Dear Editors,

While I have to agree with Anne Olshansky that most New Yorkers still extend a welcome to immigrants, after reading her article “Emma Lazarus’ ‘The New Colossus’: A Timely Reminder of American Ideals” in the February 2018 issue of WestView, I looked back at a letter I had written to the New York Times (but didn’t send, since they followed up the next day with an editorial along similar lines) in reply to a January 12, 2018 OpEd piece “No One is Coming To Save Us From Trump’s Racism,” by Roxane Gay (an American whose parents came to the U.S. from Haiti). In her piece, Gay had said:

“There is a lot of trite rambling about how the president isn’t really reflecting American values when, in fact, he is reflecting the values of many Americans.He didn’t reveal any new racism. He, once again, revealed racism that has been there all along.”

In my letter to the Times, I wrote the following, which has been edited by WestView:

“Sadly, Roxane Gay’s piece is all too correct in reminding us that [Trump’s] remarks are reflecting the values of many Americans. Emma Lazarus notwithstanding (“Give me your tired, your poor…”), over the centuries, this country has seldom been madly keen to welcome “the huddled masses” and has sent out some very mixed messages.

When I was a new immigrant in 1954, it was the McCarran-Walter Act (1952) that was the focus of much discussion. Ms. Gay’s piece prompted me to go online for a reminder of what it had actually involved – holding the ‘Communist menace’ at bay. (How could I have forgotten?)

And then, as so often on such searches, I was lured into learning a whole lot more about our* country’s immigration policies, leading me from the Immigration Acts of 1945 and 1953, to the Naturalization Law of 1802. This included side trips to the all-too-prevalent 19th century prejudice (e.g., “No X Need Apply”) and the saga of the Jewish refugee ship, the St. Louis, which was turned away from the U.S. in the summer of 1939.

In all, a very enlightening – though hardly enlightened – journey through some of our not-so-finest hours!

* I say “our” since eventually I became a citizen, of course.”

­—Maggie Berkvist

Tags :

Leave a Reply