Why Americans are Divided Over the Migrant Caravans

Migrant-caravan-travels-towards-U.S

Jeanne Petit, a professor of history at Hope College in Holland, Michigan, offers some historical perspective as the United States awaits the central America migrant caravan.  Here is a taste of her Washington Post piece “Refugees or threat?: How we see migrants reveals our competing visions for America“:

News about the caravan of Honduran and Guatemalan migrants fleeing gang violence and poverty to seek refugee status in the United States has been splashed across television screens for more than a week.

President Trump and members of his administration declared, with no evidence, that Middle Eastern terrorists are embedded in the crowds, hoping to infiltrate the United States. Their fearmongering is challenged by images of individual migrants, usually with children, that emphasize the humanitarian crisis the caravan represents.

These dueling interpretations — threatening vs. vulnerable — reflect a far deeper debate, one that dates back to the country’s founding, about whether Americans should be bound together by a national identity built around shared civic ideals or through common ancestral, religious or racial background. They also reflect longtime debates about whether we ought to focus on border security or whether, by keeping refugees out, the United States is failing to fulfill its promise to be a haven for the oppressed.

Our current moment has parallels with the immigration-restriction debates of the first decades of the 20th century. The United States received a record number of immigrants, mostly coming to work in the growing industries. Unlike earlier immigrant streams from more Protestant nations of northern and western Europe, the vast majority of these immigrants came from southern and eastern Europe. Many Americans welcomed them and saw their immigration as a sign of American vitality, but others worried that the fundamental character of the nation was under threat.

Read the rest here.

Laura Ingraham’s Controversial Remarks are Rooted in a Long History of Fear

In case you missed it, here is CNN’s Brian Stelter’s report on Ingraham’s recent comments about “massive demographic changes.”

Ingraham is correct about the demographic changes facing America today.  This is not the first time we have seen such changes.  It is also not the first time that Americans have responded to such changes with fear-mongering.  This time around the fear-mongers have a cable television channel.

A few more points:

  1. Ingraham says “the America that we know and love doesn’t exist anymore.”  She says this in the context of immigration and demographic change.   And then she says that her statement is not about race or ethnicity.  Seriously?  Then how does Ingraham define the America “that we know and love?”
  2. Tucker Carlson says “no society has ever changed this much, this fast.”  This sounds like something a white Southerner might say during the late 1860s and 1870s, the period of Reconstruction when freed slaves were trying to integrate into southern society.
  3. In her response, Ingraham condemns white supremacists.  But her comments about immigration and “demographic change” seems to be little more than a defense of a white America that she believes is being threatened by people of color.  How is this any different than David Duke and others?
  4. How does Tucker Carlson know that we are undergoing “more change than human beings are designed to digest?”
  5. Ingraham says that “the rule of law, meaning secure borders” is what “binds our country together.”  On one level, Ingraham is correct here.  Immigration restriction and securing the borders once bound America together as a white Protestant nation.  White Protestants did not want Chinese men and women coming into the country, so they “bound our [white Protestant] country together” by passing the Chinese Exclusion Act.  White Protestants did not want more Italians and other southern Europeans coming into the country, so they passed the Johnson-Reed Act (1924) to restrict them from coming.  So yes, Ingraham is correct when she says “the rule of law” and “secure borders” have bound our country together.  It was racist then.  It is racist now.  On another level, Ingraham probably needs a history lesson.  For most of the 19th-century, the United States did have something equivalent to open borders.  So there has been a significant chunk of American history when secure borders did not bind America together.
  6. I will let someone else tackle this, but “merit-based immigration” seems like a racist dog-whistle.  This reminds me of when Trump said that we need more Norwegian immigrants and less immigrants from “shithole” countries.

Often-times fear is propagated by Christians who claim to embrace a religious faith that teaches them that “perfect love casts out fear.”  This faith calls us to respond to demographic change with love, not fear.

By the way, I wrote a book about how fear of such “demographic change” led evangelicals into the arms of Donald Trump.

Believe Me 3d

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.

 

Does Steve Bannon Have His Facts Straight About “The American System?”

Bannon

Sunday on 60 Minutes, Charlie Rose asked former Trump adviser and Breitbart chief Steve Bannon the following question:

America was in the eyes of so many people. and its what people respect America for, [a place where people] can come…, find a place, contribute to the economy–that’s what immigration had been in America.  And you seem to want to turn it around, and stop it.

And here is how Bannon answered:

You couldn’t be more dead wrong. America was built on her citizens. … Look at the 19th century. What built America’s called the American system, from Hamilton to Polk to Henry Clay to Lincoln to the Roosevelts. [It was] a system of protection of our manufacturing, financial system that lends to manufacturers, OK, and the control of our borders. Economic nationalism is what this country was built on. The American system.

So was Bannon use of history correct here?  NPR’s Steven Inskeep sets him straight. Here is a taste:

First: Alexander Hamilton was an immigrant. He was born in the West Indies. In the 18th century he fought for his adopted country in war (as immigrants often have) and then, as treasury secretary, he contributed immensely to his adopted country’s economy (as immigrants often have). He argued for the government to pay Revolutionary War debts, dreamed up a sophisticated financial system, and ended up on the $10 bill. Even in the 21st century, he continues to generate economic activity as the subject of a Broadway musical.

Bannon is close enough in calling Hamilton a citizen, since he was present at the founding of the country — although all Founding Fathers were immigrants or the descendants of immigrants, who arrived in the territory of native nations. This illustrates the essential problem in claiming the country was built by citizens and not immigrants: Immigrants often contributed and also became citizens.

It’s meaningful that Bannon cites Abraham Lincoln, too, in his argument about immigrants. In 1862, Lincoln signed legislation supporting construction of a transcontinental railroad, which began a few years later. It was difficult to find laborers willing to work in harsh conditions, so railroad executives hired immigrants. Chinese workers were among those who laid tracks over the mountains from the west, until they met crews of Irish laborers coming from the east. Their meeting in Utah was an iconic American moment.

Read the entire piece here.

History.  It matters.

The Great Irish Emigration

DiasporaAccording to historian Kevin Kenny, “one in every two American immigrants in the 1840s was Irish, and one in every three in the 1850s.”  Check out his recent Aeon piece on the Irish diaspora.

Here is a taste:

From 1700 to the present, fully ten million Irish men, women and children left Ireland and settled abroad. Remarkably, this figure is more than twice the population of the Republic of Ireland today (4.8 million). It exceeds the population of the island of Ireland, north and south (6.6 million). And it is greater than the population of Ireland at its peak in 1845, on the eve of the Famine (8.5 million). Some 70 million people worldwide claim Irish descent, more than half of them in the United States, where Irish is the second most common ancestry after German.

In the United States, the Irish found a kind of mirror, or complement: a nation of immigrants for a nation of emigrants. Most people know about America’s distinctive claims to be a nation composed of immigrants. Ireland’s status as the nation of emigrants to the modern world is less well-known but perhaps as unique and historic. For most of the 19th and 20th centuries, Ireland had the highest emigration rate in Europe.

How are we to explain a historical phenomenon of this scale and impact? Irish emigration unfolded within two overlapping contexts: empire and diaspora. The imperial context helps to explain why people left Ireland and where they settled abroad. But only when empire is combined with the idea of diaspora do the full dimensions of Irish emigration emerge.

Read the rest here.

Chinatown at the Jersey Shore

Bradley

I am always a sucker for a good story from New Jersey shore history.  Over at Atlas Obscura, Eveline Chao tells the story of how Chinese immigrants living in New York formed a neighborhood at Bradley Beach.  This one hit home because the grandmother of a high school friend had a house at Bradley Beach and I remember spending a few summer weekends there.

Here is a taste:

ONE DAY IN 1941, LEE Ng Shee went for a stroll in Bradley Beach, New Jersey. She was the wife of a prominent merchant in New York City Chinatown named Lee B. Lok, who in 1891 had established Quong Yuen Shing & Company, a general store on Mott Street. The family liked to spend their summers on the Jersey Shore, though it was a challenge to find landlords who would rent to nonwhites. Lee Ng Shee was passing a house on Newark Avenue, stepping carefully on her bound feet, when a woman came out on the porch. “Are you looking for a house?” the woman called out. “Would you like to buy this one?”

Lee knew a deal when she heard one. “Two thousand dollars later, Lee B. Lok and family were ensconced in a summer bungalow of their very own in the village where twenty years before they would have been lucky to be able to rent some rooms over a store,” wrote Bruce Edward Hall in his Chinatown memoir Tea That Burns.

Lee’s lucky break paved the way for more Chinatown families. Others bought along the same street, and soon, Newark Avenue became an equivalent to Mott Street in Manhattan; a mini, parallel Chinatown on the Jersey Shore. Jokingly, they dubbed the area Chinatown-by-the-Sea. Other old-timers call it “the Chinese Riviera.”

While the Lees blazed the path of home ownership, the story of how Chinatown families started renting in Bradley goes much farther back. In 1877, the minister of a rural parish in Sherman, Pennsylvania asked his congregation to open their homes to poor children from New York City. Tuberculosis was endemic in the city’s overcrowded tenements, and fresh air was believed to help with respiratory ailments.

Read the rest here.

JSTOR Daily’s Charlottesville Syllabus

Lee

If you want to understand what happened in Charlottesville and hate in America, this is a good place to start.

Here is a taste of Catherine Halley‘s introduction to JSTOR Daily’s Charlottesville syllabus:

It has been a difficult week in American history, and a lot of educators have been wondering how to speak to their students about the white supremacist rally that took place on August 12 in Charlottesville, Virginia, and the violent aftermath. JSTOR Daily, which offers scholarly context to the news, seems well-positioned to provide help in this regard.

Here, we often find ourselves telling origin stories or pointing out historical precedent to current events. That’s because we believe, we hope that there are lessons in the past. We trust in the peer-reviewed, fact-based, careful thinking and writing that scholars do to help us understand everything beautiful and ugly about our world.

The essays and articles below, published over the course of JSTOR Daily‘s first three years, demonstrate this. We join in the tradition of N. D. B. Connolly & Keisha N. Blain’s “Trump Syllabus 2.0” in seeking to illuminate the cultural, economic, and political currents that led to the present moment.

Read the entire syllabus here.

Let’s Be Careful About Our Use of “The New Colossus”

Ellis_Island_arrivalsAs I write this, I am listening to Chris Cuomo on CNN talking about immigration. Cuomo, of course, is the grandson of Italian immigrants.  He is criticizing Donald Trump’s RAISE Act for its proposal to cut legal immigration in half and limit Green Cards to people who speak English and are “highly skilled.”

Cuomo, and many other critics of the RAISE Act (including his CNN colleague Jim Acosta, who mixed it up on Wednesday with Trump adviser Stephen Miller), like to quote the words of the Emma Lazarus poem, “The New Colossus.”

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs 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 lightning, 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!”

The Lazarus poem certainly reflects the founding ideals of the United States of America. The United States has long been an “asylum for mankind.”  This country, when it is at its best, has taken-in the “tired,” the “poor,” and the “huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” Like Cuomo, I would not be here today if this was not the case.  Like Cuomo (and Stephen Miller and possibly Trump himself), I would not be in this country if the RAISE Act was in place at the turn of the 20th century when my unskilled, non-English-speaking Italian and Slovakian ancestors arrived.

But if we address this issue historically, it is fair to say that I probably would not be here either if my grandparents tried to migrate between 1930s and 1960s.

For example, the 1924 Immigration Act (Johnson-Reed Act) was an isolationist measure to limit immigration from certain ethnic groups, including Italians, Jews, and other Southern and Eastern Europeans.  It also restricted most Africans and banned Middle Eastern and Asian immigration completely.  These restrictions were lifted by the Immigration Act of 1965 (Hart-Cellar Act).

And then there was the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act.  This act barred the entry of Chinese laborers to the United States.

And let’s not pretend that most “native” Americans were happy about all these immigrants coming into the country.  Every great wave of American immigration coincided with nativist resistance and attempts at restriction.

In the end, “The New Colossus” appeals to our better selves.  But let’s be careful before we say that its message has been applied consistently in the long history of American immigration.

The Cosmopolitan Elite

Last night I published a post about Trump adviser Stephen Miller’s response to CNN’s Jim Acosta’s question about the connection between the spirit of American immigration and the RAISE Act.  Read it here.

Throughout this exchange, Miller accuses Acosta of being a “cosmopolitan.” The first reference comes at about the 3:40 mark and then again at the 4:15 mark.

Several quick thoughts:

  1. Acosta misspoke and said that England and Australia are the only sources of English-speakers who come to America.  Does this make him a “cosmopolitan?” Stephen Miller thinks so.  Maybe I don’t understand the meaning of the word “cosmopolitan” (“citizen of the world”).  I wrote a book about it, but maybe the definition has changed since the 18th century.  But if Acosta really did believe that English is only spoken in two nations, wouldn’t that mean he was not very cosmopolitan?  Wouldn’t that make him parochial or provincial?
  2.  “Cosmopolitanism,” of course, is an anathema in a presidential administration that celebrates the idea of “America First.” For example, the Obama administration was cosmopolitan in its efforts at working together with other nations around the globe. Miller knows that simply mentioning the term is the equivalent of throwing red meat to the Trump base.  Steve Bannon knows this too.
  3.  Last night Princeton University historian Kevin Kruse tweeted a 1972 article “about how Democrats like George McGovern weren’t connecting with the white working class.”  The source reminds us that the white working class has been criticizing cosmopolitans for a long time:

Cosmpolitan

The Trump White House Needs Another Lesson in Historical Thinking

beautiful-day-to-seeStephen Miller, a senior aide of Donald Trump, is now telling reporters what is “ahistorical” and what is not.

In case you did not hear, today Trump and two United States Senators rolled out the “RAISE Act.”  In a nutshell, this law will limit future legal immigration to “highly skilled” workers and those who already speak English.

Today Miller met with reporters to answer questions about the RAISE Act.  Jim Acosta of CNN asked him if a bill limiting immigration to skilled workers and English-speakers violates the spirit of the words behind Emma Lazarus’s 1883 sonnet “The New Colossus.” Lazarus wrote “The New Colossus” to raise money for the construction of the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty.  The statue was dedicated in 1886.  The “New Colossus” was engraved on a plaque inside the statue’s lower level in 1903.

I quote it here in full:

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs 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 lightning, 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!”

Here is the exchange between Miller and Acosta:

Several thoughts:

  1. Miller is technically right.  “The New Colossus” was added seventeen years after the Statue of Liberty was dedicated.
  2. Miller is wrong when he says that “The New Colossus,” with its reference to the “tired, poor, and huddled masses yearning to breathe free,” was not connected in any way to the Statue of Liberty.  As noted above, Lazarus wrote it to raise money for the statue.
  3. Miller is probably correct to suggest that the addition of “The New Colossus” to the Statue of Liberty in 1903 turned the statue into a symbol of immigration.  One could even argue that the Statue of Liberty did not become associated with immigration until well after immigration to the United States dried in the wake of the 1924 Immigration Act.
  4. But all of these points miss Acosta’s argument.  Acosta wanted to know if the RAISE Act violates the spirit of American immigration as embodied in the words of Emma Lazarus.  Miller said that Acosta’s argument was “ahistorical” because he did not know that “The New Colossus” was added after the Statue of Liberty was raised.  Do you see what Miller is doing here?  He is practicing a form of misdirection.  His correction of Acosta on the facts is little more than a sneaky attempt to avoid the real question the CNN reporter asked about the connections between the past and present.  When Acosta asked about the relationship between the RAISE Act and the spirit of American immigration, he was asking a pretty good historical question. It deserved a better answer.  There is a difference between knowing facts about the past and doing history.
  5. Acosta could have responded to Miller’s misdirection without throwing the National Park Service under the bus.  The way Miller dealt with the past today bears little resemblance to the way the National Park Service promotes history.

Inventing “Immigration”

Noah

Noah Webster

The word “immigration” was invented by Noah Webster.

Matthew Wills explains at JSTOR Daily:

Here’s some trivia for you logophiles out there: Noah Webster, author of An American Dictionary of the English Language (1828), invented the word “immigration.” That is, he took an existing word—in fact all the variations of to migrate, including commigrate, transmigrate, emigrate, and remigrate—and subtly but profoundly transformed them. He did this based on his long study of word origins and perhaps his own historical experience as an ardent American nationalist. In so doing, he created “definitions that had never before appeared in a dictionary of the English language,” writes scholar Neil Larry Shumsky.

What Webster did was make “space, time, and purpose fundamental characteristics of migration.” Shumsky tracks the changes from Webster’s lesser-known dictionary of 1806, A Compendious Dictionary of the English Language, which largely followed the definitions in Samuel Johnson’s 1755 Dictionary of the English Language.

Johnson defined migration as “an act of changing place” but did not define migrate or immigrate. Webster did. This is Webster’s 1806 definition of immigrate: “to remove into a country.” It’s similar to his emigrate: “to remove from place to place.” Here’s Webster’s more elaborate, 1928 definition of immigrate: “To remove into a country for the purpose of permanent residence.”

Contrast Webster’s definition with the Oxford English Dictionary’s definition of immigrate as “to come to settle in a country (which is not one’s own); to pass into a new habit or place of residence.” Shumsky calls this definition “more ample in its options and less pointed in its purpose than Webster’s.”

Shumsky doesn’t think Webster took his immigrate‘s tripartite characteristics of crossing international borders, permanency, and residency from any other lexicographer. But other lexicographers certainly took Webster’s definition, as it became an American word. Quoting half a dozen more recent dictionaries, Shumsky shows they have often used Webster’s exact wording.

Read the rest here, including Neil Larry Shumsky’s 2009 piece at The New England Quarterly.

immigration_ship

The National Endowment for the Humanities Funds the Japanese American History Digitization Project

Japanese Americnas

Donald Trump’s current budget proposal will eliminate government funding for the humanities.  This means that local communities and American citizens will need to come up with other ways to fund programs like this:

The Japanese American History Digitization Project at California State University will help us better understand the story of Japanese Americans in the 20th century by digitizing the archives of several collections and placing them on line for researchers.

Here is a description:

The story of the Japanese Americans in the 20th century – their migration to this country, the Alien Land laws under which they lived, their incarceration during World War II, the redress movement – is a complex local and state topic as well as a national subject of great historical impact. The accumulation of archival materials telling these “local” stories has enormous potential for scholarly interpretation and forms a humanities topic of national importance. The California State University System (consisting of 23 campuses, once called “the 1000 mile campus”) and the local CSU archival collections scattered throughout California are too disparate to offer scholars a complete story or easy access. It is not serendipity that so many CSU archives have a great deal of material focused on this issue. Immigration patterns that determined where Japanese Americans (Nikkei) settled also relate to where CSU collections are located. Sacramento, San Jose and Fresno had early Japanese American agricultural populations. The Nikkei populations of Little Tokyo, Gardena and Palos Verdes in Los Angeles County are directly connected to the extent of materials that CSU Dominguez Hills and CSU Fullerton have collected. Grants to digitize and describe these archival collections are beginning to bring these local stories of national significance together for worldwide access.

Learn more here.

 

This is Racism

Here is Chris Cuomo’s interview this morning with Iowa congressman Steve King:

Here is a transcript of the last minute or so:

CUOMO: There are a lot of people teaching hatred in their families who are white, Irish, Italian, who are Muslim. A lot of people preach hate. There’s hate in a lot of different groups. I get you have Muslim extremism that there’s a concern in this country about it. But I asked you something else. These people are either all equal or they are not in your view. A Muslim American, an Italian American, German American like you and your blood, your roots. They are either all equal or they are not in your mind. What is the answer? 

KING: I’d say they’re all created in the image of God and they’re equal in his eyes. If they’re citizens of the United States they’re equal in the eyes of the law. Individuals will contribute differently, not equally to this civilization and society. Certain groups of people will do more from a productive side than other groups of people will. That’s just a statistical fact. 

CUOMO: It’s not as a function of race. It’s a function of opportunity and education. You’re not more likely as a Muslim American to contribute to American society. It’s about your education and your opportunity, not what your blood is. 

KING: Chris? 

CUOMO: Yes. 

KING: It’s the culture, not the blood. If you can go anywhere in the world and adopt these babies and put them into households that were already assimilated in America, those babies will grow up as American as any other baby with as much patriotism and love of country as any other baby. 

It’s not about race. It’s never been about race. In fact the struggles across this planet, we describe them as race, they’re not race. They’re culture based. It’s a clash of culture, not the race. Sometimes that race is used as an identifier. 

This idea that some cultures and races are inferior to others and are thus incapable of making meaningful contributions to American society has a long history in the United States.

Here is Ben Franklin in 1751 writing about the influx of Germans in Pennsylvania:

Those who come hither are generally of the most ignorant Stupid Sort of their own Nation…and as few of the English understand the German Language, and so cannot address them either from the Press or Pulpit, ’tis almost impossible to remove any prejudices they once entertain…Not being used to Liberty, they know not how to make a modest use of it…I remember when they modestly declined intermeddling in our Elections, but now they come in droves, and carry all before them, except in one or two Counties…In short unless the stream of their importation could be turned from this to other colonies, as you very judiciously propose, they will soon so out number us, that all the advantages we have will not in My Opinion be able to preserve our language, and even our Government will become precarious.

Here is King again. This time he is promoting something similar to the racial hierarchies that motivated the 1924 Immigration Restriction Act:

I noticed that King did not include Southern Europeans in his definition of “Western Civilization.”  Yup.  My ancestors have been there.

Italians

1888

Why doesn’t King just take his remarks to their logical conclusion by naming those groups that will be less “productive” members of American society.

Dwight Eisenhower on Refugees

ike

Ike meets with Hungarian refugee family

Dwight Eisenhower to the Congress on Immigration, March 17, 1960.

Here is a taste:

To the Congress of the United States:

I again urge the liberalization of some of our existing restrictions upon immigration.

The strength of this nation may be measured in many ways–military might, industrial productivity, scientific contributions, its system of justice, its freedom from autocracy, the fertility of its land and the prowess of its people. Yet no analytical study can so dramatically demonstrate its position in the world as the simple truth that here, more than any other place, hundreds of thousands of people each year seek to enter and establish their homes and raise their children.

To the extent possible, without dislocating the lives of those already living here, this flow of immigration to this country must be encouraged. These persons who seek entry to this country seek more than a share in our material prosperity. The contributions of successive waves of immigrants show that they do not bring their families to a strange land and learn a new language and a new way of life simply to indulge themselves with comforts. Their real concern is with their children, and as a result those who have struggled for the right of American citizenship have, in countless ways, shown a deep appreciation of its responsibilities. The names of those who make important contributions in the fields of science, law, and almost every other field of endeavor indicate that there has been no period in which the immigrants to this country have not richly rewarded it for its liberality in receiving them.

In the world of today our immigration law badly needs revision.

Ideally, I believe that this could perhaps be accomplished best by leaving immigration policy subject to flexible standards. While I realize that such a departure from the past is unlikely now, a number of bills have already been introduced which contain the elements of such an idea. The time is ripe for their serious consideration so that the framework of a new pattern may begin to evolve.

For immediate action in this session I urge two major acts.

First, we should double the 154,000 quota immigrants that we are presently taking into our country.

Second, we should make special provision for the absorption of many thousands of persons who are refugees without a country as a result of political upheavals and their flight from persecution.

The first proposal would liberalize the quotas for every country and, to an important extent, moderate the features of existing law which operate unfairly in certain areas of the world. In this regard, I recommend the following steps:

1. The removal of the ceiling of 2,000 on quotas within the Asiatic-Pacific triangle;

2. The basing of the over-all limitation on immigration on the 1960 census as soon as it is available in place of that of 1920 which is the present base;

3. The annual acceptance of 1/6 of 1% of our total population;

4. Abandonment of the concept of race and ethnic classifications within our population, at least for the purposes of the increases in quotas I have recommended, by substituting as the base for computation the number of immigrants actually accepted from each area between 1924 and 1959. In other words the increase in the quota for Italy, for example, would not be based upon a percentage of a so-called Italian ethnic group within our country, but upon a percentage of actual immigration from Italy between 1924 and 1959; and

5. The unused quotas of under-subscribed countries should be distributed among over-subscribed countries. This distribution should be in proportion to the quotas of the over-subscribed countries.

My second major proposal is for authorization for the parole into this country of refugees from oppression. They are persons who have been forced to flee from their homes because of persecution or fear of persecution based upon race, religion or political opinions, or they are victims of world political upheaval or national calamity which makes it impossible for them to return to their former homes.

This year has been designated World Refugee Year. The United States and sixty-eight other nations have joined together in an attempt to seek permanent solutions for the problems of these peoples. Nations who in the past have granted entry to the victims of political or religious persecutions have never had cause to regret extending such asylum. These persons with their intellectual idealism and toughness will become worthwhile citizens and will keep this nation strong and respected as a contributor of thought and ideals.

I have asked the Attorney General to submit a draft of legislation to implement the recommendations I have made. The Administration stands ready to supply whatever information is necessary to permit appropriate action by the Congress during its present session. If, notwithstanding my specific recommendations, the Congress should enact other or different liberalizations of our immigration law that are constructive, I will be glad to approve them.

DWIGHT D. EISENHOWER

Quote of the Day

“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!”

-Emma Lazarus, “The New Colossus

The Author’s Corner With R. Scott Hanson

City of GodsR. Scott Hanson is Lecturer in History and Director of the Social Justice Research Academy at the University of Pennsylvania.  This interview is based on his new book City of Gods: Religious Freedom, Immigration, and Pluralism in Flushing, Queens (Fordham University Press, 2016).

JF: What led you to write City of Gods?

RSH: I was completing my M.A. in Religion at Columbia in the Fall of 1993 when I became interested in the intersection of religion and immigration in American history. I was fortunate to find out about the Pluralism Project at Harvard, which sought to map the new religious landscape of America since the Immigration Act of 1965. I began work as a researcher in New York City the next summer, and this research ultimately led me to Queens and the microcosm of world religions Flushing. When I learned that Flushing was founded in 1645 and was considered by locals to be “the birthplace of religious freedom in America” I knew I had stumbled on a topic that I wanted to explore more deeply, and this turned into a dissertation at the University of Chicago which I then spent a long time revising into a book manuscript.

JF: In 2 sentences, what is the argument of City of Gods?

RSH: I argue that the absence of widespread religious violence in a neighborhood with densely concentrated extreme religious diversity suggests that there is no limit to how much pluralism a pluralist society can stand. On the other hand, I also argue that there are in fact some real limits of pluralism when it comes to cooperation and community—spatial limits, social limits, structural limits, and theological limits—and these limits illustrate the challenge of trying to find unity in a pluralist society.

JF: Why do we need to read City of Gods?

RSH: Flushing is an extreme case with a unique history, but there is reason to believe that other communities can learn from it—certainly other dense urban areas with similar recent economic histories and growing new immigrant populations, but similar changes in the religious landscape are likely to develop in many other types of communities across the country, too (in fact, they already are). Indeed, we may be able to glimpse the future of religion and intergroup relations in America by studying Flushing not only because the striking exaggeration of its diversity makes the issues more sharply defined but because the story of the neighborhood and its pioneering colonial history mirrors that of the nation in microcosm.

JF: When and why did you decide to become an American historian?

RSH: I was an English major (American literature) in college, so I’ve always been drawn to stories. But it was when I began a Master’s degree in Religion that I got into American religious history, and eventually immigration/ethnic history, urban history, and American history in general when I started my Ph.D.

JF: What is your next project?

RSH: Since moving to the Philadelphia area in 2002, I have been teaching and writing about the broader history of the Mid-Atlantic region (which includes New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, and Maryland)—an area that was characterized more by religious pluralism than the Puritan Massachusetts Bay Colony and the largely Anglican southern colonies. There are plans to edit a new volume on religious pluralism and region, and I have been exploring the possibility of a documentary film based on City of Gods. In my free time, I have also been working on a screenplay adaptation of Henry David Thoreau’s Walden.

JF: Thanks, Scott!

Angela Merkel and the Future of Christianity In Europe

Mother AngelaI recently asked historian Benjamin Brandenburg to take some of his recent tweets on Brexit and Christianity and write them up for The Way of Improvement Leads Home.  I am glad he agreed to do so.   

Brandenburg is an International Historian at Montreat College in North Carolina. His current project, “Evangelical Empire: Billy Graham’s Good News in the American Century,” investigates the politics of the gospel in the Global North and Global South. He tweets @benbrandenburg. Enjoy! –JF

As the aftershocks of Great Britain’s Brexit vote continue to reverberate across the globe, initial reactions focused on the future of capitalism, world order, and globalization.  The religious dimension was nowhere to be found. Contrary to what is often claimed on this side of the pond, Christianity continues to matter in European politics. When the returns signaled that a fear of immigration tilted the referendum towards Leave, it became obvious that voters had Mutter Angela on their minds. Europe’s current impasse was in no small part launched by the decision of German Chancellor Angela Merkel to invite over one million predominantly Muslim asylum seekers from the Middle East into the heart of the European Union. David Cameron, Britain’s lame duck Prime Minister, admitted as much.

So it is worth taking a deeper look at the ways Merkel’s Immigration Revolution of 2015 reignited Europe’s on-again off-again discussion about Christianity’s role in public life.

Europeans, it seems, have never quite stopped discussing the meaning of Christianity in Europe. Following the Second World War, debates about the future the European system resulted in the political phenomena of Christian Democracy. Harvard historian Samuel Moyn recently argued that this Western European ideology understood Europe to be nothing less than a Christian Civilization. Often misunderstood in the United States, the Christian Democratic movement is perhaps the most important ideological innovation of the postwar period.  With a surprising mixture of pan-Europeanism, Catholic social teaching, and anti-communism, the party took hold in Germany, France, Italy, and the Benelux countries in the immediate aftermath of the war.  When Christianity began to lose its firm grip on postwar society Christian Democrats sought to push the conversation by inviting Billy Graham to the stadiums of Europe. Europeans debated whether America’s most iconic religious export could re-Christianize Cold War Europe. They later used Graham’s satellite TV events as a yardstick for discussing religious pluralism. More recently, the failed attempt at crafting a European Constitution in the early 2000s was dominated by discussions, with an assist by Jürgen Habermas, about whether Europe had an explicit Christian identity.

Enter Angela Merkel. In her eleven years in office, leaders within her conservative CDU (Christian Democratic Union) criticized the mild mannered politician for underemphasizing the “Christian” part of her party and for supporting relativism as she moved the party leftward. Her strongest belief, it appeared, was her effervescent love for Die Mannschaft, Germany’s national soccer team. Still, one can understand her reasoning for broadening the base, her CDU was one of Europe’s few remaining Christian Democratic strongholds.

And then Merkel made a momentous decision that would land her the cover of TIME’s person of the year.

She opened the German borders for Syrian refugees who were in limbo in Hungary. And she has stuck to her plan even as the price tag reached €94 billion. Some called the move a reaction to her upbringing in closed-border East Germany (Merkel’s father was a Lutheran official who earned the nickname “The Red Minister”). Others suggested it was a last ditch effort to save Europe’s borderless Schengen Zone or to bring in low wage labor. Perhaps a more accurate reading is to admit that Merkel attempted to reinvigorate a Christian Democratic understanding of politics on the continent. Merkel is forcing Christians in Europe to choose between her vision of Compassionate Conservatism and the Christian Nationalist vision of Fortress Europe that is cresting in Viktor Orbán’s Hungary, Jarosław Kaczyński’s Poland, and Nigel Farage’s Britain. In response to a question on the Islamisation of Europe, Merkel responded:

We all have the opportunity and the freedom to have our religion, to practice it, and to believe in it. I would like to see more people who have the courage to say ‘I am a Christian believer’. And more people who have the courage to enter into a dialogue with our guests…Fear was never a good adviser. Culture’s that are marked by fear will not conquer their future.

This Wilkommenskutlure should be interpreted as a distinct vision of Christian hospitality. Historians will need to wait for decades to see how this conversation plays out, but it could lead—to borrow a phrase from Robert Wuthnow—to a Restructuring of European Christianity.