Every Fourth of July since I completed a seminar towards my history degree concerning racism in America, I have had the unsettling notion that the United States could easily devolve from its Constitutionally mandated civil liberties into a country filled with violent hate-spewing mobs intent upon driving out her minorities and making the ones who remained go underground in much the same way that Spain and Portugal drove their Jews into ghettos and American blacks into shanties in the Deep South. With the rise of Donald Trump, this no longer is an academic exercise; but rather, a perilously close and deliberate intention by Trump and his millions of acolytes to pick up where the 1920s anti-immigration laws left off.
As anyone whose grandparents immigrated to America in the early part of the last century knew well, it was virtually impossible to enter the country after the “Red Scare” began in earnest in 1919 and culminated in the anti-immigration laws of 1920. American politicians were concerned with the spread of Communism, and not simply Communism, but rather, Bolshevism with its violent adherents. After all, World War I began with the assassination of an archduke. Bombings became de rigueur methods of voicing displeasure with a sitting European governments. Americans took one look at the origins of these violent Bolsheviks, who were in many cases Jewish, and began to use a broad brush to paint all Jews, including those desperate to leave Europe, Russia and the Pale of Settlement. In much the same manner Jews were later excluded from American shores during Hitler’s rise to power, the decision by paranoid American politicians and the Justice Department meant indirect death for thousands of Jews.
I always found it ironic that American laws were written and enacted by some from the State of Georgia who had come to live here from places where the original colony had been founded by those who had populated England’s debtors’ prisons. However, it is a testament to the determination of all immigrants to America that the largest period of immigration became the middle-to-late 1800s into the early 20th Century. My own family grasped the impossibility of direct immigration from Russia to the U.S. and devised a plan which included a circuitous decision to come here by way of Argentina. Thus, my wild Russian grandfather, Herman (Hanan), ended up a gaucho in the Argentine Pampas, taking his devoted sister, Sarah, with him. His brother, Jacob, arranged for his American visa and after two years he finally reached New York. Sarah went to Tel Aviv at the tail end of the “First Aliyah” movement where she married and raised a family that still resides there.
I have no idea just how Donald Trump plans to build a “wall” to keep out Mexicans, but the amount of determination and ingenuity of immigrants would make this an incredibly stupid and costly idea to try to build. People who are desperate for survival always find a way, whether it is by an unseaworthy craft to a Greek island to escape war in Syria or walking on foot halfway across Europe. The same dogged nature of these Europeans and Russians who came to America in an era where they were legally forbidden and then later restricted by numbers built her into the bulwark against the war-weary suffering of the world. America has her problems like any other nation; however, by restricting growth based on an innate racism will never succeed as history has shown. Imagine a country devoid of the films of Warner, Louis B. Mayer or Selznick or Goldwyn or popular music without the Gershwins or Irving Berlin or comedy without the Marx Brothers and you begin to see what a one-dimensional and flat world this country would be without her once-denied immigrants. Ask yourself who are the true undesirables in America today? The answer is those who have not grasped what it means to be an American.
Happy Fourth of July!