Forgetting where we come from


To the editor:

I am 85 years old. As a child during World War II, I learned in school that America welcomed to its shores the poor and downtrodden of other lands.

In the glorious poem of Emma Lazarus, Lady Liberty tells Europe to send her “the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless tempest-tost to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door.” She does not say send only your rich or those with Nordic bloodlines. Indeed, when she wrote her welcome, most Scandinavians were living in wretched poverty, too.

Well, the immigrants came in droves, and many of them entered without going through the formalities of going through immigration centers like Castle Garden, or its successor, Ellis Island.

Many others fled across the Canadian border into New York and New England, or jumped ship to settle in various ethnic neighborhoods in this city.

The main times immigrants were rejected were when they had skin that was not considered white enough, such as those who came from places as southern Italy, Greece, Spain, Portugal, eastern Europe, and especially eastern Asia. Machine politicians rallied against the threat of being overrun by “The Yellow Peril.” 

Often, these same politicians and their audiences had themselves been victims of anti-immigrant sentiment when they came to this country. But they quickly forgot those days, just as so many of the descendants of the “Okies” and “Arkies” who fled the Dust Bowl to the Midwest to become migrant farm workers in California, quickly forgot those times and learned to despise Mexicans coming to California which, by the way, was part of Mexico before the United States compelled Mexico to cede it.

“Make America great again” smells like a call to make its electorate more white again by enacting onerous voter ID laws, keeping on the books state laws that disenfranchise state cons for life, or creating conditions where people who arrive at some of the polls are confronted with the prospect of waiting in line for hours and hours to cast a ballot.

Why stop there? Maybe “great” was when poll taxes, literacy tests and private party primaries kept African-Americans from voting. 

The truth is that some politicians are secretly opposed to the very concept of universal suffrage. When something is exposed as undemocratic, they often answer that this is a republic, not a democracy, as if the two were mutually exclusive.

Some of them are also attracted to undemocratic cults, like Scientology, or the objectivism of Ayn Rand.

Alan Saks

Alan Saks,