Living in Limbo: Immigration

Text by K. Cecchini

“When has America ever, ever been welcoming to immigrants?!” Bill Maher poised this rhetorical question last week on his HBO show, Real Time.

Couldn’t tell ya, Mr. Maher. Here are a few examples of the immigrant experience gone wrong in the States:

Genocidal Tendencies The first peoples in the Americas likely migrated across the Bering Strait land bridge during an ice age. When the next wave of immigrants began coming ashore from Europe in 1492, genocidal tendencies abounded towards the natives.

Whips & Chains African-Americans were forced to immigrate as slaves up until the mid-1800’s. They were processed as property rather than humans.

“Yellow Peril” Chinese-Americans, although instrumental in developing the Western frontier, were discriminated against with poor pay and abhorrent working conditions. An anti-Chinese movement impeded assimilation while they were criticized for not assimilating. They faced violence and were the first group to be barred by law from immigration: Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882. (“Yellow Peril” was a racial epithet hurled at people of Asian descent.)

Nisei During World War 2, Japanese-American citizens were demonized and corralled into internment camps under the soft term of “relocation”. Many were Nisei, or American born people of Japanese ancestry, and some had even fought for the United States in the first World War.

“No Irish Need Apply” After the economy slowed in the mid-1800’s, the refrain, “No Irish need apply,” was written in employment ads and boldly placed into shop windows. Along with other immigrant groups of the time period, the Irish were blamed for taking American jobs. Sound familiar?

Xenophobia remains a constant in American culture; the faces to fear have just changed. Central Americans are the latest targets; whether they arrive legally or not, they are assumed to be illegal and charged with stealing American jobs, not assimilating and are treated as criminals. Many of these folks carry the same dream, and not much else, like many of our own ancestors – yet many of us seem to lack empathy.

So, while we can debate the prudence of executive actions, perhaps we can at least appreciate the fact that there was an action to roll out a welcome mat. Click here for “7 Questions About the President’s Immigration Plan Answered”.


La Bestia or El Tren de Muerte (Death Train): Freight trains through Mexico on which some US bound migrants move north towards the border.


If you are familiar with any other immigration stories – particularly of mass immigration periods – positive or negative – please add to the comment section.


%d bloggers like this: