We are a nation of immigrants, but sometimes it seems we forget that. Professor Paul Finkelman offered a stark reminder of this at the 2017 American Library Association Annual Conference in Chicago, and attendees of his Readex-sponsored talk left with a fresh lens through which to view today’s immigration debate.
From Hollywood to Silicon Valley, from baseball stadiums to boardrooms, immigrants and their children enhance our daily lives and culture. Consider the contributions of Andrew Carnegie, Alexander Graham Bell and Albert Einstein. Immigrants, including Irving Berlin, Greta Garbo, Sophia Loren and Joe DiMaggio, have enriched our music, art, and entertainment. Think of the impact more recent innovations by immigrants—like the founding of Google and the creation of the Pentium Micro-Processor—have had on our world.
Ten percent of the first Congress was foreign-born, and immigrants continue to fill critical leadership roles in our government today.
“From the beginning to the present, immigrants and the children of immigrants have played a fairly significant role in American politics,” Finkelman said. “In the last half century we’ve had two Secretaries of State who were immigrants.”
Add to that a foreign-born Secretary of the Treasury and two ambassadors to the United Nations. As Dr. Finkelman noted, unless you are 100% Native American, you are of immigrants.
But how quickly, as a nation, we forget.
Since the late 19th century, the Statue of Liberty has symbolized freedom, standing as a welcoming beacon to millions of immigrants reaching America’s shore. The poem at the base of the statue, written by Emma Lazarus, declares: “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddle masses yearning to breathe free.”
Is the United States still a welcoming haven?