I know that it is not July 4th anymore, but I promise that I did write and post this on the 4th. WordPress must have deleted it somehow. I do apologize, but I hope that you enjoy it today.
It is the Fourth of July today, and although I typically
avoid doing something because it is somehow absurdly expected of me, I do want
to write about our country. So here goes.
The United States of America is, in my opinion, a wonderful
country. However, she has had her moments of shame. On Independence Day we
typically talk about wars we have fought and slavery. I will not deny that the
era of slavery and every war we’ve experienced have been some of the darkest times
in our history. Slavery and the subsequent segregation/Jim Crow laws have been
the most blatant cases of hypocrisy that America has ever allowed on her
shores. Additionally, many of the wars we have fought in recent history have
been thoroughly controversial, especially when we claim to be fighting for
freedom and end up creating more oppression. However, I really want to remind
everyone of the other, more forgettable moments in American history that came as
a result of humans’ insatiable desire for freedom. Namely, immigration.
(Disclaimer: Please do not assume that I wish to start a
debate about modern immigration. I have no such desire or a sufficient
understanding of politics to enter into such a debate.)
We all know that this country was founded by immigrants, and
by the 1770s, those immigrants considered themselves to be Americans. As
Americans we were no longer British (for a vast number of reasons), therefore
we fought for our freedom from Great Britain. Obviously, we won, and Great
Britain was courteous enough to allow us our freedom. Americans now had the
right to make their own laws and their own taxes and their own mistakes without
a Mother Country standing over them and wagging a finger in their faces. I am
sure this was a glorious time for all patriots. However, less than one hundred
years later, a great irony is beginning.
Great Britain completely controlled Ireland. (I must admit
that I do not feel like citing sources tonight so I will be continuing by using
information entirely from my memory. It may end up relatively vague for this
very reason, but hopefully I will avoid any inaccuracies.) In fact, Ireland had
been tyrannically controlled and oppressed since the 17th century
(at least – Oliver Cromwell’s army had invaded sometime in the 1600s, but there
may very likely have been British/Anglo-Saxon influences for any number of
years prior). Great Britain, being the proper empire that it was, would not
loose her hold on Ireland for any reason, not even the Great Hunger
(approximately from 1845 to 1850). Therefore, millions of Irish fled their
homeland to revel in America’s streets of gold, the only country which had been
strong enough to defeat England. However, the problem with immigrating to
America (for all immigrants, not just the Irish) was the Americans.
By this time, Americans believed themselves to be Americans,
not immigrants. So, immigrants were despised. Americans took advantage of the
immigrants. Crime bosses created elaborate schemes to steal all money and
possessions from immigrants by way of “runners.” (These runners were typically
cold-hearted immigrants who had already crossed the ocean. In the employ of the
crime bosses they would find immigrants who spoke the same mother language and
convince these new immigrants that they [the runners] could take them to nice,
safe lodgings and help them find jobs. It was the best scam around before
Charles Ponzi. You should really look it up.) Furthermore, no self-respecting
American business would offer a job to Irish immigrants. Therefore, the vast
majority of Irish immigrants (and other immigrants as well) found themselves
jobless in the slums of American cities.
What is most heartbreaking is the very fact that these were
countrymen against countrymen, but everyone viewed the struggle as Americans
against Irish, Americans against Germans, etc. The Americans believed they were
superior and viewed the immigrants as intruders.
I’ve been reading lately about the Irish Potato Famine of
the 1840s and the treatment of Irish immigrants. Unfortunately, I haven’t been
terribly surprised by what I have learned. Appalled, but not surprised because
I know how self-serving and power hungry humans can be. Instead, I wonder how a
country that was created in order to relieve oppression and be a safe haven for
those fleeing oppression can cause such terrible oppression (that has become my
favorite word for this post, I suppose). Therefore, I ask you to consider your
own roots, maybe even try to find out how your ancestors came to America, and
then decide why America has been your home. My family has come from Ireland,
England, Germany, Italy, Switzerland, and a couple of Native American tribes.
For them, America was better than where they came from, but I know they
experienced hardships from other Americans. For myself, I resolve on this
Independence Day to be self-sacrificing. I will not take from others for my
personal gain. I will not view others as insubordinate or unfit. I will view
people as individuals worthy of their own independence.