They came to this country because they were desperate. They came to escape impossible living conditions. They took the jobs no one else wanted.
They left everything they owned behind. They left their culture, their customs, their way of living—in order to cast themselves into a foreign culture they didn’t know or understand. They discovered that living conditions in the United States were often more difficult than had been the case at home. At least part of the reason for this was the loss of their extended families and supports they had left behind.
They arrived by the millions. They were met with derision and scorn. They were unwanted in this country. They were perceived as a threat by those already here. Many, many US citizens urged them to ‘go back where you came from.’ Often they thought about doing just that, but they remained, basically because they had nothing to go home to.
Earlier immigrants from their own country resented the recent arrivals. They did everything they could to demonstrate that they were different from the newcomers. In fact, when it came to urging them to go back home, their voices were often the loudest.
The US government passed laws designed to make it harder for them to remain in this country. The reason it did this was because of the perceived threat that the new immigrants would take over this country and reshape it in their own image. Our way of life was seen to be at risk.
This story is not that of the Mexicans. It’s of the Irish who arrived during the potato famine of the 19th century.
As late as 1960, one of the descendants of this population, while running for President, was met with hostility and fear. A question often asked in all seriousness was: in a contest between the Constitution and the Catholic Church which might John Kennedy follow? That question had never been asked of a Protestant candidate.
Of course, we will never know if his assassination was the cause, but the fact remains, today Kennedy is one of our most revered presidents.
Another fact is: although one of them did become president, the millions of Irish who arrived on our shores became Americans—they did not turn America into New Ireland.
Yet another fact: in the 1960's, when people from Viet Nam and Laos were arriving in large numbers, similar complaints and concerns were voiced. Look around--does this country look, culturally, like Viet Nam to you?
Think about these facts when dealing with the immigrants arriving today. And, please remember: they’re only people—trying to live as best they can—just like you and me.