Hopefully, Knowledge of the Past Sets in to Banish Hatred
By Marivir R. Montebon
As I was watching the 20-minute documentary of the racial riots in Charlottesville this week, it dawned on me that such seething hatefulness could be a result of a historical misinformation. Why are these “Alt-right” millennials stuck in defending the Confederates statues when clearly the southern states had lost in the 1865 civil war? Why they are dreadfully advocating for a “peaceful ethnic cleansing”? How backward and scary could that get?
I thought we should go back to America’s history and by so-doing, it may curb the empty arrogance of ‘white supremacists’. In the past semester, I had done a historical essay for my masteral class on World Religions and Global Conflict, which forms a great part of this article. I thank Prof. Robert Brown for an exciting and invigorating class at the UTS. I learned the finer details of the history of America (and New York) and how all races played up in making it robust and great.
With the racial chaos going on right now, I thought it would be best for us to go back in time when America, then referred to as the new world, and appreciate how it rose to be the most powerful nation on earth, because of immigrants.
Not to be erased in American history is the genocide of thousands of native Americans, who because they were inferior in fire power, lost their lives and lands to the new settlers from Great Britain and Europe. Today, we see vestiges of native American tribes in settlement areas in various states. They were the first casualties of American glory.
As a people, we ought to acknowledge that bloody part in history. A national apology would be prompt, and putting the truth on genocide in the curriculum of schools, to help keep us level-headed and humble at all times. As Patricia Ann Davis, peace advocate and leader of the tribe Choctaw-Navajo, said to me sometime in 2013, America is standing on our graves, native Americans. “Healing has to start from acknowledging we were the first to be erased on this land.”
The Era of Great Immigration for Labor
Between 1892 and 1954, the American economy grew rapidly with the vast capital of businesses from Europe which sought to establish a new world. America became the new land of milk and honey and everyone in the world coveted that “American dream” to taste freedom and prosperity.
In truth, America was in need of people to propel its industrial progress. Big capitalists from Europe, fleeing from monarchic and military persecution, wanted to establish a free world. Hence, the architects and the founding fathers welcomed people from Europe and everywhere else to be able to build up its colossal capitalist economy.
New York, for one, was under the Dutch regime, and financed by the Dutch East India Company which instructed Gov. Peter Stuyvesant to be tolerant of all religions and focus on the economic advancement of New Amsterdam (the old name of New York).
The late 1890s to post-World War II was also called the Golden Age of the Ellis Island where immigrants, including Orthodox Jews, Irish, and Italians (Franciscan missionaries), disembarked and chartered a new life in New York. There was also the great migration of Africans and Chinese which provided for labor for the expanding American economy.
Great Contributors but Disposable Labor
In the west coast, American businessmen employed the Chinese in large numbers for the Gold Rush of California from 1848 to 1855. They were also the main force that built the Transcontinental Railroad.
Because the Chinese were known to be hardworking and peaceful and had the astounding reputation of building the Great Wall of China, they were prioritized for hiring. The Chinese comprised 80% of the entire workforce of the railroad project which began in 1868.
A study by Harvard School noted that the Chinese dedication to the Central Pacific was truly impressive despite the discrimination they had experienced. They were not given full citizenship and were required to pay taxes by California. They were paid only $28 a month compared to the $35 a month pay to Irish laborers for the same work. The Irish and Mormons labored for the Union Pacific and Central Pacific railroads.
On May 10, 1869, the two railroads met and were completed in Utah. It was the first national project of the US which happened only because of immigrant labor, mainly of the Chinese, and secondarily by the Irish and Mormons.
Railroad work was tough and laborious. The workers had to deal with harsh weather, death due to detonations, and the attacks by the native Indians who opposed the railroad when it disrupted their ancestral lands.
Upon completion of the railroads that connected the East and West coasts, the Chinese were no longer needed. Hence, they were barred entry to the US. But a lasting vestige of the railroad construction era was the sprouting of “Chinatowns” all over America. The US Congress passed the Chinese Exclusion Act 1882 which suspended Chinese immigration for 10 years and declared the Chinese as ineligible for naturalization.
Chinese workers, who were in the US, actively campaigned against the law, arguing that it was discriminatory. But they failed. The statute was renewed for another 10 years and created a sharp decline in Chinese population in the US.
In a similar fashion, the Filipinos were also discriminated against. Hotels, restaurants in the West coast bore signs saying ‘positively no Filipinos allowed.’
The Chinese remained ineligible for citizenship until 1943 when the US and China forged trade and diplomatic relations. Upon the liberalization of immigration of the Chinese in 1943, Filipinos and Indians were likewise admitted, under a quota system.
Hart-Cellar Era of 1965
In 1965, the once European-dominated Flushing gradually became an Asian enclave with the passage of the Hart-Cellar Immigration Act. The Europeans, who had higher economic standing, moved to live on the outskirts of Long Island.
The Hart-Cellar Immigration Act of 1965 resulted in the unprecedented influx of immigrants from Asia, Mexico, Latin America, and other non-Western countries. By the end of the 20th century, Asians comprised the population by 16% and Europeans shrank to 6 percent.
From 1965 to 2000, Mexicans comprised the highest no. of immigrants at 4.3 million, followed by 1.4 million from the Philippines. Korea, the Dominican Republic, India, and Cuba were also leading sources of immigrants.
Just like the influx of Chinese workers that constructed the coast to coast railroads of the US, the influx of Asian and Latino populations was meant to provide massive labor to the growing industries of the US, particularly its farms, schools, hotel and entertainment industries, health care, and other service and industrial sectors.
The Hart-Celler Act intended to admit immigrants based on education and skills. But while being cooked up in the halls of Congress, it focused on family-based immigration as a political response to the clamor for America to be the cradle for democracy in the world, at the time of the Cold War between the US and USSR.
The Hart-Cellar Act was also an affirmation of the civil rights movement that echoed for racial equality, that like European immigrants who came in as families, non-Europeans could likewise do the same.
The economic recession in the early 1990s as well as the horrific bombings of the World Trade Center in Sept. 2001 brought about the resurgence of anti-immigrant feeling.
Pres. Donald Trump was “traumatized” by the Hart-Cellar Immigration Act which brought in millions of immigrants and wants to “make America great again” inthe heydays of the 1950s, before the Civil rights movement.
At this time of economic recovery, I believe it’s easy to demonize immigrants as having burdened the economy of the US which is absolutely untrue. Firstly, police records show that criminality in the US is perpetuated more by natural-born citizens than by immigrants.
Secondly, immigrants enhance economic dynamism because they are the workforce of the industries and make up for the chunk of consumer spending in the society. They contribute to a vibrant economy.
Thirdly, it is a misnomer to say that the US government could go bankrupt in spending for the “undocumented” immigrants’ health care while the others work their backs away. Medicare and Medicaid had always provided insurance coverage only to those who are naturalized US citizens, Green Card holders, and work visa holders. An undocumented immigrant does not have government health insurance and pays for his/her health needs from his/her own pocket.
Pres. Trump should not worry about the influx of immigrants, but instead embrace diversity and the good contributions of people to the economy and culture of the American society. People are the best resource and greatest wealth of a country. At the very least, they spur economic activity, from production to spending.
What would “make America great again” as per the Trump rhetoric is to instead boost local economy and clean technologies by supporting small and medium businesses, rationalizing health care (and not politicizing it), a sound tax system, continued religious freedoms, diplomatic promotion of peace and justice, while continuing to be strict in enforcing public safety.
Since America was founded more than 200 years ago, the toiling people from all races have contributed to its greatness, not just the white race. Everyone has to be acknowledged, just as all religions have to be allowed to thrive. The religion of respect and justice must prevail in modern day America. Greatness is founded on social ethics and values, not of greed and ignorance.