Fact Check

Immigrants From Different Eras

Letter to the editor contrasts immigrants from different eras.

Published July 26, 2006


Claim:   Letter to the editor accurately contrasts immigrants from different eras.

Status:   Mixture.

Example:   [Collected via e-mail, 2006]

New Immigrants

From: "David LaBonte"

My wife, Rosemary, wrote a wonderful letter to the editor of the OC Register which, of course, was not printed. So, I decided to "print" it myself by sending it out on the Internet. Pass it along if you feel so inclined.

Dave LaBonte

Written in response to a series of letters to the editor in the Orange County Register:

Dear Editor:

So many letter writers have based their arguments on how this land is made up of immigrants. Ernie Lujan for one, suggests we should tear down the Statute of Liberty because the people now in question aren't being treated the same as those who passed through Ellis Island and other ports of entry.

Maybe we should turn to our history books and point out to people like Mr. Lujan why today's American is not willing to accept this new kind of immigrant any longer.

Back in 1900 when there was a rush from all areas of Europe to come to the United States, people had to get off a ship and stand in a long line in New York and be documented. Some would even get down on their hands and knees and kiss the ground. They made a pledge to uphold the laws and support their new country in good and bad times. They made learning English a primary rule in their new; American households and some even changed their names to blend in with their new home.

They had waved good bye to their birth place to give their children a new life and did everything in their power to help their children assimilate into one culture. Nothing was handed to them. No free lunches, no welfare, no labor laws to protect them. All they had were the skills and craftsmanship they had brought with them to trade for a future of prosperity.

Most of their children came of age when World War II broke out. My father fought along side men whose parents had come straight over from Germany, Italy, France and Japan. None of these 1st generation Americans ever gave any thought about what country their parents had come from. They were Americans fighting Hilter, Mussolini and the Emperor of Japan.

They were defending the United States of America as one people. When we liberated France, no one in those villages were looking for the French-American or the German American or the Irish American. The people of France saw only Americans. And we carried one flag that represented one country. Not one of those immigrant sons would have thought about picking up another country's flag and waving it to represent who they were. It would have been a disgrace to their parents who had sacrificed so much to be here.

These immigrants truly knew what it meant to be an American. They stirred the melting pot into one red, white and blue bowl.

And here we are in 2006 with a new kind of immigrant who wants the same rights and privileges. Only they want to achieve it by playing with a different set of rules, one that includes the entitlement card and a guarantee of being faithful to their mother country. I'm sorry, that's not what being an American is all about.

I believe that the immigrants who landed on Ellis Island in the early 1900s deserve better than that for all the toil, hard work and sacrifice in raising future generations to create a land that has become a beacon for those legally searching for a better life. I think they would be appalled that they are being used as an example by those waving foreign country flags.

And for that suggestion about taking down the Statute of Liberty, it happens to mean a lot to the citizens who are voting on the immigration bill. I wouldn't start talking about dismantling the United States just yet.

Rosemary LaBonte

Origins:   On 31 March 2006, the Orange County (California) Register published several letters to the editor dealing with the subject of the immigration debate. One of those letters, by a reader named Ernie Lujan, was published under a heading of "Tear down lady liberty" and read as follows:

Illegal immigrants have been around since the early 1900's, except then they entered through Ellis Island in New York City. They came from countries such as Italy, Ireland, Germany, Poland and France. And now we accept them as true Americans.

Now these people whose ancestors came to this country to make a better life for themselves and their children want to build a great wall along the U.S. and Mexico border and deny these hard-working people the same rights that their ancestors fought so hard and died for.

If you build this wall then you must also tear down the great Statue of Liberty that sits in the New York Harbor.

Apparently another Register reader penned a rebuttal to some of those immigration debate letters, one which was not published by the

newspaper and has instead been "printed" by her husband through the expedient of forwarding it via e-mail (where it was circulated under the title of "New Immigrants").

This piece provides an apt illustration of the phenomenon that one can find in nearly every culture, in every era, a group of people who firmly believe that their civilization once experienced a golden age in which social conditions were much better (if not perfect), and modern society is an increasingly worsening corruption of that arcadian past. The trend continues today, as we commonly see responses to social, political, or economic issues that attempt to contrast the present with earlier eras, to hearken back to times when such problems were significantly amerliorated or simply did not exist. Generally such reactions don't ring true, referring not to the way things really used to be, but to idealized, mythical visions of the past couched in absolute terms. So it is with this letter, which attempts to contrast the "modern immigrant" with immigrants of a century ago, finding the former sadly lacking by comparison. As usual, it references a black-and-white past that never existed.

Yes, many of the immigrants who streamed through Ellis Island into the United States around the turn of the century worked hard, obeyed the laws, did their best to learn English (and otherwise become assimiliated into American culture), raised children who willingly took up arms to defend their adoptive country in times of crisis, and made their way in the world (and perhaps even prospered) with little or no help from the government or anyone outside their immediate families and circles of acquaintances. However, plenty of immigrants in that same era did not fit that mold, such as those who:

  • Resorted to scams, petty theft, and all sorts of other crimes to get by, or simply resumed the same kinds of criminal activities they'd been perpetrating in their homelands, sometimes on large, organized scales (e.g., the Italian mafia, Chinese triads).
  • Moved to enclaves or communities in which their original cultures and languages were preserved, obviating the need for them to assimiliate into the broader American culture or learn English, such as Little Germany and Chinatown, found in New York and many other American cities. Such communities disappeared only after the U.S. passed severely restrictive immigration measures in the 1920s.

  • Retained their original family names, or changed their names only reluctantly — the latter not to "blend in with their new home," but to try to escape the prejudices, persecution, and violence typically visited upon members of various national, ethnic, and religious groups in the U.S. (e.g., Catholics, Jews, Irish, Italians).
  • Were opposed to U.S. entry into World War I (particularly Irish-Americans and German-Americans) or were affiliated with political groups (primarily socialists) which refused to participate in the war.

  • Disdained free lunches, welfare, and labor laws not because they were virtuous and prized self-sufficiency, but because those government programs and regulations did not yet exist, either for native-born American citizens or immigrants.

What this piece illustrates is not so much substantive differences between "old immigrants" and "new immigrants," but rather the truthfulness of the proverb "Plus ca change, plus c'est la meme chose."

Last updated:   26 July 2006

  Sources Sources:

    Orange County Register.   "Letters: The Immigration Debate."

    31 March 2006.

David Mikkelson founded the site now known as snopes.com back in 1994.

Article Tags