From the Beginning...
Updated: Aug 14, 2018
During the Ice Age 10,000 years ago a land bridge called Beringia formed to connect Asia to what is now Alaska. People were hunters and gatherers meaning that their survival was determined by what animals they could kill for meat, and berries and roots they could scrounge for. Groups of hunters and gatherers from Asia crossed Beringia in pursuit of animals, and they spread throughout North America. A few thousand years later they learned to domesticate animals and grow crops so they no longer had to chase their food, but instead created villages, and even great cities. These ancient people were the first indigenous, or native Americans.
It was not until the late 11th century, and more prodigiously in the 14th and early 15th centuries did Europeans find their way to North America. They brought soldiers, disease, greed, and fear to the native population, and reduced their numbers. As America established itself its military corralled the native people into reservations, and took over much of their land.
In the early 17th century the French and the English came to this country for two purposes: to expand their wealth and power in the new world order, and for the freedom to practice their religion. The notion that this new land offered vast opportunity on many fronts began to proliferate.
As such, the plantations of the South required labor to work the crops. The economy depended on this new system (at least new to this country) of slavery. Africans were taken from their homes against their will to build profit for their “owners,” and the idea of people as property took shape. Racism took hold as a result of many factors, and still exists in a more institutional manner today.
Still, America was viewed as a “land of opportunity” for many, and a land of freedom for most who emigrated here in waves during the 19th and 20th centuries. Whether it was the Irish fleeing famine, or the Italians fleeing poverty; the Jews escaping anti-Semitism in the form of pogroms in eastern Europe or Nazi genocide, or other Europeans coming for economic opportunity; whether southeast Asians fleeing war torn communities, or Chinese seeking work; whether Bosnians-Muslims fleeing genocide, or Latin Americans seeking economic salvation, or any other peoples’ in pursuit of freedom from tyranny, the United States has always been that “beacon of light.”
In 1798, as America prepared for war with France the second president of the United States, John Adams, signed into law the Alien and Sedition Acts. These were four laws that supported the beliefs that the Democratic-Republican criticism of the Federalist policies were disloyal, and a fear that aliens living in this country would sympathize with the French. The laws gave broad powers to the government to deport foreigners, and to make it harder for new immigrants to vote. Fear and anger toward these people spread, and many were at risk of being jailed or deported.
As war with Japan roared in the early 1940s many Japanese, and Japanese-Americans were interned in concentration camps throughout the western United States. The policy to do this was even upheld by the Supreme Court as necessary to protect the safety and security of our country. In 1988, President Reagan signed the Civil Liberties Act, which offered a formal apology, and monetary compensation for this appalling time in our history.
After 9/11 both in this country and worldwide Islamophobia has taken hold even as refugees are fleeing horrific conditions in various parts of the Middle East.
I have heard of people who, when asked about their ethnic roots, will say, I’m American, often with total disregard for where their ancestors actually originated from.
Our country is at a crossroads in this century. Are we a humane society adhering to the tenets of “give us your tired, your poor, your hungry,” or are we putting up walls? We must determine whether we can no longer afford to be what we have represented to the world, or whether we must find a way to continue to do so?