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Immigrants All

“We are come to rest and push our roots more deeply by the year.
But we cannot push away the heritage
of having been once all strangers in the land;
we cannot forget the experience of having been all rootless, adrift.
Building our own nests now in our tiredness of the transient,
we will not deny our past as a people in motion
and will find still a place in our lives for the values of flight.

This is from historian Oscar Handlin’s Pulitzer Prize-winning book, The Uprooted, a deeply researched and deeply felt book that chronicles “the great migration that made the American People,” Handlin was born in Brooklyn to Russian immigrant parents, went to Brooklyn College and then Harvard, where he became a professor.

At this moment of purposeful ignorance about our history as a country of immigrants, at this moment of fear of the other, it is important to remember that, once, we were all “The Other.”

Between 1880 and 1920, 23 million immigrants arrived in the US. They were fleeing crop failures and famine, political and religious persecution, war. Between 1525 and 1866, 12.5 million Africans were stolen from their homes and shipped to the New World. We were once all strangers in this land.

After World War II, the European refugee crisis was all consuming. This is how President Truman responded: “I urge the Congress to turn its attention to this world problem in an effort to find ways whereby we can fulfill our responsibilities to these thousands of homeless and suffering refugees of all faiths.”

The photo is of my paternal grandparents, European refugees who came through Ellis Island in the early years of the 20th century.


1 Cheryl { 10.31.18 at 6:10 pm }

Even with the indigenous people (my ancestors), each tribe was an “other” to one another. I believe that the vitriol pointed towards any faction of “other,” whether it be race, gender, culture, class, or eyeball color…is a cover for deeply rooted feelings of fear. Hate is the weapon it wields.

2 Lauren { 10.31.18 at 10:32 pm }

There are countless ways to make other people “The Other,” aren’t there? And you are so right: Hate is the instrument of fear. And so the big question is: What are we so afraid of? What is so damned threatening about vibrant diversity?

3 Richard Greene { 11.01.18 at 3:12 pm }

These things were so obvious back in Brooklyn. The “bowling alone” direction the USA has taken makes it easier for the rhetoric of us vrs them to take hold.
I reflected after last night how trick or treat is one of the few times children are allowed to interact with strangers without fear (although the one little pixie grabbed her candy from me and ran fast as she could).

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