My grandmothers were immigrants to this country. They brought my parents here as children. Funny enough, my parents were from the same city in the Dominican Republic but they didn’t meet until they were in high school together in Washington Heights.
I didn’t get to spend too much time with my father’s mother but my mother’s mother has always been a hard worker. She came here not knowing the language but very quickly, she put herself to work doing whatever she could: everything from factory work to hair dressing to working with the elderly. She’s gone through so many moves and career changes, it’s really quite incredible and kind of terrifying to someone on the outside looking in. I don’t think I’ll ever be that flexible.
No, my grandmother’s English isn’t great but despite this, she managed to raise children who were fluent in the language, who went to top colleges and landed great careers. Save for my mother whose career options I believe were seriously hampered by having to drop out of college to take care of me and from dealing with a lifetime of chronic mental illness, all of my grandmother’s children, whether they were born here or not, are true-blue Americans.
There’s something I find really disturbing about the stuff I read people are writing about “illegal aliens.” No, my family came here legally but I can sympathize with why people are willing to risk everything–life, limb, security—to come to America. But too often while I’m reading about illegal immigration, I find that the conversation turns too quickly into anti-immigrant rhetoric that doesn’t distinguish between those who come here legally and those who don’t.
People seem most disturbingly obsessed with taking away birthright citizenship and I can’t see how if that happened, it would be too far a jump to take away the rights of legal immigrants like my parents who were legal residents when they had children here who became first-generation Americans at birth. Like me. Does anyone remember that the founding fathers were immigrants themselves? Was that just over emphasized in my education?
People just want to stop “those Mexicans” from stealing their jobs! (Usually, those jobs they don’t want!) They want “those Mexicans” to stop procreating more than whites! And if you think it’s just white Republicans who are angry about “those Mexicans,” apparently you’re wrong. Working class blacks fear that “those Mexicans” are stealing their jobs, too. Hate crimes against Hispanics have escalated since Obama became president because of these stories people tell themselves when the economy downward spirals and the demographics of the country begin to change.
A friend sent me a very controversial documentary by a man who seems to be nothing more than white nationalist—the kinder, gentler word for white supremacist. He thought the video would teach me something about racism. Well, it didn’t teach me anything I didn’t already know. It just made me sad and angry that someone I call a friend would send me something like that. Instead, I ended up on the website of a black professor who had given the film a good review. On her website, I found this:
“Moreover, immigrant-supporters do themselves and their country a disfavor when they fail to consider all aspects of the problem and the national obligations to historically disadvantaged groups such as Native Americans and African Americans, and poor whites who struggle to get ahead in sometimes adverse circumstances. Further disservice emerges when groups are encouraged to cling to group identities, old-world languages, and cultural practices condemned by “civilized” society. A better tactic would include encouraging immigrants to become fully American by learning the language and the history of the host nation where most will be embraced with open arms.”
It’s people like this that are the reason that America really isn’t a melting pot. We don’t love multiculturalism no matter how much we pretend to celebrate it. We don’t want people to blend. What we really want is everyone to be like everyone else: guns, hotdogs, hamburgers, blue jeans and Jesus! America is hell-bent on making sure everyone assimilates to American culture at the expense of their native cultures.
Forget being bilingual or even multilingual as many folks in European countries are. In elementary school, they told our parents that speaking to us in anything but English would make us dumb and by college, they were telling us that being bilingual would get us better jobs. Huh?
Sure, it’s okay for white people to teach their white children Chinese but for Spanish people to continue speaking Spanish? No way. When you hear even children of Israeli immigrants talking about how “those Mexicans” need to learn English, I worry. Sometimes, I forget that many whites and blacks don’t remember immigrating here (or in some cases being forced here) so they can’t fathom the nuances of the immigrant experience. Sometimes I forget that other things, like racism and religion, cut between people who should otherwise hang together because of almost glaring commonalities.
I remember vividly when a couple of Hispanics got together a couple of years back and did a lovely rendition in Spanish of the national anthem. The Jews at the Shabbos table that week were pretty freaked out about it. “They’re trying to take over! Those people need to learn English! This is America! We speak English in America!” Obviously their English was good enough that they could translate the song into Spanish. So, I asked them, these American Jews, how they would feel if people forced them to stop speaking Hebrew, to stop being Jewish because it takes away from them being fully American. How would that feel?
Well, folks, we know how that turned out for some people. When American Jews came here, they didn’t have the “choice” of not working on Saturdays. There wasn’t a kosher restaurant at every corner. Many forced themselves to cut all ties to Eastern European culture in an effort to assimilate into American culture and that is just one of the many reasons why we have so many Jews who know more about Christianity than Judaism. Arguable American Jews are in a good place now but at what cost when so many have forgotten where they came from?
As for pitting poor immigrants (they’re not just from Mexico, they’re white, black and other) against poor whites, poor blacks and even in this quote, poor Native Americans, I think it’s just sad. So sad. And I can’t help thinking that someone out there believes that if they turn us all against each other then we’ll just kill each other and they’ll be done with us.
Read: “Becoming Americans: Four Centuries of Immigrant Writing” by Mexican-American Jewish editor Ilan Stavans
Also check out: “ARE YOU AN AUTHENTIC AMERICAN?”