Thursday, February 02, 2012

are we a nation of immigrants?

the third season of nbc's who do you think you are? starts on february 3. i don't know who thought this show up, but it's a great idea. it's important to remember that immigration has always been a hot topic in this country. someone has always stood at the gate -- not native to this land, of course -- eager to decide who can and can't be a citizen of this country, spouting the kind of hate speech that sounds awfully familiar nowadays.

case in point?

benjamin franklin -- a beloved founding father if there ever was one -- couldn't stand germans. he thought they were too stupid to learn english. (sound familiar?)

here's where he really sticks his foot in it: "Those who come hither are generally of the most ignorant Stupid Sort of their own Nation…and as few of the English understand the German Language, and so cannot address them either from the Press or Pulpit, ’tis almost impossible to remove any prejudices they once entertain…"

he also didn't like their "swarthy complexions" which he felt were an affront to the "purely white people" who originally settled america.

here's another tasty morsel: 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 Language or Customs, any more than they can acquire our Complexion.

what's especially sticky is that anglo saxons are descendants of northern and southern europe because really, everyone invaded the uk. the normans. those swarthy romans! the vikings. everyone. the irony is that before those invasions, germanic people migrated there in the 5th and 6th century. underneath it all, ben franklin is, well, german. but nevermind that -- here's where he really goes whole hog.

"(#24) Which leads me to add one Remark: That the Number of purely white People in the World is proportionably very small. All Africa is black or tawny. Asia chiefly tawny. America (exclusive of the new Comers) wholly so. And in Europe, the Spaniards, Italians, French, Russians and Swedes, are generally of what we call a swarthy Complexion; as are the Germans also, the Saxons only excepted, who with the English, make the principal Body of White People on the Face of the Earth. I could wish their Numbers were increased. And while we are, as I may call it, Scouring our Planet, by clearing America of Woods, and so making this Side of our Globe reflect a brighter Light to the Eyes of Inhabitants in Mars or Venus, why should we in the Sight of Superior Beings, darken its People? why increase the Sons of Africa, by Planting them in America, where we have so fair an Opportunity, by excluding all Blacks and Tawneys, of increasing the lovely White and Red? But perhaps I am partial to the Complexion of my Country, for such Kind of Partiality is natural to Mankind."

in other words, ben franklin thought that america should be a white land for anglo-saxons -- the right kind (according to him, the only kind) of white people.

nice to know that this little butterball -- author, scientist, inventor, musician, political theorist, diplomat, newspaperman and yes, international celebrity -- was also such a virulent and committed racist. i don't get it. he invented the first lending library. he was our first postmaster general. the started the nation's first fire department. he dropped out of school at the age of six so clearly, he was a genius -- and yet, his ignorance was (and still is) nothing short of breathtaking.

here's the kicker that's probably got poor richard spinning in his grave like a whirling dervish right about now: german-americans are roughly 20% of the population. they are the largest group of immigrants in this country. not wasps, not the scotch-irish. and no, not mexicans. germans. something to think about, the next time you wake up and put in your bausch & lomb contact lenses, put on a pair of levis, send your child to kindergarten (where they'll probably read a dr. seuss book) put up your christmas tree and sing o tannenbaum, grab a hamburger or a hot dog (with sauerkraut!), crack open a pabst (or just about any other domestic american beer you can think of) at happy hour, and go see johnny depp, peter dinklage, ben affleck, bruce willis, hillary duff, sandra bullock, leonardo dicaprio or meryl streep and a long, long list of other german-american actors star in their latest flick.

this country isn't a melting pot, with all of us melding into each other to eventually become one beige patch of racially ambiguous wonderment. (ew.) it's a salad, with each individual bringing their own unique flavor to the mix, and hopefully augmenting what's there and somehow making the world a better place. we should all know we are. we should all know our roots -- and be proud of them.

it's nice that the show who do you think you are? is so inclusive of everyone's ancestry. they can't go back to africa enough for me, in part because as the descendants of slaves, much of our records, documents, etc. have been lost or destroyed - if they were ever written down in the first place. for me, those stories are the most compelling because they are the ones that hardly ever get told. this is where a dna test can kick everything into overdrive. ah, technology. your blood will never lie.

that's why anyone that's a member of a registered hate group should be required to take a dna test by law. if they ever found out that they have african ancestry, they would probably implode with disgust. (heh.)

the phrase we are a nation of immigrants gets flung around a lot these days. it makes great copy but is it true? i'm not so sure. here's why.
  • first of all, there were millions of people who were already here -- governing themselves, respecting the land and the animals in it, and living their lives as they saw fit.
  • secondly, the europeans who came to this country initially were not immigrants. they were colonists from the united kingdom and the netherlands. the last time i checked, a colonist (someone who relocates from one british territory to another) is not an immigrant (someone who transplants themselves from one nation to another).
  • last but not least, the africans who came to this country against their will to become slaves -- an estimated 645,000 initially and nearly 4 million by the u.s. census of 1860, over the course of 240 years -- were not immigrants, either. not by a long shot.

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