Today a minority, tomorrow an American

July 01, 2012|By TIM ROWLAND |

Maybe the Supreme Court will rule that the stars shall no longer shine at night. Or we can petition against the tide coming in. Perhaps legislation is in order to stop the earth’s plates in their tracks.

But all the laws, court decisions and votes we can dream up will not stop the inevitable: The American peoplescape will continue to reflect growing numbers of what today are known as “minorities,” but tomorrow will be known only as “Americans.”

Same as it ever was.

This is not a policy statement or political position; this is math. And if — as is apparently the case with Del. Neil Parrott — the thought of seeing someone down at the supermarket who is darker than you gives you heart failure, you have my sympathy.

You can adjust, or you grow to be a bitter old chap, banging your cane on the floor over the — as you see it — downfall of the nation.

I have a hunch most people will adjust. Going through life hating a group of people is just too much effort, and it negatively affects the health and happiness of the hater a lot more than the hatee.

The irony is that probably the majority of the people in Washington County have descended from a minority group that was itself hated a couple of centuries ago.

No less an American patriot than Ben Franklin railed against the Germanic peoples, angered by, among other things, their burgeoning population and their failure to learn English.

Take a look at your last name. If it has some of those abrupt, Germanic rings to it, then your ancestors were too brown for Franklin’s taste.

The “stupid” Germans, he wrote, could no more grasp democratic ideals than “they can acquire our complexion.” Franklin lamented that the percentage of “purely white” people in the world was so small and gloomily contemplated the nation’s trend of “darken(ing) its people.”

Yet Franklin ran up against the same conundrum over immigrants in which we find ourselves today: He needed — and we need — them.

Franklin calculated the number of English it would take to do the work of the nation and reckoned it to be sufficient. Therefore, he asked, why should the Germans “... be (allowed) to swarm into our settlements and by herding together establish their language and manners to the exclusion of ours?”

Or why, to modernize the statement, should suburban Latinos be herded into our congressional district to the exclusion of our rural, white values?

Unarmed with Google Earth, Franklin was at a disadvantage. He could not grasp the scope of the nation or the might it would take to conquer its great mountain ranges and broad valleys. There weren’t enough fair-complexioned people on the planet to get the job done, and before long we were welcoming and singing the praises of German industry and work ethics.

Our high unemployment rate of today is largely reflective of desirable jobs, or those not requiring 10 hours a day under a hot sun. The loudest voices against immigration claim that immigrants are stealing American work. But those who are in possession of those loud voices are seldom themselves seen lining up for employment in the strawberry fields or on roofing jobs. Nor do they recommend these jobs for their children.

So there is very little in immigration circles that we haven’t seen before, dating back to the founding of the nation. Accents were the equivalent of skin color in the 19th century. An Irish brogue in 1812 was what a brown complexion is in 2012. But no one refused the service of the Irish on the C&O Canal or in the Civil War.

Later, we savaged yellow skin and slanted eyes, but we were good enough to allow the Chinese to build our transcontinental railroad. Just as we allowed the Italians to work in our mines and the Poles to make the steel that won World War II. This did not excuse them, of course, from becoming the butt of schoolboys’ Italian and Polish jokes.

Those who today decry the influx of Latinos have a million reasons why “this time it’s different,” just as our ancestors would have had us believe about Poles, Italians, Irish, Asian, etc.

But one thing about these “different” people is the same. They all wound up contributing to the greatness of America.

It’s no sin to desire a tougher immigration policy. But there are some demographic truths taking place, not the least of which is that Latinos will be paying the Social Security benefits of the boomers, even those boomers who despise the Latinos’ very existence.

So condemn them at your own financial risk. And realize that, at this point, court decisions, votes and laws are just so much window dressing. Immigrants, as they always have been, are here to stay, and history says that in the long run we will all be better for it.

Tim Rowland is a Herald-Mail columnist. His email address is

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