With Fresh Eyes

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by Rich Nelson

Immigrant roots

I am proud of my Swedish roots.  My paternal grandmother came to this country from Sweden in 1911, traveling alone to settle with relatives in the Bluffton neighborhood of Muskegon.  She first found her way to Southampton, England where on September 23, 1911 (a year before the Titanic sailed on her maiden voyage out of the same port), she boarded the passenger ship S/S St. Louis and arrived in New York, through Ellis Island, on October 1.  After settling into Bluffton, a haven for Scandinavian immigrants, my grandmother met her husband, also a Swedish immigrant, and they married in 1912.  My father, their first child, was born in 1913.  My grandfather, who played baseball with the Vaudeville families (including Buster Keaton) in Bluffton during those summer months of the early 1900’s, became a successful businessman in Muskegon.  My grandmother, who arrived in this country with limited work skills and no advanced education, tended their home and three children with great care and pride, and immersed herself in community and church activities.

Such immigrant success stories abound in this country.  However, they are not limited to certain regions, such as Europe, or countries, such as Sweden (or Norway).  That is why the recent remarks on immigration by the President are so appalling, inexcusable, and, yes, racist.  Trump’s profane comments directed at the African continent and Haiti reflect the true nature of a man completely ignorant of the fact that this country was built by the muscle and sweat of immigrants (many of them forced immigrants) from all races and all parts of the world.  And this country continues to grow and prosper as a result of new immigrants from all regions making positive contributions every day.  “Why do we want all these people here?” and “We should have more people from Norway” confirm Trump’s ignorance and intolerance.

According to a January 12, 2018, article by Ann M. Simmons in The Los Angeles Times, 41% of immigrants from sub-Saharan Africa have earned Bachelor’s degrees, compared to 30% of all immigrants, and 32% of the U.S.-born population.  16% of these degreed immigrants from African nations have gone on to earn a medical, law, master’s or doctorate degree.  Data shows that African immigrants make a significant contribution to the U.S. economy, annually contributing 40.3 billion in spending power, 10.1 billion in federal taxes, and 4.7 billion in state and local taxes.  And to dispel the idea that immigrants take away jobs from American workers, a 2017 report by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine found that “immigrants had little to no negative effect on overall wages or employment levels for U.S.-born workers.”

Such facts debunk the claim Trump has often heralded that “They are not sending us their best people.”  A January 12 article in Bloomberg View states, “It is well known that African immigration outcomes in terms of education, starting new businesses, safety and assimilation are quite positive.”  There has been a vigorous, negative response by some in recent years to the changing demographics in this country, a change often referred to as the “browning of America.”  Whether in the form of a white supremacist march in Charlottesville, Virginia or a profanity-laced tirade in the Oval Office from the President of the United States, the backlash to these changes has taken an ugly turn.

We, as a nation, in the tradition and ideal of being a welcoming and just society, must reject such bias and, rather, embrace the richness, diversity and opportunity such changes bring.    

E-mail Rich at richmskgn@gmail.com

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