May 26, 2006


Immigrant debate’s focus on National Identity could be good for all Americans

By Joe Ortiz

One of the phrases that have captured my attention more so than the “illegal” aspect of the immigration imbroglio is “National Identity.” The phrase is also presented as “American Identity” with supporting adjectives such as “cultural, traditional and creeds.” In this day and age, culture can mean many things to many people, but it’s basically the customary beliefs, social forms, and material traits of a racial, religious, or social group; a set of shared attitudes, values, goals, traditions and practices that characterizes specific entities. Mexicans have a culture, so do Asians, Jews, Italians, as all ethnic groups do, and America has benefited greatly by them.

As the “immigration” debate continues to rear its ugly head, I have received many emails from white friends about their fear of “American Identity” erosion. Each time I asked what is meant by this phrase (American Identity) the responses I get is that immigrants should be good and law-abiding citizens, committed to speaking in English, patriotic and committed to the values, traditions, creeds and the American culture.

I kept probing for a more succinct meaning to this phrase, and for them not to take for granted that I know (and accept unwittingly) what they mean. Most responded by stating that historically, American Identity has had two primary components: culture and creed. The first they say has been the values and institutions of the original settlers, who were Northern European, primarily British, and Christian, primarily Protestant. This culture included speaking the English language and upholding traditions concerning relations between church and state and the place of the individual in society. Over the course of three centuries, black people were slowly and only partially assimilated into this culture. Immigrants from western, southern, and Eastern Europe were more quickly and fully assimilated, and the original culture evolved and was modified but not fundamentally altered as a result. It was also pointed out to me that American Identity developed through three phases: Anglo-America (1789-1861), Euro-America (1875-1957), and Multicultural America (1972-to the present).

The second component of American identity, many said, has been a set of universal ideas and principles such as liberty, equality, democracy, constitutionalism, limited government, private enterprise. These, many stated, constitute the American Creed, which in essence they believe is the fate of America as a nation is not to have ideologies but to be one.

One person added that the founding (white) fathers did envision diversity as a future problem, hence the national motto, e pluribus Unum. He said that throughout American history political leaders, also fearful of the dangers of racial, sectional, ethnic, economic, and cultural diversity, responded to the need to bring us “Americans” together, and made the promotion of national unity their central responsibility. He quoted Theodore Roosevelt as stating “The one absolutely certain way of bringing this nation to ruin, of preventing all possibility of its continuing as a nation, would be to permit it to become a tangle of squabbling nationalities.”

However, what truly lies beneath these notions is an attitude of elitist superiority manifested by a mix of paranoia and chicanery that belies honorable pursuit. What most Americans today fail to recognize is that those pilgrims and puritans were all white and did not foresee the immigration realities we see today. The US Constitution, for the most part, promotes and practices principles and treatment of its beneficiary community. Yet, it was written by white folks who did not expect in later years the migration of Jews, Italians, Germans, Irish, Asians and Latins in pursuit of this wondrous concept.

What many also do not know is the white Anglo-Saxon “good old boy” network of implementing this document has been in existent since the day the pilgrims and puritans landed on Plymouth Rock. According to Scott Atkins, who wrote The American Sense of Puritan, “Of the earliest remembrances of the Pilgrims in the latter part of the 18th century was the establishment of the “Old Colony Club” to provide a clear example of how, from the beginnings of an official nation, nationalistic tendencies used the past as current self-justification. Atkins also stated that their true task “was to appropriate the past of religious separatism as an undeniable component of social and culture and, thereby, its American Identity.

Sadly, American Identity proponents are being led by puritanical minded, right wingers and evangelicals who proudly wear this identity on their shirt sleeves, they who are the tails wagging elite sentry dogs full of bile and hatred toward immigrants, especially Mexicans. For the most part, religious zealots (not true Christ-following servants) have used their erroneous belief in what the Bible truly states in quest of an American mission that their so-called “build a wall” patriotism is in tune with its union of near-religious end, being influenced and guided along with political self righteous means. They are convinced (as Atkins stated) that (in regard to liberty), “every part of God’s providential proceedings justifies the thought....God does the work, but not without his instruments, and they who are employed are denominated his servants.” In essence, it is their basis of worldly power beyond the more predetermined modes of perceived religious entitlement and aristocracy.

The idea of our (America’s) white forefathers then expands beyond its more literal sense to anticipate that it takes its place in a larger lesson in national (genealogy) identity; what the forefathers started their children are bound to finish. Thus, a majority of white Americans have now become the soldiers and border patrol vigilantes not to just their blood-related ancestors, but to their American Identity itself.

It is easier and perhaps in its way necessary to do what has often been done with the waves of immigrants that lay the foundation of the European presence in New England in the early 1600s, to form a stern but strong figure of religious freedom and peaceful coexistence. But yet, today’s American Identity xenophobic explosion towards Mexican immigrants is no less different than their witch-hunts, elitism, intolerance, and narrow-minded zealotry.

To help explain just what America Identity truly means, it’s the white-Anglo Saxon culture whose influence has had the greater effect and which indeed swallowed the “philosophical” one that was once taught when I went to schools but has since never been practiced to its fullest. The phrase, anyone can grow to be the President of the United States comes laughably to mind. Yet, we still see in media and history books the grateful Pilgrims landing on Plymouth Rock, greeted by the true (native) Americans, the ones portrayed by a national holiday, Thanksgiving. Their inherent ideology has nevertheless served as something (for them as) not essential, and therefore, not a danger, to their meaning of American Identity. But it is the white Anglo Saxon Puritanism whose meaning has proved the more dynamic, the more vital to the discourse of public memory. It is American Identity which can be seen as they see fit, and has served as a tool of contention for differing ideological uses and perspectives. However, it’s a sad historical paper trail that they leave behind, along with their strong strain of superiority that is literally negated by Godly principles. Because of their lack of true Godly love (patience, forgiveness, long-suffering, charity, etc.) the lack of these traits, have had a shallow meaning for their national identity.

Yet, this renewed focus on those who fear America’s National Identity is being eroded by Mexican immigrants, could go far in bringing about a more humane view and positive approach as to how Americans (and self avowed Christians) treat their fellow human beings. Within them one searches for the what seems must be a true Godly mind and heart, even as one realizes simply from the differing historical interpretations (scientific, revisionist, new-historical, and otherwise) that such a thing, if it could and did exist, looms farther in the horizon than it should.

Joe Ortiz has the distinction of being the first Mexican American to host an English-language talk show on a commercial radio station (KABC Talk Radio, 971). He is the author of The End Times Passover, a book that refutes the Left Behind and many right-wing evangelical doctrines. He lives in Redlands and writes for several local and national periodicals.

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