October 28th is National Immigrants Day (The U.S. Congress formally recognized the date in 1987) and there is a lot to celebrate, as well as a lot to criticize and change. In the opening to the video Immigrants: We Get the Job Done, J.Period says “It’s really astonishing that in a country founded by immigrants, ‘immigrant’ has somehow become a bad word.”
But should it be astonishing? It certainly isn’t new. From the beginning, we have been a country filled with fear, prejudice and discrimination towards “the other.” The colonization of indigenous peoples in North America was brutal and cruel. The 1619 Project traces how slavery, introduced to the British colony of Virginia in 1619, required the racism, fear and hatred that continue to plague our nation.
Fear, prejudice, and discrimination have been visited on each new wave of immigrants as well: A history of American anti-immigrant bias, starting with Benjamin Franklin’s hatred of Germans; When America Despised the Irish: The 19th Century’s Refugee Crisis; The Dark History of the Chinese Exclusion Act; When Italian immigrants were ‘the other’; The Myth of the Melting Pot: America’s Racial and Ethnic Divides.
So, on October 28th we will celebrate the enormous accomplishments of immigrants. But we also will call for an end to cruel and inhumane immigration policies, and for their replacement with policies that treat all people with compassion and honor their human dignity. And we will do this with the clear-eyed understanding that, national mythology notwithstanding, the job is just beginning.