The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA


June 6, 2014

Debra Taczanowsky | Acceptance of others will make us indivisible

JOHNSTOWN — Although formed from immigrants, America has always feared differences. White Europeans, fleeing from their own land, invaded America and slaughtered Native-Americans. The hate crimes are known: massacres, the Trail of Tears, smallpox brought from Europe that decimated the Native-Americans and the stealing of Native-American land.

Yet, the Native-Americans, not the Europeans, are stereotyped as “merciless savages.”  Even the Naturalization Act of 1790 supporting “open immigration” only included  “free white persons” of “good character.” Native-Americans, indentured servants, slaves, free blacks and Asians were excluded.

The 2010 Arizona anti-immigrant law, SB 1070, and others enacted since allow police to unfairly determine citizenship or immigration status based on how “foreigners” look or sound. (The laws are changing slowly after six states copycatted Arizona’s ridiculous edicts.) Latinos, Asian-Americans and others presumed to be foreign are subjected to classification and deportation based on prejudicial “evidence.”

We have seen the limitations of that sort of law with “driving while black.”

Most know of how the brutal middle-passage ships brought African-Americans to this country to work as slaves for hundreds of years. Slave owners separated children from parents and parents from each other. Even after emancipation, blacks were lynched by the thousands, and proud whites sent postcards of black bodies hanging from trees to their friends.

President Thomas Jefferson’s phrase, “all men are created equal,” did not save Italians and their descendants from hatred in the 19th and early 20th centuries.

Viewed as “perpetual foreigners,” Italians were restricted to low-paying jobs.  Congress responded with the biased Emergency Quota Act of 1921 and the Immigration Act of 1924 that restricted Italians and other white ethnic groups.

Also, U.S. Protestants suppressed Catholics (most of whom were Irish) and even burned Catholic churches.  

Surprisingly, though, Catholics, under the direction of Archbishop John Hughes (1880s), were advised “not to respond to the provocations.”  (Martin Luther King Jr. later employed this nonviolent approach during the 1960s.)

In 1890, one mass lynching of 11 Irish-Americans, unjustly accused for the killing of a police chief, met “judge lynch.”

Irish-Americans were stereotyped as monkeys, alcoholics  and “white Negroes.” Written by whites, NINA (No Irish Need Apply) job applications mirrored the African-American discriminatory “no Negroes need apply.”

Although loathing Nazis, NBC-TV and Hollywood continued to portray Poles as stupid and subhuman. We have all heard the joke about the lightbulb. In 2007, Fox aired a controversial Polish slur: “Come on, it’s in your blood, like kielbasa and collaborating with the Nazis.” Fox later apologized.

Mexicans have also suffered their share of abhorrent lynchings and family separations.

In 2011 “at least 5,100 children of undocumented Mexicans were forced into foster care because their parents were detained or deported” (Huffington Post, May 2014).  

In 2016, 15,000 more children will be separated from their parents if the laws do not change. These atrocities are born from historical bias.  

As far back as 1851, Josefa Segovis, accused of killing a white man who broke into her home, was lynched. There was no “stand your ground” law for her.

Immigrants who have worked for low pay have hugely contributed to the American economy. If the United States would mass-deport the entire undocumented population (of 12 million), the cost would be

$285 billion dollars over five years. Taxpayers would be paying more than $20,000 to deport a single individual (American Progress).

Although the Senate, in 2013, approved a 1,200-page bill promising to overhaul the immigration law, staunch Republicans in the House refused to accept the changes.

The bill remained stagnant for more than a year, even though President Obama has tried to sway the House to accept the new bill. (Congressional immigration reform has not changed since 1986 – Washington Post.)

The president, fervid protestors for the bill and, yes, most Americans may not see this too-late immigration reform. Obama’s term will soon end, and Republican House antagonism stupidly continues.

It is in the interest of all of us to allow immigrants to equally contribute as citizens.

Latinos, Arabs, African-Americans, white ethnics and others have been unfairly feared for being different, although we are a nation of immigrants.

Hatred will pull us apart.

Acceptance will make us one.


Debra Taczanowsky of Richland Township is a retired English teacher from the Westmont Hilltop School District.

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