First generation immigrants. Irish, Italian, Jews, Slavs, and now Mexican.

When asked about my ancestry I simply reply “American”. No one begat their ancestors thus no one deserves either the credit or the blame for what their ancestors did or did not do.

I fully realize that it is a myth that illegals in America are all Mexican. This being a post and not a dissertation the discussion will be limited to Mexicans. I apologize in advance for my omissions. Particular circumstance are different for different races, yet the principles are the same.

As American’s we can either learn from the trials and inhumanities of past generations regardless of what ethnic group one might be associated with, or, we can continue to add to the dark chapters of American history and claim a fair share of the shamelessness of some of our ancestors.

The Irish emigrated chiefly to first escape British oppression and later to escape famine. Their first generation born in America were the first Irish Americans, only 20% surviving birth due to the poor conditions forced upon them by racism and religious persecution. By 1870 St. Patrick’s Day proclaimed all Americans Irish for a day.

The Italian emigration, to every continent on earth, was more “controlled” in America. On Ellis Island, callas deportation of some family members and admittance of others split families never to be united again. The Italian immigrants faced the same racial and religious persecution as their predecessors, the Irish. The first generation Italian Americans suffered the same mortality rates and poverty.

Are Mexicans the new emigrants? The practice of offering employment as migrant farm workers dates back to the later part of the Italian migration, 1920’s. American farmers required cheap labor to harvest fruits and vegetables. If Mexicans could manage to illegally make it to a farm then they could stay hidden by the farmer until the harvest was complete. After the harvest, Mexican migrant farm workers had elude capture on the return trip to Mexico. 

Mexican migrant workers, being illegal, could neither organize for humane living conditions, seek fair wages, nor seek medical care resulting in the same high mortality as suffered by both the Irish and Italian emigrants. Births during this time went undocumented and thus babies of migrant workers were not afforded the same US citizenship that the Irish and Italian emigrant’s children enjoyed.

After several generations of graves marked the trail to and from the border to the farms some of the migrants did manage to stay in America after the harvest and have children in America. The first generation Mexican Americans have been labeled “Anchor Babies”,  a racial slur inferring that they are illegitimate Americans. This parallels the racial slurs  Irish and Italian first generation Americans endured.

Today, many legal Mexican farm workers only intend to be “guest workers”, returning to Mexico after each season. With the recent militarization of the Mexican border, many guest workers have been forced to stay as permanent “illegals” out of fear that they will not be able to return. 

Millions of illegals, being raised in America, have no memory of their country of birth. Many had no knowledge of their status until reaching working age.

America is currently writing yet another dark chapter in our history. As a nation we can recognize that we are all descendants of emigrants of one kind or another. We can treat the new emigrants better than our ancestors were treated. We can also choose to practice the same bigotry and religious persecution that our own ancestors suffered.

Immigration reform is a national moral imperative. How strong is America’s character?

As Walt Whitman wrote:

You, whoever you are!…
All you continentals of Asia, Africa, Europe, Australia, indifferent of place!
All you on the numberless islands of the archipelagoes of the sea!
All you of centuries hence when you listen to me!
All you each and everywhere whom I specify not, but include just the same!
Health to you! good will to you all, from me and America sent!
Each of us is inevitable,
Each of us is limitless—each of us with his or her right upon the earth,
Each of us allow’d the eternal purports of the earth,
Each of us here as divinely as any is here.


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