The Building Block of American Enterprise Has Always Been Immigrants (And Why Steve Bannon Needs a History Lesson)

September 11, 2017 •  4 minute read • by Saeed


“Everywhere immigrants have enriched and strengthened the fabric of American life.” ~ John F. Kennedy

“Remember, remember, always that all of us, and you and I especially, are descended from immigrants and revolutionists.” ~ Franklin D. Roosevelt

In his already famous 60 Minutes interview with Charlie Rose, rhetorical bomb-thrower Steve Bannon argues the merits of a Darwinian political environment and is on the attack against the usual targets, which to Bannon  is everyone who doesn’t fall in line with his nihilist ideology: Hillary Clinton, the democrats, the republicans, the “pearl-clutching mainstream media,”  the Catholic Church, the establishment, the George Bush White House, the elites, the “limousine liberals,” and of course immigrants.

In one particular exchange, in response to Rose pointing out that the US was conceived as a melting pot, Bannon disagrees vehemently and shoots back: “You couldn’t be more dead wrong. America was built on her citizens.”

Mr. Bannon, you couldn’t be more wrong.

The United States has always been a land of immigration. Anthropologically speaking, that trend started when the first indigenous people crossed the ice bridge connecting Asia to North America some 12,000 years ago.

Historically speaking, it wasn’t until the end of the 15th century that Europeans set their eyes on the New World in numbers. The French and Spanish were the first to establish settlements before the English and Dutch, among others, founded their first permanent colonies. On the eve of the American Revolution, the land was already a kaleidoscope of languages and ethnicities.

The workers who built the railroad came from the ranks of immigrants who found refuge in America following the Civil War. Every mile of track laid by hand; every spike driven into the ground; and every wooden tie was lifted into place by railroad workers primarily from Italian, Irish, and Chinese descent.

The Industrial Revolution of the late 1800s attracted more immigrants as businesses in the United States grew quickly. New technology and new ideas helped develop large factories where many new products were made. These businesses needed more workers to keep growing. Immigrants and migrants filled the labor demands of the new industrial order, transforming the nation.

Between 1882 and 1914 approximately twenty million immigrants came to the United States. Mass immigration from eastern and southern Europe dramatically altered the population’s ethnic and religious composition. Unlike earlier immigrants, who had come primarily from northern Europe—Britain, Germany, Ireland, and Scandinavia—the “new immigrants” came increasingly from Hungary, Italy, Poland, and Russia.

By 1900, New York City had as many Irish residents as Dublin. It had more Italians than any city outside Rome and more Poles than any city except Warsaw. It had more Jews than any other city in the world, as well as sizeable numbers of Slavs, Lithuanians, Chinese, and Scandinavians.

Modern times have been no different exemplified by some of the titans of business.

Steve Jobs’ father was a Syrian refugee.

Satya Nadella, CEO of Microsoft is an Indian immigrant. So is Sundar Prachai, CEO of Google.

Sergey Brin, Google’s co-founder was a Soviet-born refugee.

Throughout American history, millions of people around the world have left their homelands for a chance to start a new life in this country. Despite many difficulties, both immigrants and migrants forged new communities in their adopted homes.

From the forefathers’ first steps, to the challenges faced in today’s globalized world, immigrants have always been part of the American story and part of the solution, not the problem. It is historical revisionism to believe otherwise.

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