Bullying in a Nation of Immigrants

I originally posted this in 2011. Because of recent events, I’ve updated it.

In my most recent novel for children, the main character, Adelle, is bullied because she’s a German-American. Jingo Fever deals with the issue of “Fear of the Other” during a time of war. Studying history, it’s clear to me that we keep making the same mistakes over and over. War breaks out, so German-Americans are harassed. Japanese-Americans are “relocated” to internment camps and Muslims become a target of abuse.

But the conundrum goes back much farther. Although we are a nation of immigrants, the so-called “nativists,” people who view themselves as being here first, have always resented the newcomers while, at the same time, appreciating their willingness to work for the lowest of wages. On the other hand, during stark economic times, it was feared the newcomers would steal “real American’s” jobs. It was, quite, literally, one thing or another. Immigrants couldn’t win.

And yet, what they have contributed to the fabric of American society is incalculable: Albert Einstein, Andrew Carnegie, Alexander Graham Bell, John Jacob Astor, Levi Strauss… The list goes on and on. If it was the Irish, Italians or Germans in the past, today it is the “brown people” and Muslims who are under suspicion. Often anyone who looks vaguely Hispanic is assumed to be here illegally. Women wearing a hijab are suspected of being terrorists. Bullying is alive and well in America, and not just on the playground.

Fast forward to this year’s Presidential campaign. We have the front-runner in the Republican Party calling for the registration of Muslims. This is an extremely dangerous idea. Yes, the idea was presented to him by a reporter, but he has yet to repudiate it. How any thinking person, who believes in our values, could even think about putting such a plan in place is criminal in itself. What’s troubling is that a recent poll reflects the majority opinion that we should not allow any Syrian refugees into the country. It’s not surprising, looking at our history. As I mentioned above, John Q. Public has never really been in favor of welcoming immigrants.

Let’s hope our “better angels” quickly rise up to shut down any ideas of keeping data bases of anyone, based solely on their religion or the country they are from.  We all know how this worked out for the Jewish population in Germany.

 

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