Immigrant caravan no different than Europeans coming into America in the 18th and 19th century

Let’s stop fooling around and call a spade a spade. If it were 2,000 Canadians heading south toward Minnesota because of extreme political unrest and/or persecution simply because they didn’t support the government, would the U.S. president be talking about sending 15,000 Army troops to the northern border to repel the invaders, who God forbid, might have someone in their midst who practices Islam and was born in the Middle East? Or would he instead send the Red Cross and government bureaucrats to process the asylum requests?

What’s the difference between the people trying to immigrate from countries to the south of us and those who immigrated from Europe in the 19th and early 20th centuries in staggering numbers? (“Compassion for Caravan,” Oct. 22). Skin color of course. The Europeans came for a variety of reasons but prime among them were: persecution, starvation, fear of the government and inability to scrape a living from the land. In other words, they came seeking sanctuary (read asylum) from systems of governments that oppressed them, exploited them and killed them at will. Sound familiar?


They came with nothing and took the most menial of jobs since they were uneducated and unskilled for the most part. They endured withering discrimination here in this country, were humiliated and called derogatory names. They lived with signs like ‘no Irish need apply’. Sound like the kind of slurs directed at Hispanic Americans?

But they endured just as the Hispanics who are now begging for sanctuary will endure. They worked in fire trap factories just like Hispanics are willing to work at all the jobs native born Americas refuse to take – like crab pickers on the Eastern Shore of Maryland and crop pickers who work in conditions similar to what slaves on plantations endured in the pre-Civil War South.


There is no logical reason to think that the people seeking sanctuary in the early 21st century are different than the ancestors of most present-day native-born Americans of European descent. There is one difference of course. Is it religion? No, they’re Christians for the most part. Is it their lack of education? Obviously not. Is it their inability to speak the primary language of the majority of native-born Americans? Afraid not.

Those European immigrants didn’t speak English. They spoke German, Bohemian, Polish, Yiddish, Italian, Hungarian, Greek, Ukrainian and on and on and on. Did these immigrants ever learn to speak English? Not for the most part. Their children did. Their children were usually bi-lingual although most were more comfortable throughout their entire lives speaking the language their parents spoke at home and among themselves in their ghettos and tenements. Their grandchildren did speak English and probably had no clue as to what their immigrant grandparents were saying. That’s the way assimilation works; it’s a generational process.

To put this in perspective, in 1885 and still in 1910 the population of the United States was 15 percent immigrants. Today it is only 13 percent immigrant. Remember that 25,000,000 people immigrated between approximately 1880 and 1924. And even before that, more than one-half of the populations of both Ireland and Germany immigrated to the United States in the middle of the 19th century. And this country survived and flourished. Imagine! The Germans were fleeing political and religious persecution and extreme unemployment while the Irish were starving, uneducated and doomed to manual labor when they arrived.

It was the central, eastern and southern Europeans who made up the majority of the 25,000,000 immigrants during the late 19th and early 20th centuries – the Czechs, the Poles, the Hungarians, the Ukrainians, the Italians and the Greeks to name just some. These people were for the most part uneducated and unskilled. They had lived under feudal systems of government under the control of the Hapsburg Empire and the Russian Empire. They endured forced military conscription, religious persecution, cultural persecution and discrimination and extreme poverty. Sound familiar? Most of these people were farmers – uneducated and unskilled. These are the ancestors of today’s white America.

These are the people who performed the backbreaking and dangerous labor in steel mills and coal mines. They dug the tunnels, built the bridges, laid the railroad track. They are the forerunners of the Hispanic people who are willing to do the same kind of backbreaking work in 21st century American for the very same reasons as the ancestors of most of us were willing to do – to breathe free, to give their children a better life.

One difference of course. They’re not Canadians. They’re not WASP’s. They’re not even Jewish or Asian. They’re Hispanic. And that for some reason makes them a threat to some.

These people want the same things most of us and our ancestors wanted. Their historic culture is different but so are all of the cultures from Europe that have been absorbed into the fabric of what it means to be an American in the 21st century.

Think long and think hard. This country is the greatest country on earth and it has remained the greatest country on earth because it is not built around a common ethnicity. It is built on a common idea – and it is only because we have welcomed such diverse ethnicities and cultures into this complex fabric that we have NOT grown old and jaded — tired and insular like so much of Europe and the rest of the world. Americans through the centuries have accepted change and because of that we have survived and thrived to an extent never before seen in the history of the world.


Carol N. Shaw, Fork