I was very moved and inspired by Dr. Nash Naam’s recent EDN column, “Should we go back to where we came from?” (July 17, 2019.) It was very well written, sharing his own experiences of being a proud immigrant to the USA.
His response to President Trump’s tweets was very profound, “This is a very divisive comment. We are all Americans. We have equal rights granted to us by our constitution. Thank God the constitution is a very short document. Yet, it is a very powerful document that stood the test of time for 243 years and counting.”
There is a saying that history doesn’t always repeat itself, but it often rhymes. I am finishing a fascinating book “The History of America in 100 Maps,” which traces the country from the 1400s to today. One of the maps shows the enormous influx of poor, uneducated immigrants in the 1840s, primarily from Germany and Ireland. The estimate is that 4 million came from those two countries in the 1840s when the population of the USA in 1850 was only 23 million, so accounted for about 17% of the population. Today that would be the equivalent of 60 million new immigrants, rather than the 10 million estimated to have arrived in the last decade.
Here is a quote from the book:
“German and Irish immigrants faced severe and ugly discrimination in the 1850s. Large concentrations of the Irish in urban areas sparked sharp resistance from native-born whites who feared competition for jobs as well as the influence of Catholicism in a largely Protestant culture. For a few years anti-immigrant sentiment was as powerful a political force as opposition to slavery.”
Teutopolis, where my ancestors settled during that period, was a very closed community, constrained by ethnicity, language and religion. That contrasts greatly from most immigrant communities today. German was the main language for several generations in T-Town. One of the most read newspaper in the county was the Effingham Volksblatt, a German language newspaper started by Adalbert Gravenhorst. From what I could find out, its circulation was about 900 compared to 500 for other local newspapers at the time. It published until sometime during WWI.
My mother and grandmother used to speak about the discrimination that they heard of during that time, against the German immigrants of T-Town. It was something that resonated with Mom and Dad, so much so that they hosted several black guests at our home, who could not stay in hotels in the county, because Effingham at the time was a “Sundown Town,” blacks and other minorities were not allowed in the county after dark. For their kindness, Mom and Dad were harassed with anonymous phone calls and the placing of a “For Sale” sign in their front lawn one morning.
America is great because we are a melting pot, that was willing to take in Catholics, even ones who tended to drink too much beer, and spoke a strange language. Their descendants have turned into some outstanding citizens, just as the descendants of today’s immigrants will do likewise. History does repeat itself, over and over.
One advantage that our ancestors had was that they had presidents who were largely trying to unify the country, trying to make it better. They were not burdened with a president who was urging them to return to where they came from.
Jack Schultz, Effingham