I’m a white person. My dad’s side of the family has been here since the Colonial days. His line is mostly made up of white Protestants from England, Germany, and the Netherlands. Most of the ancestors on my mom’s side came here later, in a wave of immigration around the turn of the century that was largely made up of people from other parts of Europe.
A lot of people greeted my grandfather and people like him with anxiety, suspicion, and hostility. They thought that because he had a different religion and was from a different part of Europe, he might be lacking in intelligence and moral values. They thought he and his fellow immigrants weren’t “assimilating” fast enough, that they didn’t “fit in.” They thought these newcomers might harbor dangerous anarchist sentiments. Within a generation or two, most of these anxious “real Americans” lost their fear of people like my grandfather. Maybe they grew in their ability to tolerate difference, or perhaps their anxiety just found another target. In any event, the U.S. seemed to weather the influx just fine, even though, as a percentage of the overall population, the levels of immigration during that time were huge compared to the levels these days.
As I said, I’m white, and since I qualify for the DAR (and the Daughters of the Confederacy) and come from a long line of farmers, teachers, and craftsmen, I imagine you’d accept my assertion that I have a right to be here, that I’m a “real American.”
But you know what? I often prefer to use chopsticks rather than a fork. To me, it makes the food taste better. I’ve done so in all sorts of settings, with corporate VPs and with journeyman carpenters, and no one’s ever batted an eye, let alone accused me of insanity.
Are you willing to consider that maybe the problem isn’t that some people want to use chopsticks, or retain their language, or see themselves represented in the media, and still be seen as real Americans? Is that really more than you can offer? Are you willing to get curious about whether our history is as homogenous as you might like it to be? Are you willing to concede that most folks are just trying to show up, do their best, and leave the world better for their kids, even if they’re doing all that in a hijab or a guayabera or a black beret? Are you willing to genuinely wonder, just for a minute, if maybe all these newcomers aren’t the ones with a problem?