Nativism in the 21st Century Since its creation the United States has been a welcoming home for the lost souls of the world, looking for a place where they could grow and prosper, free of prosecution and judgment. Everyone came for a fresh start, the freedom and liberty that was unattainable in other countries. The statue of liberty greeted everyone coming into Ellis Island with open arms as the inscription on her pedestal read “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!” Fast forward two hundred years and we find our selves living in a country that scoffs at the idea of immigrants, creates laws purposefully making it more difficult for them to live in the country, and has created a stigma against them that has bred a fear of new immigrants. Every generation before the next feels more entitled to be in this country than his successors. And therein lies the problem. This place we call home is not ethnically ours, we are not more or less entitled to the land than anyone else regardless of how many generations a family has been here.
This country thrives on the fact that it is a melting pot, and that all cultures and customs are welcome here. “The American culture” is nothing more than what each individual makes for his or her experience bringing his or her old with this country’s new. The only way to eradicate the stigma that comes along with the word “immigration” is to educate the people in this nation on what the word really means versus how it’s used today and to recognize that nativism is absolutely not a new concept and understand what has caused it to evolve over the years to still exist in the twenty first century. Legislation must also change from its quite obvious distaste for immigrants to one that does not discriminate on the basis of how new someone is to this country.
Alienating part of the backbone of this country will eventually cause it to crumble. There is a reason the United States is one of the most wealthy and successful countries in the world, and its because of the contribution of great people originating from all around the world, we mustn’t forget that for the sake of our future in the world. The presence of nativism in this century manifests itself in several important ways. The first of which is flat out legislation that prevents immigrants (illegal or legal) from accessing basic amenities that the United States government provides for all of its people.
In 1982 the court case, Plyler v Doe, the Supreme Court ruled that public education could not be denied on basis of citizenship or immigration status. However, at least half a dozen states have chosen to disregard such legislation. Later on in 1994 California state voters passed a bill that denied access to public education on the basis of immigration. Even though a federal judge almost immediately blocked this action, to have a majority vote in a state like California that is so heavily populated demonstrates the stigma and fear that many people felt against immigrants.
Preventing immigrants from the access to basic rights like education and health only further enables them to fall into the slums of society and instead of becoming productive members of society, become a drag on the government, economy, and society. This of course is not the only example, and hundreds of pieces of legislation with anti immigrant sentiments have been enacted even early on in American history whether is be against Catholics, Irish, Chinese etc. Another way nativism today manifests itself is in the existence of organizations whose sole purpose is to push anti-immigration legislation and promote nativism and on some level racism.
Some organizations that participate in this are the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS), and NumbersUSA, and they primarily lobby for harsh immigration laws that often times include the use of racial profiling among other sentiments that completely defile any unbiased justice system. In the physical world so to speak, nativism manifests itself as hate crimes and violence towards people specifically because they are foreign born, however this manifestation is not necessarily as popular since the main purposes of nativist groups is for social and political reform that favor their beliefs rather than direct violence or hate crimes, nonetheless it does occur.
The rise of slurs against immigrants especially towards those from Mexico and South America has been prevalent, with terms such as “ditch diggers” and “beaners” as well as “camel jockeys” and “towel heads” for those from the Middle East, and “dot head” for Indians. Many may think these are just forms of racism but the thing about nativism is that if really looked at closely, all it is, is a discrete form of racism. These manifestations of nativism exist in varying degrees of occurrence; however, all leave lasting effects on society. In terms of societal outlets or resources that exist to help eradicate nativist sentiments the greatest of which is education.
Addressing the concepts of nativism, nationalism, and racism all in relation to immigration in the United States helps people gain a better understanding of the issue at hand, and allows more people to form opinions based on the facts and history rather than opinions based on prejudices and long held beliefs. Leaving room in school curriculums to study social issues, especially current ones will help create a more open minded and informed generation as they go on to take political offices and leadership roles in society.
Once the public has been adequately informed on the social issue of nativism and its roots and the fears that nativists posses, there can be effective legislation enacted which strives to eliminate the fears people have about immigration without practicing nativist ideals and promoting peaceful relations between the dominating racial group and the racial out-groups. The solutions to helping stop nativist polices and ideals in American society can help to eradicate almost all of the manifestations of new nativism. Education on nativism and the negative effects of it on society would certainly help reduce hate crimes and violence towards racial out groups as well as encourage respect for those groups and view them on an equal standpoint with the dominant racial group.
New, and better legislation promoting immigration and highlighting the benefits of it would remove negative and nativist polices from state governments and allow immigrants access to the basic rights that would help them thrive in the United States as opposed to causing another burden that nativists feel immigrants become instead of contributing members of society. Unfortunately certain causes of nativism are difficult to combat with education or legislation because of the ingrained nature of them, like racism.
Educating people who are racist or have racist feelings on the negative effects of nativism may not always be effective and it must be expected that many people, especially those of older generations or with more “traditional” ideals will not yield to opening their mind to new and different ideas concerning those of other races and their role in the United States. The use of education through curriculums in schools focusing on current social issues is extremely feasible and can be implemented in to a social studies, politics, or history course with relative ease. Legislation is obviously harder to tackle especially since at the present moment, anti immigration sentiment is so strong and recent laws concerning immigration have been the harshest in US history so far.
However the hope is still there as the younger generations are becoming more and more open minded and accepting and is of more egalitarian ideals rather than racist, nationalist, xenophobic, or nativist ones. It will take some years but once the younger generations are at the forefronts of the country it is the hope that because of the society they have grown up in and the education they have received, policies will be favorable towards immigrants without making the dominant race feel threatened by the racial out-groups. The proposed solutions above have a very high possibility of minimizing the nativism present in the twenty first century, but it cannot be expected to eliminate it completely.
Unfortunately there will always be those who will feel some sort of racial superiority or threat from other racial groups and only time, several generations worth, can help to eliminate those sentiments. An American society in which people can feel welcome upon entering the United States is the one the founding fathers had dreamed of when writing the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. Though that ideal has been tainted over the course of history it can be restored. The United States is the melting pot of the world, and the distinct American culture it possesses is only there because of the intermixing of so many different cultures, nationalities, ethnic groups and races.
The American culture is the French culture, the Japanese culture, the Lebanese culture, the Mexican culture, and about a hundred and something more cultures. The difference between all of these countries and the United States is the concepts of freedom, liberty, and equality that reign here in the US for all and excluding none. For all the culture that the US has acquired from the rest of the world, the life liberty and pursuit of happiness are unique to the United States and that is what makes it such a desired place to live.
Prosperity is not only possible, but normal. A country with those sorts of ideals and such a vibrant mixed culture is good, but a country with that and with the welcoming and nurturing nature towards those brave enough to make the trek over in search of a better life, well that’s what makes a country great.