By Marivir R. Montebon
It was a moment of truth I’ve been waiting for. Academic and historical truth that is. I earnestly wanted to see the picture of America’s history so that immigrants who made the US great are being acknowledged. I believe that the more we deny this historical reality, the more haunting the problem of hateful divide becomes. It would be tough for America to sustain its power as a nation, if the people who propel its economic and cultural engines aren’t given justice due them.
On September 8, 2020, the Women’s Immigration and Communications Cafe (WICCAFE) embarked on its first presentation of the Immigration Education Program. Titled The American Immigration Story: From Calvinists and Puritans to Asians, the 35-minute debut was presented by yours truly on the digital zoom conference.
WICCAFE is a nonprofit which launched in September 2019 and registered with the Department of State in NY in July this year. Its members include women immigrants, immigration rights advocates, and women in media, and its platform covers immigration education and entrepreneurial advancement.
In attendance during the IEP presentation were the pioneering members of WICCAFE and some invited guests. Its timeline covered the 1600s – 1965, when the Hart-Cellar Immigration Act was signed by Pres. Lyndon B. Johnson.
Inspired by my MA class on World Religions and Global Conflict, the American Immigration Story used the perspectives of women, religion, and culture in order to see a holistic picture of American history.
The question I wanted addressed by this presentation was – what made America great, how did it become a superior country in the world for such a short time – 244 years as a republic?
The AIS first looked at the land of the First Nations before the Dutch and the English immigrants came to establish their respective colonies, the New Amsterdam (now New York) and New England (now Massachusetts). https://youtu.be/S8V3bs7KZsU
Then it moved to the history of New Amsterdam starting from the sighting made by Englishman Henry Hudson on what is now Manhattan. https://youtu.be/naeUJQC9IQg
It tackled the first wave of English immigrants – the separatists, including Puritans, Quakers, Catholics, Calvinists, and many others – into New England. This was marred by Indian wars and the natives’ eventual dislocation and erasure as well as Black slavery. Unapologetically, AIS pointed out that the New World came about at the expense of the natives of America and through the slavery of the people from Africa. https://youtu.be/OXo-9dhiOY8
It is also important to note that the separatists who came to the New World came in as families. They were known to be highly religious and intelligent who wanted to escape religious persecution from Europe.
The AIS also delved into the emergence of women leaders and the oppression of women (as opposed to the equal position of women in the First Nations) as brought about by the Christian religious ideology. https://youtu.be/WxJdGWCT_tw
It also tackled the history of the women’s movement for civil rights to suffrage, education, and property ownership that eventually merged with the Civil War and the years thereafter.
The history of the Filipino in diaspora also tackled in the AIS, starting with the early Filipinos who settled in Louisiana.
The major wars on American Independence, Civil War, the Spanish – American War, World War 1 and 2 were tackled in AIS as having affirmed the supremacy of the US as the new superpower in the world, owing to its military advancement. https://youtu.be/0-ewaxLiLTE
The AIS looked at the immigration history of the US as having contributed to its formidable power. While an army of soldiers was needed to boost its military might, it also needed an army of farm workers and laborers for its economy.
AIS cited the immigration of Chinese laborers through the Burlingame Act when America needed workers for the construction of the first transcontinental railroad that linked the east and the west coast. Years after completion, the US passed a Chinese Exclusion Act that lasted for 20 years. It was the first legislation that discriminated against a particular race.
AIS mentioned the deployment of hoards of Filipinos in the 1900s to do hard work as farm workers in the plantations of Hawaii and California. In the same manner, Mexicans were allowed into America for farm labor through the La Bracera Program. During the Great Depression, repatriation measures were used to send back Filipinos and Mexicans back to their home countries.
The AIS ended in the 1965 Hart-Cellar Immigration Act which lifted the quota of non-white immigrants into its shores. It was a recognition of the moral responsibility to reunite families. It also was to continuously respond to the huge demand of the labor force for the economy.
This legislation ushered the quantifiable increase in the number of immigrants from Asia and Latino countries. Today, Mexicans make up the largest immigration group, followed by the Chinese, Indians, and Filipinos, and these ethnic groups continue to grow. https://youtu.be/7L-hr24zIWU
So what awaits America under the era of Trump? Should Trump worry about the surge of non-white immigrants? Can he change the course of immigration history? Should racism continue to haunt us or should multiculturalism transform America?
I posed these questions to the WICCAFE guests. And guess what? Their insights were so deep and extensive, our conversation took longer than the presentation itself.
Immigration lawyer Atty. Licelle Cobrador appreciated the inclusion of the First Nations, particularly the equality of the cultures of the tribes and the unheard participation of women in America’s history – citing religious leader Ann Hutchinson as an example.
Teacher Ronie Mataquel lamented the fact that the Trump administration has made it tough for immigrants to get a Green Card. His father, for instance, needed to prove in his application that he is capable of supporting himself when he becomes a legal permanent resident. In the past years, there was no such requirement from the USCIS.
WICCAFE will embark on an improved production of the AIS. For now, I am mainly after ensuring that the whole picture of the American immigration history is seen and that no race has been forgotten.#