Hating Immigrants Is As American As Apple Pie
Originally published on Slant.
In the night-terror-that-you-can't-wake-up-from that is the 2016 Presidential election, candidates have begun to tout policies (or lack thereof) that focus on keeping "them" out.
“Give me your tired, your poor, but just keep "them" out, OK.
The "them" these candidates are referring to are undocumented immigrants, but they've been called "illegals," "Mexicans," and even "anchor babies."
The Mexican government has been accused of sending rapists. Two men in Massachusetts beat a Mexican homeless man with a metal pipe and urinated on him because,
"Donald Trump was right; all these illegals need to be deported."
What did the man who is leading the GOP have to say about this senseless, depressing criminal act? The son of two immigrants, and the spouse of another two, called his supporters "passionate."
This whole "Make America Great Again" thing is starting to feel a lot less funny, and a lot more terrifying.
Maybe we'll build a huge wall with a big, beautiful door. Maybe we'll beef up border security. Maybe we'll even round up these pesky immigrants one by one, and send them back where they came from. Whatever we do, let's just get them out of here, seems to be the mindset. Maybe we should calm down.
The frontrunner of the Republican party, Donald Trump, has built an entire campaign on "telling it like it is," which seems to be some strange code for fear-mongering.
Other candidates have begun to swing right on the issue, thanks to the validation Trump receives in recent polls. This weekend, Chris Christie announced a plan to track undocumented immigrants the same way FedEx tracks packages. Yeah, that's a thing.
And while it may feel like we've entered in a sad new era of aggressive xenophobia, we've been here before.
In fact, if slavery is America's original sin, then hating immigrants is its broken record.
We love the nostalgia of the melting pot, but we've hated most of the ingredients when they were initially introduced. Latinos are just the newest target of spirited, nauseating nationalism.
Let's take a trip down memory lane and remember a few of the "thems" of the past that "us" Americans have hated.
Remember those friendly peeps who were hanging out, minding their own business when the first settlers showed up with freshly-laundered small pox blankets? You know, NATIVE Americans? Yeah, we hated the shit out of them.
They taught us how to farm and helped us explore new territories, so we gave them the Trail of Tears. It seemed like a fair trade at the time.
While Native Americans weren't technically immigrants (remember, that was actually "us"), the first Americans wasted no time in trying to define "us" and "them." They were like the hipster xenophobes: "we started hating the other before it was cool."
The early American economy flourished mostly due to our extreme hate for Africans. We hated them so much, that we actually forced them to immigrate and work for us for free, in an arrangement we call slavery.
Slaves were property, and property can't be people (although corporations can, but I digress). We pretty much put that issue to bed with the Three-Fifths Clause, having some fun with fractions in order to solidify and legalize our hatred of these human beings.
Not so fun fact: 12 of our Presidents owned slaves during their lifetime, and 8 of them owned slaves while in office. In a way, Africans might not even qualify for us vs. them argument, simply because Americans at the time didn't even give them the courtesy of acknowledging their personhood.
When a devastating potato famine struck Ireland, the Irish began coming to America in droves. While almost all of these immigrants were white, we still hated the crap out of them.
"No Irish Need Apply" signs became so common in storefront windows that shopkeepers began replacing those signs with abbreviated "NINA" signs. Because if we're going to be transparently discriminatory, we can at least be brief about it. We developed and casually used fun/derogatory nicknames for Irish people, like greenhorns and micks, and hated them because many were Roman Catholics (ew) and they drank a lot (not cool, guys).
The Irish might have the dubious honor of being the first group of immigrants to be accused of "stealing our jobs." The jobs most Irish people were able to get early on were often menial and low-paying, which meant most early Irish immigrants lived in squalor.
In 1751, a pamphleteer wrote the following commentary on German immigrants in colonial America:
"Why should the Palatine Boors [Germans] be suffered to swarm into our Settlements, and by herding together establish their Language and Manners to the Exclusion of ours? Why should Pennsylvania, founded by the English, become a Colony of Aliens, who will shortly be so numerous as to Germanize us instead of our Anglifying them, and will never adopt our Languages or Customs, any more than they can acquire our Complexion.”
That was probably just some super-xenophobic dude with a beef against German people, right? It definitely wasn't Benjamin Franklin, right? Oh wait, it was Benjamin Franklin. We got another chance to hate Germans during two world wars. Not just Nazis. Just plain ole, lived in America for generations Germans. Hating Germans: the xenophobia so nice, we did it twice
At the height of the gold rush, many Chinese immigrants headed West to strike it rich and make better lives for themselves. Denis Kearney, an Irish-American, led a movement to expel all Chinese immigrants from the country, mainly because they were accused of driving down wages and taking American jobs. Are you starting to sense a theme here?
The movement actually worked, as the government passed the Chinese Exclusion Act in 1882, which effectively made it impossible for Chinese immigrants to get a job. The law was amended, extending the act to all "ethnic Chinese," regardless of what country they were born in. The law was renewed twice before it was repealed in 1948. You know, over 60 years later.
During World War II, we herded up Japanese-Americans and put them in internment camps. Pretty clear-cut hate.
There were just so many options for why we could decide to hate immigrants who hailed from countries like Poland, Slovakia or Russia. Jews? Hated them. Communists? Hated them. Spoke a different language? Hated them. While we unequivocally hated these people, we did really love a good kielbasa.
Turns out, hating Mexicans and other Latino immigrants is nothing new either. In 1954, the government executed Operation Wetback, which is the actual name of something the government executed and not a joke at all and it's actually serious and real. Over 1 million Mexican laborers were rounded up and deported. Several presidential candidates have proposed doing roughly the same thing in 2015.
Cover photo: Creative Commons