Check your history before you run on

I got an email from someone I don’t personally know. The contents were, in part, this:

I’m standing up because the hundreds of thousands who died fighting. My great grandfather watched as his friends died in the Civil War, my father and I watched as our friends died in WW II, and I watched
as my friends died in Vietnam . 
 
None of them died for the Mexican Flag. 
Those who died in wars for this country, and for the U.S. 
And shame on anyone who tries to make this a racist message. 
A Map Of My Country:
 
Let me make this perfectly clear!”
Then she inserted this image:
The writer went on to rant about immigrants taking over social security, not learning English, alienating “real” Americans, etc. 
As the granddaughter of immigrants from Armenia, I’m noticing that people like the above email writer – those enthralled in the anti-immigration movement, specifically from across the Mexican border – don’t seem to know their history very well or are choosing to ignore it. They argue that immigrants in the past were “better” somehow – that they all assimilated easily, learned English, and immediately embraced the American culture. Their assessments of what immigration has been in the past is so far off, it’s just sad. 
Former immigrants didn’t learn English when they got here! They huddled in separate neighborhoods, had their own groceries, odd foods, and shops where outsiders were barely welcome. They sent their kids to public school at age 5 not knowing a word of english (my parents included). My grandmother hardly spoke English in the eight decades that she lived and worked here!
Their kids learned English, joined the armed forces, and went to college. Now, they run this country as business people, elected officials, and citizens, but they always kept their pride in their country of origin, ate their own ethnic foods, decorated their homes with symbols of their heritage, and gathered together in ethnic organizations. 
AND there were always people, established Americans, who accused them of taking jobs away, pulling on social services or the educational system, or otherwise hated them for their differences. 
This goes for all large group immigrations – the Chinese in 1850’s, the Italians and Irish in the 1900’s, the Jews after WW2, the Puerto Ricans in the 1950’s, Arabs in the 1970’s, the Dominicans in 1990’s and now to the Mexicans and Central/South Americans. 
Try again on your history people. The USA is the melting pot of the world, remember? What makes us great is the rising up of the poor and uneducated over generations.
John Adams wrote, “I will be a farmer, so my son can be a merchant, so his son can be an artist.”
Also, historically, our forefathers didn’t have to hire a lawyer, be an MBA in engineering or something, jump through hoops, or pay thousands of dollars to be allowed to become an American. My grandfather didn’t have any papers when he got off the boat at Ellis Island! He didn’t have an education either. He was an unskilled laborer with a true work ethic and a humble attitude. He had a few coins in his pocket, a ruck sack with one change of clothes, and probably lice! He also had a goal of establishing a life away from violence, starvation, and painful hardships . . . just like most of the immigrants arriving today from south of the border.
I’m proud to be an Armenian-American. And if my neighbor is from Mexico or Peru, I want him to be a proud Mexican-American or Peruvian-American who cares about his own heritage as well as becoming part of our country.
This little map is simply insulting, to say the least. Immigration is not an “either/or” proposition. You don’t seek to come to the United States for purpose of shedding your entire cultural past.  America is great because we are from everywhere – because we welcome the new and different, because we use the best of immigrant cultures to build on what we already have. We are fluid and make changes for the better so that all of us can live in peace inside our borders.

I’m so happy that my grandparents came here, instead of all the other places they could have gone back before WW1.
But their assimilation was not easy. It was not “fun.” It was hard and long and arduous…it took generations so that I could be an artist. The same will happen with those coming today – their children will and already are defending our country by the hundreds of thousands. Let’s try to remember that when you look at those trying for a new life for their descendants. 

They will be citizens and they will be as proud of that as I am of being American. 
The saddest part of the original email — it was forwarded to me by an Armenian-American. 

-Garine Boyajian Isassi


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3 Comments

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3 responses to “Check your history before you run on

  1. Beautifully written! It makes me sad when people don't understand that our strength as Americans is in our diversity. I love that my own very Anglo family is becoming a melting pot as well! I'm expecting my first grand-nephew in December and he will be half Philipino, and I also have a Korean sister-in-law (Matt's 2nd wife) whose darling kids are Mexican and Korean.

    How dull life would be if everyone looked and sounded the same. And goodness, the food would be so bleh at family gatherings.

  2. I totally agree with you. The immigrants of the past did not assimilate any easier than today. I had people in my family back two generations that didn't speak English either, or spoke with a thick accent. My grandfather changed his name to avoid discrimination against Italians in his business (he owned a hair salon.)And my husband is an immigrant too. How could I be against immigrants?

  3. How quickly we forget! Thanks for reminding us.

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