American Mentality: Poppycock and prejudice

No Spinzone: Poppycock and prejudice

By Anjum Niaz

On Ellis Island stands the building that once sent shivers down an arriving immigrant — whose fate lay in the hands of the immigration officer, the same as today. – (File Photo)

“My husband cut himself while shaving one morning on board the ship. The wound turned septic when we landed in New York. The authorities checked his face and declared him unfit to enter the US,” a Hungarian woman writes in her journal while describing her ordeal as an immigrant to the US 100 years ago. “With five little children, we left our home and country to start life all over again in a strange place. But my husband never made it because he was declared medically unfit.”
Stories of families cut asunder — mothers separated from sons, husbands from wives and children from parents — fill one’s heart as you tour Ellis Island that sits near the Statue of Liberty in New York harbour. Aptly called “The Isle of hope: the Isle of despair.” And yet, gateway for millions of Europeans including Russians, Ellis Island was this nation’s busiest immigration station from 1892 to 1954, letting in 6,000 people each day and totaling 12 million in a span of 60 years. They became American and gelled into the capitalist system.
Most immigrants coming from Italy and France worked as domestic servants for the wealthy. Today, their ancestors are some of the richest, powerful and influential people in America. While almost everyone in the US has descendants who came from different parts of the world, including the slaves who arrived in chains from Africa, colour and race continue to dominate. Many today just can’t swallow the fact that they have a black president. These white supremacists are doing everything in their power to make sure Barack Obama does not get re-elected in 2012. Many are convinced that he was born in Kenya and not the US as stipulated by the US constitution for a president.
We catch a boat from New York harbour one summer morning that takes us to Ellis Island. There stands the building that once sent shivers down an arriving immigrant — whose fate lay in the hands of the immigration officer, the same as today. Now, most arriving Pakistani men at the airports are grilled in ‘secondary questioning’ before being let in to the US.
In the grand hall upstairs, we move from room to room where the physical and the mental examination once took place. Men and women were stripped to check if they had any infectious diseases. America didn’t want to be lumbered with the sick. “There were stairs I had to climb, so I was panting by the time I reached the examination room,” wrote a man in a letter to a relative in the US. “The doctor checking me declared me unfit saying I had TB just because I got a coughing fit out of nervousness. I was put back on the same boat that brought me here from Sicily. You were at the dock to receive me but I never did see you or my family again.”
But the saddest tale of all is that of a young man declared “mentally unfit.” Just because the peasant from France failed to solve a math sum given to him which he probably was unable to figure because he was unlettered, the examiner put a big cross on his coat with a white chalk and was forever isolated from the rest of his family.
America’s industrial revolution was fuelled by immigrants; today it attracts the best brains from around the world and yet despite all the freedom and privileges that no other country can offer, including the so-called ‘American dream’, people still cling to their own kind. Rarely do the whites mix with people of colour. Daily there are stories of race relations gone awry.
Two controversies today are making the conservatives in America rave and rant. These are “anchor babies” and the building of mosques in this “land of the free.” Expectant mothers (mostly Latinos) come from their native lands to “drop their babies” as one Republican lawmaker puts it crudely. Because the child automatically gets US citizenship, the parents by default can live here but become illegal immigrants. They can’t be deported on humanitarian grounds nor do they pay taxes, and yet are eligible to all the benefits US citizens enjoy.
The second and most pernicious outrage is against the building of a mosque near Ground Zero. Most Americans are up in arms against such a “preposterous proposal.” But those in favour are President Obama and Mayor of New York, Michael Bloomberg. Bravo! Although Obama has since retracted for political reasons.
Says the Tennessee’s lieutenant governor who has like many other states refused a mosque in his state: “Islam is a cult rather than faith!” What poppycock! The guy’s been watching Fox News which spews poison against Islam.

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