By Rachel Wifall
We have recently seen groups of Caucasian Americans rallying in cities like Charlottesville, VA and Murfreesboro, TN, chanting slogans such as “White lives matter,” “Blood and soil,” “White nation,” and “You will not replace us.” Such statements presuppose the fact that Caucasians are Americans by birthright… but we know that Caucasians have only inhabited North America for a few hundred years, and European settlers had to virtually eradicate the Native American occupants in order to gain control.
My ancestors came to the “New World” from Northern Europe in the second half of the nineteenth century. There were no major wars going on in Germany or Norway at the time, but my predecessors were farming people and I assume that they crossed the ocean for economic opportunity. Today, in 2017, there are people who want to come to the U. S. for similar purposes and there are many who need to leave their homelands for much more pressing reasons, but they are not welcome.
Peoples such as the Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar are facing genocide and as many as one million have fled into neighboring Bangladesh, which cannot accommodate them all. Residents of Syria are facing the total destruction of their cities, along with other atrocities and deprivations that come with prolonged warfare. They have sought refuge across Europe and in the United States; while some have welcomed them, nationalists in all of these asylum countries have sought to keep them out. Many Mexicans wish to escape the heinous violence perpetrated on their communities by drug mafias—but so many Americans, including the President of the United States, want to build a wall to keep them out.
When we examine our nation’s past, we find that we’ve often struggled to offer freedom to all of the tired and poor seeking a better life. Our history tells of many groups – Italians and Irish in the late nineteenth century who did not receive the same generous welcome as my relatives, and Japanese in the mid twentieth century who were sanctioned simply for being Japanese. However, when and how did the United States become completely “full” and closed to today’s refugees, a new set of “huddled masses yearning to breathe free?” Was it when they became brown?
Fortunately, many Americans are recommitting themselves to the work of welcoming the stranger. Recent white supremacist rallies have been met by counter protesters; in Murfreesboro, those speaking against white supremacy and for inclusivity numbered almost twice as many as those wishing to close borders and consolidate behind a wall of “whiteness.” Let’s hope that we can move through the rhetoric of fear and alienation and move toward the heart of the inclusive American Dream.
Continue the conversation in our comments section: What might we do at Jesuit Colleges and Universities to ensure that we promote an inclusive version of the American Dream - one that leads us to be sanctuaries for truth and justice? What are we, our departments, and our colleges called to do?
The cover photo is featured courtesy of Viator.com of the Flickr Creative Commons.