This morning I had the honor of appearing on the KSFO AM 560 morning show, hosted by Leigh Rodgers and Melanie Morgan, with Officer Vic providing color, traffic and musical whimsy. Brian Sussman, who hosts his own show on KSFO from 6-8 PM nightly, was the guest host with Melanie and Vic. The topic was the current immigration crisis. A scheduled guest could not appear, so "Dr. History" spontaneously pinch-hit and provided historical perspective of the impact of immigration upon cultures throughout history.
America, by definition, is a land of immigrants. We have an uneven record toward welcoming certain groups at certain times, but overall, we have been, and remain, the first destination for those who want freedom and opportunity. Our sheer size, diversity of cultures, economic opportunities and the values that uphold our land draw people here by the millions.
In 1620 the Pilgrims landed, determined to practice their faith and live at peace with all - they did, for nearly 70 years.
Roger Williams established Rhode Island as a beacon of religious freedom.
In the 1650s, Maryland ("Mary-Land") was founded as a haven for English Catholics, with Lord Baltimore leading the exodus to freedom.
When our Founders wrote the Constitution, they expressly forbade any religious test for political office and forever enshrined the freedom of conscience and religion - the true "First Freedom" - in the first 16 words of the First Amendment.
Bigotry, racism and xenophobia are, alas, conditions of human societies everywhere and American history is no exception. Our Native American policies are a study in moral turpitude and self-deception. The War with Mexico was a pretence for conquest. In the 1850s there were anti-Catholic riots in Baltimore! The legacy of slavery and Jim Crow is still being overcome. The anti-Chinese and anti-Japanese laws of the 19th and 20th centuries are a stain on our history. The isolationism of the 1920s to 1940s kept thousands, perhaps millions, of Jews and other victims of totalitarianism out of our great land.
The previous paragraph reminds me of my history classes in Berkeley and Santa Cruz: America the colonial oppressor...America the racist...America - you get the idea. There were times I felt persecuted for walking in the room - after all, I am a white male, married and middle-class, so I am part of the problem and should apologize for living.
But there are other narrative threads that must be woven into our historical tapestry. Our Revolution was NOT like the one that came later in France! President George Washington spoke at a synagogue - and welcomed people of all faiths or none to be part of the virtuous citizenry our our new land. The Irish who felt persecuted in the 1850s became part of the elite by the dawn of the 20th century. The Asian laborers who built our railroads are now watching their descendants enjoy the American Dream. The African-American and Hispanic-American middle classes are growing and Martin Luther King's efforts are paying rich dividends for many.
Welcome to America - the greatest ongoing experiment in freedom in history.
Welcome to America - we need many "Ellis Islands" to welcome legal immigrants who want to become citizens and uphold our principles and virtues.
Welcome to America - if you are a visitor, we need to know where you are and if your intentions are good.
Welcome to America - a lighthouse to a world that is learning English.
Welcome to America - a land that must not "submit" to any theocracy, especially one designed to destroy our freedoms. People of all faiths or none live with their deepest differences in this nation. Yes, we can persuade and ask people to covert, but coercion and oppression of the conscience have no place in America.
Welcome to America - flawed, but struggling forward; naive at times, but anxious to receive all who embrace liberty and liberty's foundations of faith and virtue.
Welcome to America - and land that does not need to follow in the self-destructive footsteps of Western Europe and wallow in a post-religious vacuum of bureaucracy.
Welcome to America - if you can handle the responsibility that comes with freedom.