Is the United States a “Nation of Immigrants?”

Thursday, January 18, 2018 6:00PM

Is the United States a “Nation of Immigrants?”

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Is the United States a “Nation of Immigrants?”

From the time Britain organized its first colony in North America in 1607, as well as the other twelve and British colonies in the Caribbean, British settlers in those colonies were and remained citizens of Great Britain and could travel without constraint or papers from colony to colony, from the Caribbean colonies to the North American ones and the reverse.No designation as “immigrant” existed; those British citizens in all the British colonies were called “colonists” and “settlers.” But, the blockbuster Pulitzer Prize winning Broadway play, Hamilton: The Musical—based on a novelistic biography of Hamilton by Ron Chernow—was a 21st century enactment of the “nation of immigrants” nationalist ideology that had been developing since it was coined in 1958 by then-US Senator John F. Kennedy in his book by that name, becoming the framework for US history education by the 1990s. The creator of Hamilton: The Musical, Lin-Manuel Miranda, who was born and grew up in New York of Puerto Rican parentage, presents himself as an immigrant as well, obfuscating the reality of Puerto Rico as a US colony whose residents have been US citizens by birth since 1917. Nor was Hamilton a penniless orphan; his parents had died of yellow fever, but he had a wealthy sponsor who sent him to study at Columbia University in New York City. Nothing about this narrative is about immigrants and immigrants, which raises the question of the purpose of the “nation of immigrants” mythology and what harm does it do to actual documented and undocumented immigrants today.

Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz grew up in rural Oklahoma. As a veteran of the Sixties revolution, she has been involved in movements against the Vietnam War and imperialism, union organizing, and was one of the founders of the Women's Liberation Movement in the late 1960s. Since 1973, she has worked with Indigenous communities for sovereignty and land rights and helped build the international Indigenous movement. With a doctorate in History, she is professor emerita at California State University East Bay, and author of numerous scholarly Indigenous related books and articles, including Roots of Resistance: A History of Land Tenure in New Mexico and The Great Sioux Nation, as well as a memoir trilogy and the award-winning book, An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States. Her book, Unloaded: A Disarming History of the Second Amendment, will be published in January, and a book challenging the concept of the United States as “a nation of immigrants” will appear in 2019.

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