Tag Archive for 'immigration'

From the Archives: A Symphony in Citizenship

The first page of the 1952 skit "A Symphony in Citizenship"

One of the many undertakings of NCSU’s Cooperative Extension Service in the 1950s was youth citizenship education. In addition to providing basic lessons on government, the Cooperative Extension Service also sought to teach children acceptance of immigrants through programs such as a 1952 skit entitled “A Symphony in Citizenship.”1

“A Symphony in Citizenship” opens with a mother explaining to her two children – Skippy and Margaret Alice – that the United States is made up of immigrants just as an orchestra is made up of instruments. As she explains, various nationalities walk across the stage, bow, and sit down next to Uncle Sam and his wife, Columbia.

An American Indian is attributed with teaching the first immigrants how to live in the new land; Dutch, Italian, and Chinese characters follow, and all are honored for their diverse gifts and talents. When a “Negro” woman enters the stage, the names of Booker T. Washington and George Washington Carver are invoked. After the arrival of Iranian and Indian immigrants, the symphony concludes with the mother’s lesson that “Even as a great musical symphony is made up of many notes and played on many instruments, so is the symphony of America made up of many people from many countries – Americans all – building and working together for a greater America in a peaceful and better world.”

While hardly an all-inclusive look at the immigrant populations of the United States, for the 1950s this was a remarkably progressive skit: negative stereotypes are avoided, and the children in the skit are encouraged to think of everyone in America as a type of immigrant.

1. The full skit can be viewed at http://d.lib.ncsu.edu/collections/catalog/ua102_052-002-bx0021-001-000/pages/ua102_052-002-bx0021-001-000_0129.

The Children of Undocumented Immigrants Speak Out

And they’re speaking out against the bizarre proposal to amend the Constitution to deny citizenship to children of undocumented immigrants born in the United States. James Ayana, the son of undocumented Mexican immigrants (and Regents Professor at the University of Arizona Rogers College of Law, and United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms of Indigenous Peoples), Gabriel Chin, the son of a Chinese immigrant who entered the United States under false pretenses when law banned immigration from China (and Chester H. Smith Professor of Law at the University of Arizona Rogers College of Law, and Paul Finkelman, whose Polish grandfather snuck into the US via Canada (and who is President William McKinley Distinguished Professor of Law and Public Policy at Albany Law School and a Senior Fellow at the Government Law Center) write at the Huffington Post that the suggestion is un-American and nonsensical.

In fact, denying citizenship seems very American indeed–not only in light of the restrictions that made the authors’ parents and grandparents undocumented entry into the country, or the notorious Dred Scott case the authors note, but also because of the groundswell of contemporary anger about so-called illegal aliens. More persuasive is the argument that efforts to exclude based on race (and yes, if the Constitution were changed in this way the effect would be, basically, to deny citizenship to Hispanic kids) rarely work as intended and we usually regret them later.

It’s likely that this whole thing will blow over, as will the effort to deep-six the so-called “Ground Zero mosque,” which is of course neither at Ground Zero nor a mosque (the AP has finally told its reporters to stop calling it that). The election cycle will reboot and we will return to old canards about taxes, instead of the race-and-religion-baiting that brings angry voters to the polls. We must hope that this waning will clear space for the neo-Know Nothing movement to abate just as its ideological forebears did in the 1850s, fading into obscurity as its members squawked about the dangers of German immigrants.

The difference may be, though, that while the Know Nothings split over slavery, today’s Know Nothings appear firmly united on the race question–they’re hostile to African Americans, angry about Latino immigration, and suspicious of people from the Middle East. The Tea Party (party? movement?) has pushed back on accusations of racism, but it’s a largely white movement obsessed with losing control overly formerly all-white institutions, like the White House.

It is bizarre, though, that their response in this case is the further bureaucratization of already-arcane immigration law (see this example: an Oregon teen who entered the US illegally as a toddler and was adopted by Americans faced deportation), letting evil government pencil-pushers, or the ubiquitous judicial activists we hear so much about, rather than a Constitutional Amendment that has for a long time stood at the center of American self-definition, decide who’s in and who’s out. As Finkelman, Ayana, and Chin write, the simple principle at the core of the Amendment “limited the risk of tragic mistakes.” And with things where they are today, when we seem awash in tragic mistakes, that seems about as much as we can hope for.

Neighborhood Voices

A few years back, the Southern Oral History Program recorded a series of interviews with residents of one Durham, NC, community changing because of Latino immigration. North Carolina has the eighth-largest immigrant population in the United States, and immigration has made it among the fastest growing states in the nation. The Southern Oral History Program wanted to use oral history to explore how new immigrants in one community were adjusting to the transition, and how longtime residents were reacting to their new neighbors. Neighborhood Voices chronicles life in Northeast Central Durham before the arrival of Latino immigrants, the experiences of those immigrants, and the challenges the Latino, black, and white communities have faced in trying to find shared space. We hope you enjoy it.

Neighborhood Voices from Southern Oral History Program on Vimeo.

Neighborhood Voices from Southern Oral History Program on Vimeo.