Water Man Spouts

Friday, February 01, 2008

A Nation of Immigrants

{1} "Once I thought to write a history of the immigrants in America. Then I discovered that the immigrants were American history." –Oscar Handlin

In 1958, Senator John Kennedy quoted Harvard historian Oscar Handlin’s 1952 book "The Uprooted" in his pamphlet-sized book "A Nation of Immigrants." Handlin’s work, which studied the experiences of the European immigrants in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for history.

Handlin, Ermeritus Professor of History at Harvard, also authored "The American People in the Twentieth Century," "Race and Nationality in American Life," and "Boston’s Immigrants, 1790-1880."

Handlin’s writings influenced Kennedy’s thinking when he tried to reform the 1952 McCarren-Walter Immigration and Nationality Act. Kennedy tried to "end racist restrictions that favored ‘Caucasian’ immigrants and restricted entry from those from Asia and Latin America." (Thomas Maier; The Kennedys: America’s Emerald Kings; Basic Books; 2003; page 285.)

{2} "The contribution of immigrants can be seen in every aspect of our life. We see it in religion, in politics, in business, in the arts, in education, and even in athletics and entertainment. There is no part of our nation that has not been touched by our immigrant background." – JFK; A Nation of Immigrants

Kennedy’s book included information about the hatred and prejudice that many immigrants had experienced in the United States. There were people who questioned why he would write such a book, which exposed the dark side of WASP culture, at a time when he was preparing to run for president. The answer is found in the book itself.

The book has been re-issued twice: first in 1964; and now again in 2008, to mark it’s 50 year anniversary. The 1964 edition had an introduction by Robert Kennedy; the new edition has an introduction by Senator Edward Kennedy, and a foreword by Abraham Foxman, the National Director of the Anti-Defamation League.

{3) "Immigration policy should be generous; it should be fair; it should be flexible. With such a policy, we can turn to the world, and to our own past, with clean hands and a clear conscience." JFK; A Nation of Immigrants.

Immigration is again an important issue in American society. Some of the most important groups in the USA – including the ADL and the Southern Poverty Law Center – warn us about the dangers in efforts to scapegoat immigrants.

The issues that Senator Kennedy raised in 1958 are as important today as they were then. This is an extremely important issue for the democratic party – and especially our nominee for president – to take a progressive stance on.


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