Immigrants, History and Culture

We are all either immigrants or the children of immigrants. Some of us are recent immigrants, within the last few years or decades, and some of our families have been in their current homes (country, state, province, city) for generations and centuries.

I was born in California about fifty miles from where I now live. My wife was born in England and has lived in the U.S. for forty years. Although my mother was born in Minnesota, her parents and some older siblings came from Sweden. My father came from Missouri where his family had lived since at least the 1790s (originally coming from France).

Those of us who live in the United States, and are not descendants of Native Americans, are either immigrants or the descendants of those who came here in the years following the European discovery of the Americas by Columbus’ expeditions in the late 15th and early 16th centuries. Native Americans are also the descendants of immigrants, but immigrants who came here millennia ago.

Some of us came willingly, even eagerly. Some of us came as refugees, forced by circumstance to leave our ancestral homes. Some of us were brought as indentured servants, criminals or slaves. In one form or another people still come to the United States for most, if not all, of these reasons.

The same is true of people and nations all over the world. Australia was colonized by Aborigines from Southeast Asia thousands of years ago, people who left Europe for a brighter future and criminals exported from the British Isles. Refugees have fled Syria and Somalia for Europe and America. Vietnamese fled South Vietnam following the fall of Saigon in 1975. In the 1840s the United States stripped Mexico of one-third of its territory and since then millions from the remaining two-thirds have come here legally and illegally. (Of note to some may be the historical reminder that there were those Americans in 1848 who wanted to annex all of Mexico. Maybe, that would have solved today’s immigration problems?)

The point is that, as we now understand it, all of our ancestors came out of Africa tens of thousands of years ago. Wanderlust, population pressure, and warfare have caused us and our ancestors to be refugees and immigrants time and again. Groups have intermarried and interbred again and again over that span of time–there are no pure nations, races or ethnic groups.

The Egyptians of today are not the Egyptians of Cheops’ or Ramses’ or even Cleopatra’s era. Italians are not Romans; Mexicans are not Aztecs. We are not just the great-grandchildren of the Puritans and the Pilgrims. We are the sum total of all who have come before. Caesar and Constantine might not understand us as individuals, but they would recognize our multi-ethnic society–an amalgamation of people from all over the world creating a culture that would be the envy of the world.

And I have gradually come to understand that it is the culture that is important–not religion, language or race. My great-great-grandparents in pre-Civil War Missouri had quite different feelings about color, race and equality than my father held. Mine are different still. As a society and as individuals we have grown more tolerant and accepting of those whose physical characteristics and beliefs are different from our own.

It is our culture, our belief in the freedom and rights of the individual, that has allowed, and even mandated, this growth.

It did not originate in the tribalism of Africa, the Chinese “Mandate of Heaven,” the god-kings of Egypt. It originated in the city-states of Greece some twenty-five hundred years ago. It was defended at Thermopylae and Marathon and Salamis. It was spread by Alexander and the Caesars. It was rescued by the Renaissance and cemented in political reality by the Magna Carta, the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution (and its amendments).

It is this cultural heritage, brought to western Europe and the Americas by refugees and immigrants that is important. Race, religion, color and language do not, I believe, in the long term, matter.

Our children are marrying people of other races and colors and our grandchildren are a blend. That doesn’t mean we love them less. And, are we not ourselves the product of an ongoing blending tens of thousands of years old?

Let us dispense with the aberrational fears and discriminatory attitudes of previous generations (and our own upbringing) and embrace the diversity that comes with immigration and the changing human landscape. Immigration is not going to stop, and we are not going to deport millions of “illegals” anyway–at least, not without turning ourselves into a police-state that would have Washington and Lincoln spinning in their graves.

Your daughters and sons are already dating, marrying and having children by men and women of other races. Your grandchildren and great-grandchildren may not look like you, but, if you love them, they will love you in return. Indeed, they may love you anyway, despite your intolerance and prejudices.

Remember, it is our culture, not our racial and ethnic composition, that is important–and education is the key. The more people we educate in our schools to believe in the rights of the individual, in freedom of thought and equality, the safer the world will be for ourselves, our children and grandchildren.


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