Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Nation of Immigrants? the U.S. Has a Long History of Both Welcoming and Shunning New Arrivals, Recalls Strategic Planner Paul Metzger

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Nation of Immigrants? the U.S. Has a Long History of Both Welcoming and Shunning New Arrivals, Recalls Strategic Planner Paul Metzger

Article excerpt

We like to say the United States is a nation of immigrants from everywhere who get along together, a melting pot that works. It's partly hard-won truth, partly comforting national myth.

Gingerly avoided are three immigration elephants in the room that we'd rather not think about: the almost 400,000 Africans brought here in shackles, the Native Americans forced on genocidal internal migrations and the Japanese slapped into internment camps during World War II and stripped of their property.

But there are even larger numbers of other immigrants who have received a less-than-warm welcome.

On Aug. 11, a mob burned down the Catholic Ursuline convent in Charlestown, just outside enlightened Boston. No, you didn't somehow miss this on the news. It happened in 1834.

Violence against "the wrong kind" of immigrants blossomed in the 19th century. There was a major anti-Catholic riot in Bangor, Maine, again in 1834. Even earlier, Boston mobs in 1823, 1826 and 1828 attacked the homes of immigrant Irish Catholic laborers. Large crowds of rioters struck again with extraordinary violence in Philadelphia in May and July 1844, burning down three Catholic churches. It took the army, with cannons, to restore order. And it wasn't just the Irish who were victims; German Catholics also came under attack in the 1840s and '50s.

"Nativism," the credo of America for native-born Americans, led in the early 1850s to the secret Know Nothing society (so called because members would say they "know nothing" about it). They came out of the shadows as the American Party in 1855. Gone now, its spirit lingers on.

As ridiculous as it seems today, what the rioters and Know Nothings feared was that increasing Catholic immigration would lead to control of the United States by the pope. Anti-Catholicism and anti-Irish feelings continued to be not-so-hidden factors in our nation's politics until John F. Kennedy's election in 1960, when they were finally put to rest.

The Irish and German Catholics were followed by waves of immigrants from China from 1849 to 1882, and then millions of Italians, Slavs, Russians and Jews from 1880 into the early 20th century.

Italians were welcomed in New Orleans in 1891 with the largest mass lynching in the United States: 11 men were hanged, and hundreds arrested on trumped-up charges. Eight years later, it happened again in Tallulah, Louisiana, when five Italians were lynched. Anti-Italian feeling was still very much alive in the late 1920s at the Massachusetts trials and executions of Sacco and Vanzetti.

While there were laws in the 1700s about residency requirements for citizenship, there were no immigration statutes; we needed everyone we could get to settle the American continent. Though many were unwelcome, anyone could come. That is, until 1875.

That year, the Page Act, the first federal immigration law, responded to the growing number of Asian immigrants. It was followed by the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882. These began Washington's efforts to quiet rising national fears of the "Yellow Peril. …

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