resident who had been born in Italy.  


Read the rest of this very interesting article here.

Jim Wallis on the New Arizona Immigration Law: We Will Not Comply

Jim Wallis, the founder and president of Sojourners, the largest network of progressive Christians in the United States focused on the biblical call to social justice, has weighed in on the new Arizona immigration law. Here is his statement:

The law signed today by Arizona Gov. Brewer is a social and racial sin, and should be denounced as such by people of faith and conscience across the nation. It is not just about Arizona, but about all of us, and about what kind of country we want to be. It is not only mean-spirited – it will be ineffective and will only serve to further divide communities in Arizona, making everyone more fearful and less safe. This radical new measure, which crosses many moral and legal lines, is a clear demonstration of the fundamental mistake of separating enforcement from comprehensive immigration reform. Enforcement without reform of the system is merely cruel. Enforcement without compassion is immoral. Enforcement that breaks up families is unacceptable. This law will make it illegal to love your neighbor in Arizona, and will force us to disobey Jesus and his gospel. We will not comply.