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March 20, 2017

A common response I hear, when discussing past waves of immigration into the US, is that those immigrants were different: better mannered, harder working, less violent, quicker to assimilate. All of which is malarkey, the cheery-toned myth-making that comes from a Disney version of history. Italian immigrants included bomb-throwing anarchists. The Irish were responsible for the most violent riot to strike NYC. Those immigrants of yesteryear included many who were desperate and clannish, and some who carried radical political ideas and were prone to violence. The rhetoric and passions against them was not far from what you hear today. Catholicism was viewed as a largely foreign religion incompatible with American democracy. That argument still was common in the 1960s. When you watch Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny speak on immigration, with the nativist Trump standing by, keep in mind that the benefits we enjoy today from immigration past came despite the pains and troubles and needless deaths that those immigrants sometimes caused. There is no group of people that is pure.

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