The media and schools must teach immigration history, so people are aware of their own historical roots and put their feet on the ground. America has always been ran by immigrants.
By Marivir R. Montebon
New York – Just so we know. The first immigrants of the America were white people from Europe who were disgruntled by the Anglican Church and the British monarchy. And they came to the ‘new world’ as families.
These immigrants were English Reform Protestants who came to Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Connecticut in 1608. They left England because they could not take the corruption and excesses of the Roman Catholic Church and thought that the Anglican Church was not reformed enough in terms of its traditions. They were also responsible for the genocide of thousands of native Indians who lived on this vast land.
At first, the separatists (as the immigrants were then called, as they separated from the Anglican Church of England), about 120 of them, migrated to Holland. But their relations with the Dutch eventually became sour, so they decided to sail to the “new world” in order to found a colony.
On board the Mayflower in 1608, the separatists and their families, then later called Puritans by their enemies, arrived in Plymouth in Massachusetts. They eventually scattered and grew in numbers in New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Maine, and Connecticut, collectively called New England in the northeastern region. History has it that the Puritan migration was “overwhelmingly family-based with high literacy rate”.
American Puritanism was a main element in early American life. It was unique, vocal against the corruption of Rome and dissatisfied with the reforms of the Anglican Church. The Puritans were strict about not having to hold business on Sundays, very pious and loyal to spouses, no alcohol, and strict observance of family traditions.
The separatists eventually assimilated and took various forms of religious expressions in the various colonies. In Pennsylvania, the separatists were the Quakers and in Maryland, they were Catholics. In Rhode Island, they were Baptists.
New York was a New Dutch colony (also called New Amsterdam), who were mostly peopled by Calvinists. Meanwhile, Delaware, Virginia, the Carolinas, and Georgia were Episcopalian colonies.
The colonies functioned as one state and religion, in conformity with England which was a monarchy, then ruled by Queen Elizabeth I (1558-1603) who was also the supreme governor the Church of England. At that time, England ruled over France, Spain, Russia, Holland, Arabia, Mexico, Sweden, Japan, China, and India.
Genocide of American Natives
A huge and important aspect in the early history of the US was the genocide of native Americans when the separatists set foot. The Pequot tribe, for example, was massacred, reportedly killing about 700 women and children. They were nearly wiped out in Connecticut as the new settlers came to claim land based on discovery “under the British government”.
The same thing happened to other native tribes as they were pushed out of their lands with the British’s more sophisticated military capability.
The official national traditional Thanksgiving holiday, in fact, is considered a day of mourning for native tribes. With the coming in of the British colonists, they lost their lands and traditions, and had to assimilate or die. As one tribal woman leader and healer had said, ‘America is standing on the graves of my ancestors and on the backs of many slaves.’
The American Revolution
The American Revolution of 1775, also known as the American Revolution and the US War of Independence, was incubated by the British government’s attempts to raise revenues through the Stamp Act of 1765, the 1767 Townsend Tariffs, and the Tea Act of 1773. The 13 colonies resented these tax measures because they were not represented in the Parliament and not accorded equal rights with the British people.
Resistance began in 1770 that led to the massacre of 5 men in what is now called the Boston Massacre. In 1773, Bostonians dressed as Mohawk Indians boarded British ships and dumped 342 chests of tea into the sea. This prompted the British government to increase imperial authority over Massachusetts.
In April 1775, the armed conflict between British troops and colonial militiamen in Lexington and Concord signaled the beginning of the American war for independence.
On July 4, 1776, the 2nd Continental Congress comprising the 13 colonies formally declared independence from Great Britain. It was the period of heightened war.
In the Declaration of Independence, the 13 colonies noted that “the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, impel them to the separation.”
Written by Thomas Jefferson with the committee of five, the Declaration stated: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”
Divide and Rule: Brits with Indian Natives and French with 13 Colonies
The British troops sided with the native Indians in fighting against the 13 colonies, because the natives were holding on to their ancestral lands which were being encroached by the colonists.
In 1778, France joined the revolution on the side of the 13 colonists. The French assistance (then at the time of Napoleon Bonaparte) helped the Continental Army win against the British in Yorktown, Virginia in 1781. The fighting formally ended in 1783.
Great Britain formally recognized the independence of the US in the Treaty of Paris on September 3, 1783 bringing the American Revolution to end after eight years.
In 1789, the American Constitution was drafted, essentially emphasizing on freedoms as an inalienable right, invoking God and Creator as giver of these rights, and not specifically Jesus Christ.
Pres. Washington was inaugurated as the first US President who opted to make his oath of office by placing a Bible on his left hand and saying “So help me God”. These were optional but have become a tradition.
In 1791, the First Amendment was approved, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press, or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”
And so it was, America was born, founded on inalienable rights and freedoms.
An Experiment of the Separation of Church and State
America, or the new world, was a major experiment on the separation of the Church and State. The founding fathers decided that there had to be no official religion in order to avoid the religious skirmishes of the past.
One of the founding fathers, Thomas Paine, a Quaker and heavily educated in France, was a staunch vanguard of the separation of Church and State. To him, churches are human inventions meant to terrify and enslave people and monopolize power and profit.
But the war inside America would not stop with religious tolerance. In 1812, the 2nd War of Independence was fought. The US took on the British in the greatest naval war in its young history as a country. This was under the presidency of James Madison.
The new country negotiated for peace in Ghent (now Belgium) which accorded Britain to leave Canada’s borders alone and abandon efforts to create an Indian state in the Northwest of the US. The US, on the other hand, gave up its demand to end impressment of US naval men to serve British government.
According to historians and leaders of the first nations, only the US and British won in the War in 1812. The native Indians lost their lands to colonist expansionism, when the British dropped support for their claims to ancestral lands. After the war, the US negotiated more than 200 treaties with Indian nations that involved ceding land, 99 of those resulted in the creation of reservations west of the Mississippi River.
The Idea of a Divinely Inspired Democracy and American Exceptionalism
Religious freedom thus thrived in the US and not one denomination was allowed to dominate. Each denomination was a private practice and voluntary.
There was however a creation of a consciousness in America: that God destined the USA for a glorious future. This belief is such that God directed the best of world’s population to migrate to USA.
The American system of democratic government is divinely inspired and best created and that it was the duty of the Americans to spread its values to the world. This national faith was articulated by John O’Sullivan in 1845, when political and economic structures were created in the US, and assimilation of the native Indians was intensely campaigned.
This was the onset of the brand: American Exceptionalism which meant that the American system and way of life was superior than anyone else’s. At this time, the white race had occupied the key decision-making positions in politics and business. Capitalism rose in unprecedented vigor in America.
The Great Immigration Period
As the American economy grew and promises of wealth opportunities were heard all over the world, the Golden Age of the Ellis Island as a gateway to that dream of prosperity and freedom happened between 1892 and 1954.
During this period, immigrants who included the Orthodox Jews, Irish, and Italians (Franciscan missionaries) sailed to New York. There was also the great migration of Africans and Chinese which provided for slave labor for the expanding American economy.
In the west coast, American businessmen employed the Chinese in large numbers for the Gold Rush of California from 1848 to 1855 and to build the Transcontinental Railroad. Because they were known to be hardworking and peaceful and had the reputation of building the Great Wall of China, the Chinese were hired. They 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 because of the discrimination they 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 supplied labor to the Union Pacific and Central Pacific railroads. The two railroads met and were completed in Utah on May 10, 1869. It was the first national project of the US which happened only because of immigrant labor.
Railroad work was tough and laborious. The workers had to deal with harsh weather, death due to detonations of the Earth, and the attacks by the native Indians who opposed the railroad when it disrupted their ancestral lands.
Upon completion of those huge labor projects, the Chinese were no longer allowed entry in the US. The Chinese Exclusion Act 1882 suspended Chinese immigration for 10 years and declared the Chinese as ineligible for naturalization. Chinese workers who were already in the US lobbied against it, citing the law as discriminatory. But they failed.
The statute was renewed for another 10 years and created a sharp decline in Chinese population in the US. The Chinese remained ineligible for citizenship until 1943 when the US and China forged trade and diplomatic relations. Upon the liberalization of immigration of Chinese in 1943, Filipinos and Indians were likewise admitted, but all under a quota system.
Hart-Cellar Era of 1965
The Hart-Cellar Immigration Act of 1965 resulted in the unprecedented numbers of immigrants from Asia, Mexico, Africa, 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.
Asian and Latino populations provided 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 intention of the Hart-Celler Act was to admit immigrants based on education and skills. It was enacted during the Cold War between the US and USSR and limited the influx of Europeans into the US.
The Hart-Cellar Act was a political response to the clamor for America to be cradle for democracy in the world, and an affirmation of the civil rights movement that echoed for racial equality. It may be seen as a rectification of the Chinese Exclusion Act which discriminated against the Chinese despite their contribution to the massive railroad work in the US.
Anti-immigrant Feeling and What We Can Do
The resurgence of anti-immigrant feeling may well have happened during the economic recession in the early 1990s as well as the horrific bombing of the World Trade Center in Sept. 2001.
This feeling of hate and resentment, to me, is brought about by the lack of knowledge of the immigration history of America. One has to simply remember that that first immigrants were the English separatists, who first tried to settle in Holland but were rejected, hence they made their way to America, the new world. They were then called English Puritans, and decided to settle in various places in what is now called USA.
The white immigrants came in by the thousands of families and eventually became part of the socio-cultural and economic life of America. But the immigration story of America did not end there. America did not become a great nation as it is now by the white immigrants alone. Its greatness stands on the hard labor of Black, Asian, and Latino races as well who came here to be part of the economic and cultural fabric of the US.
It therefore makes sense that when someone resentful shouts at you to return to your country, you can shout back and say, hey, only the native Americans (now isolated and dwindling themselves), has the right to tell me that.
In these crucial economic and political times, one has to critically take a look if new immigrants were to blame for the economic and social woes of America.
Firstly, police records show that criminality in the US is perpetuated mostly by natural-born citizens here, and not as much as by immigrants. Secondly, government immigration studies show immigrants enhance economic dynamism because of consumer spending and industrial or economic activities that they do. They contribute to the economy.
Thirdly, it is a false claim propagated by media that the US government could go bankrupt in spending for the illegal immigrants’ health care using the Americans’ taxes. As of now, Medicare and Medicaid do not provide insurance to those who have no SS records (not naturalized citizens or Green Card holders or work visa holders). Fact is, it is a prevalent practice for Latino immigrants to pay cash for their medical check up and medicines.
Finally, legislators should make their due diligence of regulating in-migration, especially labor migration, if population studies show that there is already enough number of people (yes, immigrants) to run this economy.
They should look at the broken immigration law (particularly for example, the expansion of the temporary guest workers program) which right now, continues to admit thousands of non-skilled labor thus flooding the labor market with cheap, disposable labor that are vulnerable to human and labor trafficking.
The American society should supposedly think and act based on scientific facts, not hate or ignorance.
My take is to stop demonizing immigrants. Immigrants have historically made this country great. Legislators simply need to do their due diligence of adopting a rational immigration policy, based on concrete research studies. They cannot continue to overlook this. The media and schools must teach immigration history, so people are aware of their own historical roots and put their feet on the ground. America has always been ran by immigrants.
(Culled from my original essays on World Religions and Religious Conflicts in New York and Global Conflict and the American Experiment; Spring 2017 MA class on World Religions and Global Conflict UTS)