Immigration debate forgets details of U.S. history


Most people are familiar with the idea that immigration is nothing new to this country. Most people are aware that on some level that immigration, in fact, made this country what it is. What people may not recognize, however, is that immigration was always contentious; there was never a time when one group of immigrants or another, be they Irish, Italian or Chinese, was not despised for some reason, while their understated yet invaluable contribution to the development, economy and general function of the nation went unrecognized.

It seems many people, especially those who supported the recent, harsh immigration law, HR 4437, think that they were entitled to live here because they were born here, but life is rarely so black and white.

The fact that the Native Americans and Mexican rancheros were born and lived here and were forced off the land or killed demonstrates this. Many of the people who resent the presence of Latino immigrants today are the descendants of immigrants, or even immigrants themselves who believe they received citizenship the “right” way, which entailed hardship and years of waiting.

We are not sure that what the Latino migrants are doing is the “wrong” way. It is not as though they simply buzz back and forth across the border, taking up some poor Anglo- American’s prospective job. Immigrants contribute to our economy, filling many job positions that American citizens, in these prosperous times, refuse to take.

And getting across the border is not like stepping over a line. Many people face terrifying dangers, including deadly heat, rough terrain, exploitive, sadistic coyotes, and many more still never make it, dying in the process.

People do not risk their lives on a regular basis because they have dreams of slaving away in agricultural fields or cleaning up after affluent people for minimal pay. They do it because there are few or no opportunities where they live, and the only alternative is following the money and resources north, so that they and their families might have some hope for the future.

And as long as American business owners and private citizens are willing to hire them, why not migrate here? They are certainly not complaining about the influx of migrant labor, because for these Americans the benefits of immigration far outweigh the costs. Latino immigrants seem to take all of the blame for coming to this country to work, but they are only one half of the story.

And of course, we can’t talk about immigration without discussing the very first immigrants to this country.

Let’s not forget the conquest of this continent by the Europeans. Yes, the United States is a very young country. There are outhouses in Europe that are far, far older than what we Americans modestly like to call “the greatest nation on Earth.”

Let’s look roughly at the period in which Columbus was setting sail for India. Hundreds of years before the United States was a concept, Europe was in the midst of the Renaissance, the Ottoman Empire was fully established and ruling in the Middle East, and the Ming Dynasty doing the same in China.

North and South America was the long-time home to the Iroquois and Cherokee Nations, the Aztecs, the Maya, just to name only a few of the extremely diverse, deeply rooted and highly cultivated cultures thriving here.

In fact, we here at CSUN are pretty much sitting on Chumash land.

So where are all the people who used to live here in North America? Maybe we’d like to think they magically disappeared into some alternate reality, but they didn’t. They died. Whether by Spanish swords, smallpox, forced marches, or gunfire, most of them, men, women, and children, died when Europeans decided they were entitled to settle here at whatever cost to the native population.

In South America, a few pockets of the original natives managed to survive here and there, while most mingled with Spanish and other European conquerors.

Ever wonder why states like California, Nevada, Arizona, Texas and New Mexico have names that sound distinctly Spanish? Or why we live in a city whose name is Spanish for “the angels?”

Less than 200 years ago, southwestern states like California, Nevada, and New Mexico were northern Mexico, which explains why we have city names like San Diego, Santa Barbara, San Antonio and Santa Fe. Much of the southwest United States, then, was home to Latinos.

At the time that these areas were lost to the United States at the end of the Mexican-American War in 1848, many old Mexican ranchero families were disenfranchised when they were more or less forced to relinquish their lands to white settlers and former squatters when Mexico ceded nearly a third of its territory.

So the story is not so simplistic that we can comfortably and accurately sing, “This land is my land, it is not your land” with a cheery smile.

Unsigned Editorials represents the views of the Sundial editorial board and are not necessarily those of the Journalism Department.