Joan B., Illinois received this e-mail that states the following:
My wife, Rosemary, wrote a wonderful letter to the editor of the Orange County Register which, of course, was not printed. So I decided to “print” it myself by sending it out on the Internet. Please pass it along if you feel so inclined. Thank you.
Written in response to a series of letters to the editor in the Orange County Register:
So many letter writers have based their arguments on how this land is made up of immigrants. Ernie Lujan for one, suggests we should tear down the Statute of Liberty because the people now in question aren’t being treated the same as those who passed through Ellis Island and other ports of entry. Maybe we should turn to our history books and point out to people like Mr. Lujan why today’s American is not willing to accept this new kind of immigrant any longer.
Back in 1900 when there was a rush from all areas of Europe to come to the United States, people had to get off a ship and stand in a long line in New York and be documented. Some would even get down on their hands and knees and kiss the ground. They made a pledge to uphold the laws and support their new country in good and bad times. They made learning English a primary rule in their new American households and some even changed their names to blend in with their new home. They had waved good bye to their birth place to give their children a new life and did everything in their power to help their children
assimilate into one culture. Nothing was handed to them. No free lunches, no welfare, no labor laws to protect them. All they had were the skills and craftsmanship they had brought with them to trade for a future of prosperity. Most of their children came of age when World War II broke out.
My father fought along side men whose parents had come straight over from Germany, Italy, France and Japan. None of these 1st generation Americans ever gave any thought about what country their parents had come from.
They were Americans fighting Hitler, Mussolini and the Emperor of Japan. They were defending the United States of America as one people. When we liberated France, no one in those villages was looking for the French-American or the German-American or the Irish-American. The people of France saw only Americans. And we carried one flag that represented one country. Not one of those immigrant sons would have thought about picking up another country’s
flag and waving it to represent who they were. It would have been a disgrace to their parents who had sacrificed so much to be here. These immigrants truly knew what it meant to be an American. They stirred the melting pot into one red, white and blue bowl. And here we are in 2006 with a new kind of immigrant who wants the same rights and privileges. Only they want to achieve it by playing with a different set of rules, one that includes the entitlement card and a guarantee of being faithful to their mother country.
I’m sorry, that’s not what being an American is all about. I believe that the immigrants who landed on Ellis Island in the early 1900s deserve better than that for the toil, hard work and sacrifice in raising future generations to create a land that has become a beacon for those legally searching for a better life. I think they would be appalled that they are being used as an example by those waving foreign
And for that suggestion about taking down the Statute of Liberty, it happens to mean a lot to the citizens who are voting on the immigration bill. I wouldn’t start talking about dismantling the United States just yet.
Myth Blaster Verdict: Unverified. (Note: Orange Country Register cannot verify letter, but printed letters are online)
According to Snopes:
“On 31 March 2006, the Orange County (California) Register published several letters to the editor dealing with the subject of the immigration debate. One of those letters, by a reader named Ernie Lujan, was published under a heading of “Tear down lady liberty” and read as follows:
Illegal immigrants have been around since the early 1900’s, except then they entered through Ellis Island in New York City. They came from countries such as Italy, Ireland, Germany, Poland and France. And now we accept them as true Americans.
Now these people whose ancestors came to this country to make a better life for themselves and their children want to build a great wall along the U.S. and Mexico border and deny these hard-working people the same rights that their ancestors fought so hard and died for.
If you build this wall then you must also tear down the great Statue of Liberty that sits in the New York Harbor. Apparently another Register reader penned a rebuttal to some of those immigration debate letters, one which was not published by the newspaper and has instead been ‘printed’ by her husband .”
And as far as the message the e-mail receives – immigration problems existed then, when Ellis Island was operating – it is just that some of the problems were different than today. Building a “wall” or fence is necessary since there isn’t much of any other way to stem the tide of illegal immigration coming across the southern border of the United States. And Snopes adds their input:
However, plenty of immigrants in that same era did not fit that mold, such as those who:
- Resorted to scams, petty theft, and all sorts of other crimes to get by, or simply resumed the same kinds of criminal activities they’d been perpetrating in their homelands, sometimes on large, organized scales (e.g., the Italian mafia, Chinese triads).
- Moved to enclaves or communities in which their original cultures and languages were preserved, obviating the need for them to ever assimiliate into the broader American culture or learn English. (If the immigrants of earlier eras “stirred the melting pot into one red, white and blue bowl,” then who started all the ethnic enclaves, such as Little Germany and Chinatown, found in New York and many other American cities?) Their children (and future generations) were often left to learn English and assimilate as best they could on their own, driven by necessity rather than allegiance to American national ideals.
- Retained their original family names, or changed their names only reluctantly — the latter not to “blend in with their new home,” but to try to escape the prejudices, persecution, and violence typically visited upon members of various national, ethnic, and religious groups in the U.S. (e.g., Catholics, Jews, Irish, Italians).
- Declined to participate in fighting for the U.S. against their home countries in World War I (as did their children in World War II), or even left the U.S. to return home and fight for the other side. (And certainly many first-generation Americans of Japanese descent, who found themselves restricted to internment camps merely due to their ancestry, gave plenty of “thought about what country their parents had come from.”)
- Disdained free lunches, welfare, and labor laws not because they were virtuous and prized self-sufficiency, but because those government programs did not yet exist, either for native-born American citizens or immigrants.
What this piece illustrates is not so much substantive differences between “old immigrants” and “new immigrants,” but rather the truthfulness of the proverb “Plus ca change, plus c’est la meme chose.”