>Immigrants – Western Tribune column July 1 2009

>Once again I get to add photos to my Western Tribune column for effect. Whatcha think?

One cannot approach the Statue of Liberty and look up at her endless gaze across the sea without trying to put oneself in the place of the thousands of immigrants that made that same approach a century ago. “From her beacon-hand Glows world-wide welcome” the famous poem by Emma Lazurus says.

Forty percent of Americans can trace their ancestry to Ellis Island which was the first stop those immigrants made when coming to our country. The rest of us, unless we are 100% Native American, also have immigrant roots.

There is no hard line rhetoric against the descendants of the European immigrants today. That tone is reserved for the immigrants who come not across the sea, but across the desert.

Yet those of Hispanic origin who enter our country today do so for the same reasons and suffer similar hardship as those who came seeking a better life so long ago. No one can blame them for that.

The fears surrounding the immigration debate are unfounded. One of those fears is about language, but a look at New York City’s history dispels that fear.

New York City began as a Dutch colony; New Amsterdam. Presumably, the language spoken was Dutch. After the English gained control, at some point, the principal language became English. However, when Chinese immigrants populated an area, they retained their language, which is still evident as one walks through Chinatown where all the signs are written in Chinese.

The mother of a friend of mine has lived in New York City for decades yet still speaks only Italian. In other words, people do just fine when exposed to an additional language in their culture.

Yet in Albertville and other cities people are up in arms because Hispanic business owners want to have storefront signs in Spanish.

These silly debates about language are an expression of the prejudice that some people have against people who are different. For those people, I offer a challenge.

Travel to New York, get on the ferry and visit Liberty Island and Ellis Island. Develop a little empathy by learning about the history of immigration and imagine that the many languages you hear from fellow tourists represent the many origins of immigrants that make up our ancestors.

Then imagine where you would be today if your immigrant ancestors had been turned away.

You might not be so quick to condemn today’s immigrants.

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