Wednesday, April 12, 2006

They want to be Americans - They are just like us

The biggest political rally in recent memory: More than 1,000 people showed up at the Martin Luther King Jr. Plaza Monday on the immigration issue. Just as the Civil Rights Movement caught up Pensacola then, this one catches Pensacola now.

Already people speak about what “they” want from “us.”

After Ivan, people hailed the presumed Mexicans a Godsend. Not that they were all actually Mexican nationals; if their skin was brown they got the label. Born off the beaches of Santa Rosa County, USA, or Santa Rosa, Peru, no one I know asked to see a Green Card from the people putting our lives back together.

But before long, anti-brown fever began to spread.

You know its symptoms: They walked late night in “gangs” at food stores, startling us. They spoke a language foreign to us; were they talking about us, laughing at us, plotting against us?

They were hard-working dirty, paid with big rolls of cash, and seemed too loud, or too quiet, for us.

We liked the idea they worked for cheap. We didn’t think the contractors were cheap; we thought they were legalized extortionists. But, we said to ourselves, just think what the price would be if they didn’t hire that cheap Mexican labor.

The brown-skinned profile shrank when many headed west, itinerant manual labor in Katrina’s ravaging wake.

But many stayed. Many, many more than many non-Hispanics ever imagined.

When 1,000 gathered in the plaza, it shocked many non-Hispanics. “They” were still here. And they wanted to stay here.

On the intellectualized level of theory and photographic images recalled from youth, immigration doesn’t bother white non-Hispanics. The word conjures up old daguerreotypes of huddled masses -- Italian, Russian, Irish, German, and Slavic, mixed among the other European bloodlines flooding Ellis Island.

But Monday’s rally replaced theory and nostalgia with visible reality. It brought home that these immigrants don’t look like us. They don’t speak like us.

Their real crime is that they don’t fit into the mental pictures of immigrants at Ellis Island whose progeny is us.

The Founding Fathers instructed us about becoming an American. The 1790 Naturalization Act made it crystal clear.

If you were free, white, and male, lived on this side of the border for two years – no matter how you got here, with one year lived in any particular state, territory, or district, didn’t break any laws, and told a court of record you swear allegiance to the US Constitution, you are a bona fide US citizen.

No muss, no fuss, no multi-billion dollar bureaucracies.

The dirty little secret of immigration legislation your congressman won’t confess is the law only changes when they – the immigrants who don’t look like the current us group in power, becomes too visible.

History tells the truth, even if the members of Congress don’t.

The 1798 Naturalization Act increased residency to 14 years. Why? Because the Federalists wanted to keep French and Irish immigrants from becoming citizens. They voted Democratic-Republican. America’s second revolution, the election of 1800, swept it away when Congress repealed it in 1802.

The law didn’t change significantly until 1882. Congress declared they, Chinese in America, were taking the West away from us. The Chinese Exclusion Act’s motivation is self-evident.

Congress passed The Immigration Act of 1917 to protect us from Asiatic and British Indian geographic zones -- unless the immigrant was white. They could come in; they were like us.

Eugenicist Madison Grant’s 1916 book, The Passing of the Great Race promoting northern European superiority maintained through racial hygiene, focused the next two changes.

By 1921, Grant inspired Congress to believe they who threatened us were southern and eastern Europeans. The Emergency Quota Act cut their allowable numbers by 75 percent. The 1924 Immigration Quota Act squeezed them further. If that’s your heritage, be glad your grandfolks got in, before Congress kept them out.

Since World War II, Congress has passed more immigration acts than it did in the entire prior history of America. Each new bill worsens the situation’s downward death spiral.

Dan McFaul, US Rep. Jeff Miller’s brilliant public front man, brought home the issue’s tortured convulsions of corkscrew thinking. We knew they wouldn’t take the Republic away from us because his boss, courageously, “supports legal immigration.”

So who doesn’t? It was a no-brainer embarrassment of a brain-dead position.

He could respect our intelligence enough to say that just like every other immigration fight from the moment our nation was born, this one is about the fear that they will take away our lifestyle and power from us.

There are two lessons here. First, this is the Founding Fathers’ American Dream: After two years, if you abide by our laws and then swear to support our Constitution on the record in open court, you are a bona fide American. They never passed any law making the act of being here, by itself, a crime.

The second is shorter, but incredibly more powerful: The Hispanics in the Plaza are exactly what our Founding Fathers wanted. They want to be Americans.

They are just like us.

Kenneth E. Lamb hosts the news-interview program “Sunday Morning” broadcast on NewsTalk 1370 WCOA, produced in cooperation with the Pensacola News Journal.

Find the entire index of various blogs at his Blogger Profile ( or visit his personal site, for great portal links and his full bio.

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