FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Stop Saying This is a Nation of Immigrants!

by ROXANNE DUNBAR-ORTIZ

A nation of immigrants: This is a convenient myth developed as a response to the 1960s movements against colonialism, neocolonialism, and white supremacy. The ruling class and its brain trust offered multiculturalism, diversity, and affirmative action in response to demands for decolonization, justice, reparations, social equality, an end of imperialism, and the rewriting of history — not to be “inclusive” — but to be accurate. What emerged to replace the liberal melting pot idea and the nationalist triumphal interpretation of the “greatest country on earth and in history,” was the “nation of immigrants” story.

By the 1980s, the “waves of immigrants” story even included the indigenous peoples who were so brutally displaced and murdered by settlers and armies, accepting the flawed “Bering Straits” theory of indigenous immigration some 12,000 years ago. Even at that time, the date was known to be wrong, there was evidence of indigenous presence in the Americas as far back as 50,000 years ago, and probably much longer, and entrance by many means across the Pacific and the Atlantic — perhaps, as Vine Deloria jr. put it, footsteps by indigenous Americans to other continents will one day be acknowledged. But, the new official history texts claimed, the indigenous peoples were the “first immigrants.” They were followed, it was said, by immigrants from England and Africans, then by Irish, and then by Chinese, Eastern and Southern Europeans, Russians, Japanese, and Mexicans. There were some objections from African Americans to referring to enslaved Africans hauled across the ocean in chains as “immigrants,” but that has not deterred the “nation of immigrants” chorus.

Misrepresenting the process of European colonization of North America, making everyone an immigrant, serves to preserve the “official story” of a mostly benign and benevolent USA, and to mask the fact that the pre-US independence settlers, were, well, settlers, colonial setters, just as they were in Africa and India, or the Spanish in Central and South America. The United States was founded as a settler state, and an imperialistic one from its inception (“manifest destiny,” of course). The settlers were English, Welsh, Scots, Scots-Irish, and German, not including the huge number of Africans who were not settlers. Another group of Europeans who arrived in the colonies also were not settlers or immigrants: the poor, indentured, convicted, criminalized, kidnapped from the working class (vagabonds and unemployed artificers), as Peter Linebaugh puts it, many of who opted to join indigenous communities.

Only beginning in the 1840s, with the influx of millions of Irish Catholics pushed out of Ireland by British policies, did what might be called “immigration” begin. The Irish were discriminated against cheap labor, not settlers. They were followed by the influx of other workers from Scandinavia, Eastern and Southern Europe, always more Irish, plus Chinese and Japanese, although Asian immigration was soon barred. Immigration laws were not even enacted until 1875 when the US Supreme Court declared the regulation of immigration a federal responsibility. The Immigration Service was established in 1891.

Buried beneath the tons of propaganda — from the landing of the English “pilgrims” (fanatic Protestant Christian evangelicals) to James Fennimore Cooper’s phenomenally popular “Last of the Mohicans” claiming “natural rights” to not only the indigenous peoples territories but also to the territories claimed by other European powers — is the fact that the founding of the United States was a division of the Anglo empire, with the US becoming a parallel empire to Great Britain. From day one, as was specified in the Northwest Ordinance that preceded the US Constitution, the new republic for empire (as Jefferson called the US) envisioned the future shape of what is now the lower 48 states of the US. They drew up rough maps, specifying the first territory to conquer as the “Northwest Territory,” ergo the title of the ordinance. That territory was the Ohio Valley and the Great Lakes region, which was filled with indigenous farming communities.

Once the conquest of the “Northwest Territory” was accomplished through a combination of genocidal military campaigns and bringing in European settlers from the east, and the indigenous peoples moved south and north for protection into other indigenous territories, the republic for empire annexed Spanish Florida where runaway enslaved Africans and remnants of the indigenous communities that had escaped the Ohio carnage fought back during three major wars (Seminole wars) over two decades. In 1828, President Andrew Jackson (who had been a general leading the Seminole wars) pushed through the Indian Removal Act to force all the agricultural indigenous nations of the Southeast, from Georgia to the Mississippi River, to transfer to Oklahoma territory that had been gained through the “Louisiana Purchase” from France.

Anglo settlers with enslaved Africans seized the indigenous agricultural lands for plantation agriculture in the Southern region. Many moved on into the Mexican province of Texas — then came the US military invasion of Mexico in 1846, seizing Mexico City and forcing Mexico to give up its northern half through the 1848 Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo. California, Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, Utah, Texas were then opened to “legal” Anglo settlement, also legalizing those who had already settled illegally, and in Texas by force. The indigenous and the poor Mexican communities in the seized territory, such as the Apache, Navajo, and Comanche, resisted colonization, as they had resisted the Spanish empire, often by force of arms, for the next 40 years. The small class of Hispanic elites welcomed and collaborated with US occupation.

Are “immigrants” the appropriate designation for the indigenous peoples of North America? No.

Are “immigrants” the appropriate designation for enslaved Africans? No.

Are “immigrants” the appropriate designation for the original European settlers? No.

Are “immigrants” the appropriate designation for Mexicans who migrate for work to the United States? No. They are migrant workers crossing a border created by US military force. Many crossing that border now are also from Central America, from the small countries that were ravaged by US military intervention in the 1980s and who also have the right to make demands on the United States.

So, let’s stop saying “this is a nation of immigrants.”

ROXANNE DUNBAR-ORTIZ is a longtime activist, university professor, and writer. In addition to numerous scholarly books and articles she has published two historical memoirs, Red Dirt: Growing Up Okie (Verso, 1997), and Outlaw Woman: A Memoir of the War Years, 1960­1975 (City Lights, 2002). “Red Christmas” is excerpted from her forthcoming book, Blood on the Border: A Memoir of the Contra War, South End Press, October 2005. She can be reached at: rdunbaro@pacbell.net

This essay originally ran on the new Monthly Review website, which we encourage you to bookmark.

 

 

 

Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz is the author of An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States.

Weekend Edition
April 29-31, 2016
Andrew Levine
What is the Democratic Party Good For? Absolutely Nothing
Roberto J. González – David Price
Anthropologists Marshalling History: the American Anthropological Association’s Vote on the Academic Boycott of Israeli Institutions
Robert Jacobs
Hanford, Not Fukushima, is the Big Radiological Threat to the West Coast
Ismael Hossein-Zadeh
US Presidential Election: Beyond Lesser Evilism
Richard Falk
If Obama Visits Hiroshima
Ian Fairlie
Chernobyl’s Ongoing Toll: 40,000 More Cancer Deaths?
Vijay Prashad
Political Violence in Honduras
Margaret Kimberley
Dishonoring Harriet Tubman
Deepak Tripathi
The United States, Britain and the European Union
Eva Golinger
My Country, My Love: a Conversation with Gerardo and Adriana of the Cuban Five
Moshe Adler
May Day: a Trade Agreement to Unite Third World and American Workers
Paul Krane
Where Gun Control Ought to Start: Disarming the Police
Pete Dolack
Verizon Sticks it to its Workers Because $45 Billion isn’t Enough
Pat Williams
FDR in Montana
Dave Marsh
Every Day I Read the Book
David Rosen
Job Satisfaction Under Perpetual Stagnation
John Feffer
Big Oil isn’t Going Down Without a Fight
Murray Dobbin
The Canadian / Saudi Arms Deal: More Than Meets the Eye?
Gary Engler
The Devil Capitalism
Brian Cloughley
Is Washington Preparing for War Against Russia
Manuel E. Yepe
The Big Lies and the Small Lies
Dave Lindorff
The Push to Make Sanders the Green Party’s Candidate
Robert Fantina
Vice Presidents, Candidates and History
Mel Gurtov
Sanctions and Defiance in North Korea
Howard Lisnoff
Still the Litmus Test of Worth
Dean Baker
Big Business and the Overtime Rule: Irrational Complaints
Ulrich Heyden
Crimea as a Paradise for High-Class Tourism?
Ramzy Baroud
Did the Arabs Betray Palestine? – A Schism between the Ruling Classes and the Wider Society
Halyna Mokrushyna
The War on Ukrainian Scientists
Joseph Natoli
Who’s the Better Neoliberal?
Ron Jacobs
The Battle at Big Brown: Joe Allen’s The Package King
Wahid Azal
Class Struggle and Westoxication in Pahlavi Iran: a Review of the Iranian Series ‘Shahrzad’
Alice Donovan
Cyberwarfare: Challenge of Tomorrow
David Crisp
After All These Years, Newspapers Still Needed
Graham Peebles
Hungry and Frightened: Famine in Ethiopia 2016
Robert Koehler
Opening the Closed Political Culture
Missy Comley Beattie
Waves of Nostalgia
Thomas Knapp
The Problem with Donald Trump’s Version of “America First”
Jeffrey St. Clair
Groove on the Tracks: the Magic Left Hand of Red Garland
Ben Debney
Kush Zombies: QELD’s Hat Tip to Old School Hip Hop
Charles R. Larson
Moby Dick on Steroids?
April 28, 2016
Miguel A. Cruz Díaz
Puerto Rico: a Junta By Any Other Name
Alfredo Lopez
Where the Bern is Fizzling: Why Sanders Can’t Win the Support of People of Color
Peter Linebaugh
The Commons and the Centennial of the Easter Rising
Dan Arel
What Next? Can the #Movement4Bernie Accomplish Anything?
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail