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Immigration in a Changing World: Identity, Citizenship and Belonging

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On Tuesday, September 12, we went to the Laurel School in Shaker Heights to attend a very fine program put on by "Facing History, Facing Ourselves" entitled "Immigration in a Changing World: Identity, Citizenship and Belonging" which first explored the history of immigration in the United States particularly, but not confined to, as it pertained to the Chinese and other people of color and then connected the past with what is taking place currently.

During the course of two and a half hour session, we spent time examining sociologist Helen Fein's "universe of obligation" or the circle of individuals and groups within a society "toward whom obligations are owed, to whom rules apply, and whose injuries call for amends" and its implications dealing with our nation's immigration policy. We also devoted time to reviewing the debate (both pros and cons) about the immigration Act of 1924 which severely limited the opportunities of certain ethnic groups to immigrate to the United States.

In the last part of the program, we used a "New York Times" article by Ms. Miriam Jordan dated 7/20/2017 entitled "When Syria Came to Fresno: Refugees Test Limits of Outstretched Hand" as a basis for discussing how immigrants and refugees could be welcomed into our communities and how all parties could learn from each other.

Finally, we reviewed the suggestions of Ms. Laura Tavares, Senior Associate for Staff Development at "Facing History...", on how educators could address the latest new on immigration with their students. These suggestions involved affirming the right to education and respect for all students, use the "universe of obligation" to consider how we define our responsibility to others, and to put the debates on immigration and refugees in historical perspective. On the latter point, it seemed everyone at the program was a bit chilled as we realized that the immigration debates of the past are strikingly similar to those taking place today.

Along these lines we read a 1924 passage containing the words of U.S. Congressperson Meyer Jacobstein of New York wherein he recalled that from 1820-1850 "the anti-foreign movement, strangely enough, was directed against the very people who we now seek to prefer-the English, the Irish, and the Germans. The calamity howlers of a century ago prophesied that these foreigners would drag our nation to destruction. The trouble is that the committee is suffering from a delusion. It is carried away with the belief that there is such a thing as a Nordic race which possesses all the virtues, and in like manner creates the fiction of an inferior group of peoples, for which no name has been invented. Nothing is more un-American. Nothing can be more dangerous, in a land the Constitution says that all men are created equal, than to write into our law a theory which puts one race above another, which stamps one group of people as superior and another as inferior. The fact that it is camouflaged in a maze of statistics will not protect this Nation from the evil consequences of such an unscientific, un-American, wicked philosophy."

This "Facing History..." program was organized and conducted by Ms. Pamela Donaldson, Associate Program Director; Ms. Lisa Lefstein-Berusch, Senior Program Associate; and Ms. Meredith Pacenta, Program Assistant. In addition to ourselves, it was attended by a representative from "The Diversity Center of Northeast Ohio" and people from such educational institutions as Fuchs Mizrachi School, Magnificat High School, St. Martin de Porres, North Royalton High School, JFK Eagle High School, John Marshall High School, Lakewood High School, Citizens Leadership Academy, and Beachwood High School.

Indeed we believe the program lived up the mission of "Facing History..." which is to engage students of diverse backgrounds in an examination of racism, prejudice, and anti-Semitism in order to promote the development of a more humane and informed citizenry." Most importantly, as was stated by Ms. Donaldson, "we want students to be empowered not paralyzed by history."

 

Michael Patterson

Community Liaison,

Margaret W. Wong & Assoc. Co., LLC

Kwasi Bediako