This is not a new story. It’s actually quite old. The current anti-immigrant sentiment being levied against those who have Latin American roots is nothing new, only the target has changed. Let us go back to the time before the Civil War, when the Irish diaspora propelled by famine in Ireland, caused a flood of refugees to the United States. The city of Boston alone gained so many Irish immigrants it became a solid third Irish, and was nicknamed “the Dublin of America.” And this spawned a political movement dedicated to eliminating the rights of this group of people and their children. Today, we call this movement the Know-Nothings, but its foundation is the same as the modern-day Tea Party, a reactionary entity not in touch with compassion or reality.
The Know-Nothings and their descendants did everything they could to isolate the Irish. The first attempts to force religion into the U.S. Government came from these efforts, making the reading of Protestant Bibles (Irish were primarily Catholic) mandatory at public functions and in schools.
Then the Irish woke up and realized that, while they had been persecuted, they had also become a sizable voting bloc. They began to force their way into politics and won concessions. Within two generations, anti-Irish sentiment waned but prejudice was not eliminated, with the Chinese moving into position at the top spot… along with Italian, Poles, and any new immigrant group, all of whom became was potential targets. They were labeled as anarchists and communists, always some term to categorize them as anti-government extremists in order to push the hysteria
Now the same attitude – an elitist, entitled rhetoric – is circulating against those who have ancestors from Latin America. The irony is when people of groups previously persecuted, like Bill O’Reilly and Michelle Malkin, jump on this bandwagon, for it was not that long ago they would have had the venom hurled in their faces… just as they throw it at Latinos today.
In the obituary of former House Speaker Tip O’Neill in 1994, the New York Times put this sentiment best:
He said the Democratic programs had created a broad middle class whose members had forgotten the many benefits they had received from government — in education and housing, for example — and wanted to pull up the ladder behind them.
While this was focused on government programs, it applies to immigration, as well. And what is truly ironic is, that as Bill O’Reilly spews his hate-filled, anti-immigrant rhetoric today, those who hail from Latin America will themselves one day be accepted and embraced, and some new group will fill the spot the Know-Nothings will rebrand as their newest target of hate.
Nathaniel Downes is the son of a former state representative of New Hampshire, now living in Seattle Washington.
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