Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

An un-American ideal that defines what it is to be American

Increased xenophobia is yet another chapter in the contradictory history of America
Hannah Cohen

A recent poll conducted by the University of Massachusetts found that nearly one-third of Republicans (one-fifth of Americans) believe that immigrants are “poisoning the blood of the country.” The same poll found that 40 percent of Americans believe immigration threatens American culture and identity, and that 43 percent of Americans believe in a facet of the “Great Replacement Theory,” which postulates that political leaders are replacing “real Americans” through immigration.

In an era of somewhat acceptable xenophobia, I am reminded of one of America’s most significant monuments: the Statue of Liberty, the gracious lady who watched over millions of immigrants as they journeyed to a new beginning.

At her pedestal is one of the great American poems, “The New Colossus” written by Emma Lazarus in 1883, where two often-repeated lines originate, “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free…”

I am also reminded of the promise of America espoused as the Puritans began to settle in Massachusetts. John Winthrop, a Puritan leader preaching to the new colonists in 1630, reiterated the Gospel of Matthew Chapter 5, Verse 14, and described the American endeavor as the new beacon of hope. “For we must consider that we shall be as a city upon a hill. The eyes of all people are upon us.”

To millions, the promise of America has not reached these ideals. America is a land of contradiction, hypocrisy and sanctimony.

This is a nation where Thomas Jefferson — writing the Declaration of Independence — proclaimed all men to be created equal, endowed by their creator with the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Yet, at the same time, almost 500,000 humans were shackled and chained without the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. The abominable institution of slavery was not abolished for nearly 100 years.

This is a nation where Emma Lazarus wrote to bring the tired, poor and huddled masses. One year before its’ writing, however, Congress passed the first of many laws banning an entire ethnic group from entering the United States. This is a nation that fought a civil war and guaranteed citizenship and voting rights to all men regardless of race, yet millions remained disenfranchised and maintained their second-class citizenship.

This is a nation that has amassed wealth like no other nation prior, but over 600,000 Americans lack permanent shelter and millions more are at risk.

Does being “American” mean living these contradictions? Does it mean living a life of liberty or condemning millions to live a life without liberty?

To answer this, reflect upon the founding of this nation, a myth based upon the ideals we have heard our entire lives. The tired, poor and weary masses are looking for a new land and new opportunities. Immigrants founded this “city upon a hill” with all its glory and hypocrisy.

So, when nearly one-fifth of Americans believe immigrants poison the blood of our nation, I am inclined to laugh.

To me, calling immigrants poison is what “poisons the blood of our nation.” To me, xenophobia is an un-American value. A nation founded by immigrants should support its incoming immigrants. I say this as the child of immigrants who came to this “city upon a hill” looking for a new beginning, just like our founders.

But the founding myth is exactly what that – a myth. That is where we find the essence of what it is to be American. To be American is to be a hypocrite, and we are all guilty of it. How could you not succumb to this American ideal? Don’t let my virtue signaling blind you to the fact that I am a coastal liberal, guilty of the same hypocrisy we all are. Sure, I believe all that glory that has been drilled into our brains about our country. But, come election time, I am blaming one rung of society for being the source of all our troubles.

Time and time again, those in one section of society are rejected by people in other sections of society – be it immigrants, those of other social groups or supporters of one party over another.

Those who believe that immigrants poison the blood of our nation are doing the same thing we all do, and it gets tiring. This cycle of blaming and demonizing others is a cornerstone of our current American experience, but it contradicts the ideals we are supposed to strive towards.

When will we become that “city upon a hill?” When will we welcome tired and poor masses who strive to be free with open arms? Immigrants do not poison the blood of our nation, and it is time for us to break that contradictory cycle that has defined us for 250 years. Let us strive to become what we have idealized and fulfill the promise of America.

Samuel Cavalheiro can be reached by email at [email protected] or on X @samcavalheiro1.

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