Times may change, but people rarely do. I have in mind the custom of immigrant bashing. Several thousand years ago the Israelites were told, “you shall not oppress or afflict a resident alien, for you were once aliens residing in the land of Egypt.” This passage is part of the Covenant Code, one of the most ancient collections of law in the Hebrew Scriptures.
What this tells us is that fear and suspicion of “the others” and subsequent attempts to subjugate or exclude them are nothing new. We Catholics might well be reminded that we “we’re once aliens residing in the land” — not of Egypt but of America. The English penal laws applied in the colonies. Catholics could not hold office, had to pay double taxes and could not worship publicly. Campaigns to mark Catholics as subversive were waged by the Know Nothings and the Ku Klux Klan, who maintained that Catholicism was antipathetic to American democracy.
Religion, however, was not the only trigger of immigrant bashing. Nativism, based on protecting American values and traditions from being “mongrelized” by immigrants who were considered inferior mentally and culturally, also was prevalent. Thus draconian anti-immigration laws were enacted against the Chinese. Irish, German, Italian and Eastern European immigrants were vilified as sub-human, ne’er-do-wells and drunkards incapable of productive citizenship. They were considered threats to the well-being of the nation. Among the outspoken nativists were Mark Train, Walt Whitman and Samuel F. B. Morse.
Of course, we are an immigrant nation and those whose parents and grandparents were reviled by Nativists are now our legislators, judges, scientists, academics … and politicians. The ghost of Nativism again prowls our land. The vilifiers and the vilified are different, but the script is the same.
Times may change, but people rarely do.
Image Credit: New York Times ad, 1854 stating “No Irish need apply.” (Wikimedia Commons)
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