Creative Destruction

May 3, 2006

Bagels yesterday, burritos today

Filed under: Current Events,Politics,Race and Racism — mythago @ 11:50 am

Anyone with some knowledge of American history ought to be looking at the anti-immigrant backlash and musing about how the more things change, the more they stay the same.*

The only difference between the anti-immigrant sentiment of our grandparents' time and the sentiment now is that, today, people occasionally feel stirred to preface their comments with a disclaimer about how racist they aren't. Everything else is the same: Those People don't respect our culture, speak our language, look like us, or have any loyalty to America. They live in their own neighborhoods, run their own businesses instead of just patronizing ours, send money home, take our low-wage jobs and flood our cities.

That last sentence is true, by the way, and it was true then. Eastern European Jews who immigrated in large numbers formed their own neighborhoods with their own businesses. They set up immigrant-aid societies and brought over their families and friends. They spoke Yiddish and printed Yiddish-language newspapers and broadcast radio shows in Yiddish. They were one of the immigrant groups who, in their time, filled the same space in the nativist mind that Mexicans and Central Americans do now.

We like to forget all that because, of course, we absorbed them into American culture, as we have done withevery single group of immigrants to "flood" America. Bubbe Plotzky never learned English, but her children did, and her grandchildren and great-grandchildren probably learned all the Yiddish they know from Seinfeld, a mainstream American TV show. Bubbe and her nephew still live on the Lower East Side, but she has kids in Florida, California and Wyoming. And their Gentile neighbors eat bagels, knishes and challah they buy at Safeway, not at an 'ethnic' market or a 'specialty' bakery.

The people who hate and fear immigrants are insulting America and refusing to believe in the promise that's been proven time and time again: America is a country of immigrants, and when we welcome them in, we become a little like them as they become a lot like us. Mexicans are not the one group whose presence will destroy the melting pot.

Who knows, I may someday have machatunium named Humberto or Blanca, and we'll marvel at how one of the grandkids got Great-Grandma Thorlund's blue eyes and Great-Uncle Ortega's straight nose. And I'll tell them the stories of how their mother's father's parents made their way over from Russia and slipped over the border into America.

*"Plus Ça Change, Plus C'est La Même Chose" is the traditional formulation, but you know how people are about all things French these days.

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9 Comments »

  1. The issue for many of us is not immigration. I welcome immigration from Mexico, within reason; perhaps not at the current level (which is fairly high by historical standards), but certainly at a healthy and vigorous level. Mexico has a lot of human capital, and we should snag every bit of it that we possibly can.

    The issue is control of the border and control over the immigrant flow. Bubbe didn’t commandeer a freighter and secretly land it on the Jersey shore; she came through Ellis Island. In years where the democratic apparatus of our country decided that we had enough Bubbe, Bubbe didn’t get in.

    I see no reason for Tio Pedro to get easier treatment than Bubbe did.

    Comment by Robert — May 3, 2006 @ 12:23 pm | Reply

  2. Bubbe didn’t commandeer a freighter and secretly land it on the Jersey shore; she came through Ellis Island.

    Or, she came over the Canadian border, which was a lot more porous than it is now. Perhaps, like my own paternal grandmother, she bribed a judge to issue fake papers stating she had been born in the US.

    Tio Pedro, on the other hand, has to deal with a ten-year waiting list, and an immigration agency whose pig-headed bureaucracy would have been the pride of Cold War-era Soviet Russia. I doubt he’s spending days humping through the Arizona desert because it’s more fun than the legal way.

    Of course border control is important–but right now, ‘control’ means ‘shutting the doors and telling people to come on around and climb in the window’.

    Comment by mythago — May 3, 2006 @ 11:41 pm | Reply

  3. Did they wave a yiddish flag and demand “immigrant rights?”

    Comment by Steve — May 4, 2006 @ 3:48 am | Reply

  4. I think that was the Irish. It was still considered acceptable to beat up Jews back then, after all. They tended to keep a lower profile.

    Comment by mythago — May 4, 2006 @ 9:15 am | Reply

  5. [...] Creative Destruction: Bagels yesterday, burritos today The only difference between the anti-immigrant sentiment of our grandparents’ time and the sentiment now is that, today, people occasionally feel stirred to preface their comments with a disclaimer about how racist they aren’t. [...]

    Pingback by Alas, a blog » Blog Archive » Link Farm & Open Thread #22 — May 5, 2006 @ 12:14 pm | Reply

  6. Bubbe didn’t commandeer a freighter and secretly land it on the Jersey shore; she came through Ellis Island.

    Poppy paid some sailors, stowed away on their freighter, hid in a ventilation shaft for several weeks & was snuck ashore by those same sailors. He was taken to a secure location where he was held until his family paid the remainder of their fee. Much like the “snakehead” trade out of China today.

    Guess what? This isn’t an unusual story. Strangely, in the 1930′s, the US wasn’t all that keen on allowing any & all eastern European Jews into the country.

    Comment by Jake Squid — May 5, 2006 @ 3:02 pm | Reply

  7. [...] Bagels Yesterday, Burritos Today: The only difference between the anti-immigrant sentiment of our grandparents’ time and the sentiment now is that, today, people occasionally feel stirred to preface their comments with a disclaimer about how racist they aren’t. [...]

    Pingback by Corral, Still No Ponies at PunkAssBlog.com — May 5, 2006 @ 9:52 pm | Reply

  8. So do Yids own America or pre-Yid jews?

    Comment by Justice for Palestine — May 6, 2006 @ 1:00 am | Reply

  9. Go back even further, to the beginning of our country; What are or cities if not immigrant enclaves?

    We speak the immigrant language of english while living with other European immigrants and following European customs.

    And, uh, our ancestors were a hell of a lot nastier then any modern Immigrants. Even the ones who made some sort of legal arrangement for the land they used made only the smallest possible efforts to assimilate.

    Comment by Christopher — May 6, 2006 @ 12:58 pm | Reply


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