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Doris writes a weekly column for LaGaceta, the nation's only trilingual newspaper, which has pages in English, Spanish, and Italian.  Begun in 1922 for Tampa's immigrant community, it continues to thrive more than a century later.  Her column is titled "In Context," as it aims to put contemporary issues in the context of the past.

How We Became Americans

The headline in Daily Kos read, "Virulent anti-immigrant zealot announces bid" for the Pennsylvania governorship.  Even before I opened it, I said to myself, "Whatta want to bet that it's a man and his name is from one of the ethnic groups that came near the 1924 congressional cutoff of mass immigration?"  Sure enough, he's Lou Barletta.  Earlier, as a city official, he pushed an anti-immigrant ordinances that the court struck down.  The lawyer for that expensive case?  Kris Kobach.


It's something I've come to expect, as the past predicts the present.  I've been interested in immigration since I took a graduate-level class in it in 1969, and it was the focus of my first book, Foreign and Female (1986).  Here's a simplistic overview:  For decades after the American Revolution ended in 1789, virtually all Americans were descendants of settlers from the British Isles.  A few French drifted down from Canada, and some were in Louisiana; Delaware was originally settled by Swedes, and there was a Dutch presence in the New York area.


Most came as individuals, however, and there was no mass immigration by ethnic group until the 1840s, when a million people arrived from Ireland because of famine there.  (Another million starved to death; even in what is now the welfare state of Sweden, starvation remained a reality into the 1900s.)  Because they were poor, and especially because they were Catholic, most Americans scorned the Irish.  Their men got jobs building the new railroads, though, and their women were eager to work as cooks and servants -- even though their American employers endlessly complained about their lack of domestic skills.


A few people from Scandinavia and northern Germany came in the 1850s – but some were akin to my German ancestors: frightened by Native Americans in Minnesota, they went back to Schleswig-Holstein.  The American Civil War also slowed immigration, but it rebounded with peace – and especially because of the 1862 Homestead Act, which gave 160 acres of free land to anyone who lived on it for five years, whether or not they were citizens.




Germany was not yet a unified nation, but its young men were subject to compulsory military service.  Norway was under the thumb of neighboring Sweden, but it was America's free land that motivated my great-grandparents.   Hans Froslan, from the mountains of Norway, was like many others in going first to a big city, Oslo.  He worked in a bakery to could earn the money for fare, and his wife, Kari Morstand, also worked and saved.  He came to Minnesota in 1869; Kari and baby girl, Hansine, followed the next year. 


The Froslans lived for a while in a dugout by a river bank.  None of my German ancestors were that poor, and probably because most of the new Midwesterners were Lutheran, they did not suffer the hostility that greeted the Irish back East.  Few Irish immigrants had the resources and farming skills to move out of the cities, but other Catholics came to the Midwest in the 1880s, from especially Belgium and eastern Europe.  They included Poles, Hungarians, and Bohemians (today's Czech). 


Then came what historians call the Second Wave, which can be defined as the last two decades of the 19th century and the first two decades of the 20th.  These were people from southern and eastern Europe, especially Italians, Greeks, and Jews from provinces dominated by Russia.  Their cultures and religions were even more different, and it took much longer for them to assimilate. 


Thus it is really ironic to hear men with Italian and Slavic names to push anti-immigrant legislation.  I doubt if their families, who managed to get in before the 1924 law that banned most immigration, would be proud of them.  It is a genuine historical phenomenon, though, that the last group to benefit from something is the first to cut it off from others. 


It's based in insecurity, and you can see it, too, in their hero, Donald Trump.  Despite the fortune made by his German-born grandfather, the guy who views himself as the ultimate American still lives in an evolving mental milieu that isn't even accurate in his personal case, let alone the historical case.  At least three times, he has claimed that his father, not his grandfather, was born in Germany, and he seems proud of his presumable second-generation immigrant status.  Second-generation Mexicans?  Not so much.




I must point out that this is national history, not that of Tampa or even the South.  Despite Scarlett O'Hara, few Irish immigrants ventured south of the Appalachians.  The powerful people who ran the South did not welcome foreigners, especially Catholics with foreign ideas.  Nor did they want free labor to interfere with slavery, and later, sharecropping.  With the exception of a few immigrant enclaves established by people who came up the Mississippi River from New Orleans, Southern states were isolated and parochial.  This was a big factor in the ego that led to the Civil War, and such insular attitudes remain a disincentive to our economic and political progress.


Tampa is unique with its distinctive Cuban and Sicilian settlers, recruited here by the Spanish-owned cigar industry.  They came in a time when no one cared about citizenship – and despite that change, corporations still recruit.  This is especially true of the food industry:  it's hard to find an English speaker picking winter strawberries or tomatoes here in Hillsborough.  The same is true of agriculture on the West Coast.  In between, it is illegal immigrants who do the nasty work of Midwestern meat packing.


I've written about this before, but I'll do it again.  Instead of hanging out at the border, at least some of the ICE guys should go to the interior and hang out at the offices of those who hire illegals – and inspire more newcomers.  Or we could just give up on the rhetoric and acknowledge that we need these "essential workers."  While we're at it, someone should check into the payroll taxes that are regularly deducted from their wages, but never collected because of fear of deportation. And how about Social Security numbers?  I'm willing to bet that employers just invent them and keep the money.




Although they permitted slavery and laughed at women's rights, the founding fathers were way ahead of their time in many ways.  One of the most important was the recognition that demographics would change in the new nation.  They could have clung to power on the East Coase, but instead the created mechanisms for unsettled territory to become equal states.  They had learned this from the British House of Commons, where some men "represented" land that long ago had fallen into the sea.  The Brits wouldn't take equal representation seriously for another generation, and it was Americans who set the world on this path.


They wrote into the Constitution that we would count the population every ten years and divide seats in the House of Representatives proportionate to that population.  I'm sure there are lots of "conservatives" who don't know this and who resent the census as federal interference into personal lives.  The 2020 census was released recently, and you will be hearing a great deal about the re-apportioning of seats.  This will be true especially of state legislative seats, as the feds do a much better job of congressional seats.  We already know who were the winners and losers there.


Many founding fathers were unware of Spanish California, but it is our most populous state.  Nonetheless it actually lost one of its 52 seats because it didn't gain enough population.  Texas did, and it is the only state to have two new seats.  We Floridians are third, and many expected us to add two; as it turns out, we just get one.  New York, Pennsylvania, Illinois, Ohio, and Michigan also lost one.  The winners who displaced them are North Carolina, Colorado, Montana, and Oregon.


This will be the first time that Montana has more than one representative in the House.  Indeed, the first woman in Congress, Jeannette Rankin, was elected in a statewide race before most women got the vote.  Colorado was first to elect women to its legislature – in 1894.  Oregon elected its first female senator in 1916.  North Carolina doesn't have that sort of history, but the key similarity between these states is that they respect their environments.  In contrast, naturally beautiful West Virginia has scared itself with coal mines, and it lost one of its two seats.


Probably this is a good time to remind you that there are nine political jurisdictions with populations smaller than Hillsborough County – yet every state elects its governor, while we in Hillsborough do not elect our CEO.  Every one of these nine states gets two senators, for a total of eighteen, yet we Floridians, with the third-largest population in the nation, also have only two senators. 


On a personal level, when I asked my surgeon when I could return to driving, he said that I should practice in a place with no traffic.  Then we laughed; where in Hillsborough County would that be?  Maybe I could move to one of the nine with smaller populations.  In order of residents, they are Rhode Island, Montana, Delaware, South Dakota, North Dakota, Alaska, Vermont, Wyoming – and Washington, DC.  It has more people than Vermont or Wyoming, yet they have no vote in either chamber of Congress.  It's time for equal representation.



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