IMMIGRATION REFORM: HOW HOUSE AND SENATE REPUBLICANS CAN LEARN SOMETHING FROM THE KATZENJAMMER KIDS GENERATION OF ELLIS ISLAND IMMIGRANTS.
I watch the American news a lot. I also come originally from QuébecCity, a place in Canada which is a Unesco World Heritage site. Every season for the last twelve years, I welcomed visitors from around the world to this beautiful old French colonial city in my capacity as a city-accredited tour guide. Many of my visitors were usually from America. As an ice breaker, we’d usually talk about where each of us were from and what we did for a living and what our neck of the woods was like and what was going on there and so forth.
Inevitably, for many Americans, such hot-button issues as immigration reform would come to the forefront and I would have to negotiate this delicate issue with a deft diplomatic touch, seeing that it is a very divisive issue both in America as well as in Canada. Some of my visitors appreciated the contributions made by immigrants in doing the kinds of low-paying jobs which other Americans no longer found desirable, whereas others resented the fact that so many immigrants, especially Hispanics, were living in America illegally and were costing the American Treasury a considerable amount of money in tax dollars spent on treating them for medical conditions inflicted in such things as traffic collisions, educating their children and often incarcerating them when they ran afoul of the law.
I found these resentments were most tangible amongst more prosperous white Americans living in the south and south-western parts of the country and often manifested themselves by sentiments which expressed a sense of outrage that such persons were essentially profiting from the advantages of living and working in America, but were costing the Treasury enormous amounts of money in health, education and social services costs because they were essentially undocumented workers living in America illegally and therefore should be expelled.
Others were more sympathetic to the Hispanic immigrants’ predicament, a sentiment which I share. I feel that immigration reform in America will only move forward once the American Congress and the very prosperous propertied interests which it represents, comes to grips with both the temporal and spiritual dimensions of this issue. First of all temporal. Hispanics provide the very essential services which many Americans have come to count on, such as construction, home care, child care, home renovations, personal care and hygiene services, and so on.
These people are hard working citizens who, if given the slightest opportunity, would apply to obtain American citizenship in a flash if they knew they had a good chance of not being penalized for having entered the United States illegally at one point. Many have already learned to speak English quite well and their children have done so even better. What is preventing them from participating fully in the American Experience is the opportunity to apply for and receive full-fledged American citizenship so as to have the opportunity of fulfilling not only the rights of that citizenship by obtaining government services as mentioned above, but also its obligations through the paying of taxes into the American Treasury, which I think we would all agree at this point, could use a shot in the arm.
Many more prosperous white Americans from the south and southwest invoke the spectre of Hispanics taking over American society and demanding that America be transformed into a fully bilingual society where Spanish would be on an equal footing with English. They often point their finger north to Canada and say that we Canadians have so many more problems because we’ve accommodated a second official language into our society.
However, I don’t think Americans have anything really to fear from official bilingualism. In Canada’s case, we had a dual colonial heritage of both French and British colonization, which left us with two very distinct linguistic and cultural groupings each with their own sense of identity and heritage. Whereas in America, there was only one official colonial power and that was British. The Hispanic experience in America is more a legacy of the Spanish Borderlands, of America’s quest to push her frontier in the continental U.S. to include the entire continental U.S.A., which brought her into contact with Spanish-speaking people.
Let’s not forget the experience of the last century of American immigration, what I call the Katzenjammer Kids era of Ellis Island immigrants. During the latter half of the nineteenth century and the first part of the twentieth, economic and social upheaval in what is today Germany drove many Germans to move to America and Canada seeking a better life. In the case of America, by the turn of the twentieth century, the German influence was so overwhelming that not only did President Wilson hesitate to declare war on Germany in 1914, but there was even talk around that time that German would become the second official language in America!!!
Fancy that! There was even a comic strip in the newspapers in the early 20th century called the Katzenjammer Kids, which was German-inspired, specifically because there were so many immigrants of German extraction in America. It is still running today in syndication and has become an icon of American pop culture, not German. So my point is, German immigrants to America, just like all others from the Ellis Island generation, became American and learned English, (or their children did), and eventually became acculturated into the mainstream of Anglo-American society.
They did this by being not only permitted to participate in the social and economic life of America through the time-honoured process of work, but also by virtue of being permitted to accede to the full rights and responsibilities of the American Experience and the American Dream through citizenship so as to pay taxes into the Treasury and to obtain the protection of the state in both temporal and spiritual affairs by being able to obtain government services and being able to exercise their full religious liberty and freedom.
This brings me to my second point. The spiritual. Mathew 25:40 says ‘And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.’ What our Lord was saying was that how we treat those less fortunate in society is the essential test of that society’s social fabric itself and ultimately affects the outcome of things not only here in this world but in the next.
So essentially in America, its citizens can pay the piper, they can call the tune, but they’d better be darn sure that the piper has the means to pay for his or her uniform and to have it properly cleaned and pressed to come to the show to play. They’d also better be sure to make sure the piper has sufficient means to obtain the necessary medical care when he or she becomes ill, otherwise they’ll have to find another piper, who won’t necessarily be as good as the one they’ve got now. They’d also better be sure he or she has sufficient means to obtain ongoing training so as to be able to play the pipes well enough to be able to continue to play for us and keep us all amused.
Americans can’t expect to have Hispanic immigrants work for them, often for cash under the table, renovating and building their homes, tending their properties, caring for their children and their elders and cleaning their hotel rooms while continuing to deny them the full rights and responsibilities of American citizenship, then complain that the Treasury is out of pocket when these same illegal immigrants, whom the legal citizens are often paying to work for them illegally, become ill or need their children or themselves to be educated.
This is patently hypocritical and immoral and goes against the teachings of the Bible, which both legal and illegal citizens of America purport to believe in! If America wants Hispanics to become fully American, then they should allow them to participate fully in the American Dream and the American Experience, which includes the full rights and responsibilities of citizenship.
One of the main reasons why so many Hispanics are still clinging to the Spanish language and Hispanic culture is precisely because they do not feel fully accepted into the mainstream of Anglo-American society by virtue of their being denied full-fledged citizenship and the rights and responsibilities which come with this.
I’m sure there will always be Hispanics who speak Spanish and this only goes to enrich the social fabric of American society. However, the number of unilingual Spanish-speaking Hispanics would drop considerably if Hispanics were given some sort of amnesty so as to participate fully in the American Dream, just like the Katzenjammer Kids generation before them.
Hey, maybe this will generate some sort of Hispanic-American variant of the Katzenjammer Kids which will go on to become an equally iconic fixture of American pop culture. I guess it all depends on how many of those legal and illegal types are into the spiritual and temporal implications of Mathew 25:40.
Hmmmm….I’ll have to check next time I go to America for Cinqo de Mayo and see if the Hispanic piper dude playing ‘ La Bamba’ on the beach is playing on key, has a clean uniform and a Social Security Number!!! God Bless America!!!