The Corner

Nation of Immigrants Email

So much of it. A few samples:

I’m a hardcore Derbite on the substance of this immigration debate, but he’s just plain wrong when it comes to our “nation of immigrants.”  We are a nation of immigrants, both in fact and in sentiment. 

Anyway, people like Derb who are the right side of the National Question should welcome the phrase “nation of immigrants.”  Historically its main use was not to encourage unlimited immigration but to encourage assimilation by reminding immigrants and their children that we were all immigrants once and they can assimilate just like us.


Jonah,   I grew up in the middle of Nebraska, the grandson of immigrants on both sides:  My mother’s parents immigrated from County Cork, Ireland, and my father’s from Westphalia, Germany.  They were all farmers, before and after immigration.  Just about everyone I knew as a kid was in a similar situation.  Nebraska was pretty much settled by immigrants.  That’s why there are towns named Prague, O’Connor, Pilsner, Genoa, Geneva, Gothenburg.  None of those New England types would stoop to coming out here to live among the Micks and Krauts and Czechs and Poles. There were also Mexicans who came originally to work in the sugar beet factory in Grand Island, where I lived.  My classmates Pete and Mary Pedrosa were children of people who came for that reason.  Pete was a thirty-year-man in the Air Force.  My cousins on both sides wore the uniforms of our services in WWII.   They stormed Islands in the South Pacific and crewed B17′s over Europe. Somehow we all became Americans.  Now Lexington, Nebraska, is around 60 % Mexican and there are large Mexican populations in a number of other Nebraska cities and towns.  Everybody wants to get the legal side straightened out, but nobody wants them to go home–except the more rabid amongst us who seem to think God personally assigned them and their friends to live here and nobody else.  I want my grandsons Javier Michael and Benjamin Carlos and my granddaughter Celia Irene to be here when I’m gone and not be ashamed to be what they are.   In the 1920′s when the KKK was active in Nebraska (and everywhere else) they decided to burn a cross in front of the Catholic Rectory  in Burwell Nebraska (near which my mother’s parents homesteaded).  After they got it fired up, the pastor, Father Murray, brought a chair onto the front porch, sat down, and read the newspaper by the light of the fire.  He found the rabid blather of the immigrant haters illuminating.  So do I. 

And this came in last night:


I am a long time reader of National Review, and a conservative. This is the first time I have been motivated to write in to NR or any other publication. This letter is actually a response to John Derbyshire’s posting of a reader email which stated that the idea of America as a nation of immigrants is a “fruit of elite coastal opinion,” that Americans in the heartland are more nostalgic about the Civil War than Ellis Island, and that he has “no recipes that aren’t American to cook.”

I can’t seem to find Derb’s email contact so I’m sending this letter to you. Also, you’re my second favorite National Review columnist besides Ponnuru.

I did a quick Wikipedia check and it seems that according to the 2000 census only 8.7% of Americans are of English ancestry, which, assuming that they came over in pre-revolutionary times, would give them some claim to being original Americans. 10.8% are Irish, 15.2% are German, 5.6% are Italian, and 4.3% are Asian Americans.

The writer claims he has “no recipes that aren’t American to cook.” Oh really? Does he know how to make a hamburger, which is German in origin? Does he consider pizza to be an American dish, or is it just something that is consumed by coastal elites with ties to the mother country?

I am dismayed by the turn that the immigration debate has suddenly taken, in the passion of the moment, spreading from the subject of illegal immigration to include legal immigration, exemplified by Tancredo’s outrageous statements the other night in the Republican debate. 

I sympathize with your arguments, Jonah, that we shouldn’t throw around accusations of racism and bad faith in this debate. On the merits of the bill currently before congress I’m still undecided. But I will say that for our own sake conservatives should distance themselves from sentiments such as those in the reader e-mail put up by Derb on The Corner, and uttered by Tancredo. So far I haven’t seen other NR columnists reacting to Derb’s post, and I haven’t seem much outrage on NRO over Tancredo’s proposals to abolish Saint Patrick’s Day and freeze legal immigration.

You may notice that this email is arriving at an ungodly hour. That is because I live in work in Beijing. One of the things that has struck me out here is the extent to which America is unique in its status as a true immigrant nation. Chinese people sometimes say to me, “you look European, not American,” or some such thing, not because of my style of dress but because I have dark hair and dark eyes, or something like that. This gives me an opening to explain that most Americans actually come from Europe and there is no such thing as “looking American.” My Chinese-American friends have an even harder time explaining that they are Americans, even though they may be ethnically Chinese. 

In explaining the concept of American pluralism to a Chinese person, I see an opportunity to communicate an essential part of America’s greatness. I would have thought that Americans themselves don’t need reminding.


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