Xenophobia and Immigration
Problems in the US
Introduction: As a country made by immigrants, it is disturbing to hear all the anti-immigrant talk in the recent news. America has a vision of itself as a country with all of these freedoms and hopes; and yet, over and over all we hear is “we need to build a wall, we need stronger TSA, we need to kick immigrants out”. Although some may deny it, xenophobia is a large problem in the United States and with your help, we can try and change that.
Personal Intrest: This problem is very important to me because my great grandparents immigrated here from Italy at a time when racism and bias against Italians were terrible in the US, and from all of the stories that I have heard and articles that I have read I hope to make it so no one will be treated the way they were.
A Brief History of Xenophobia and Immigration Problems: Throughout the good and bad times in the US, we have never been very great at dealing with immigration. Some of the first people to immigrate here were forced black indentured servants from West Africa in 1619 when the US wasn’t even around. Since then and until 1866 there were over 12.5 million slaves that were imported to the US. Voluntarily a major wave of immigration occurred from around 1815 to 1865. The majority of these newcomers hailed from Northern and Western Europe. Approximately one-third came from Ireland, which experienced a massive famine in the mid-19th century. In the 1840s, almost half of America’s immigrants were from Ireland alone. The Irish weren’t the only newcomers though. Chinese immigrants began to arrive in the 1850’s, entering through San Francisco. The immigrants of this period were welcomed as neighbors while the economy was strong and everything was good. But during hard times, the immigrants were cast out and accused of stealing jobs from American workers. Our government did their best to keep them out as well with legislation like the Immigration Act of 1924 the quota that “provided immigration visas to two percent of the total number of people of each nationality in the United States as of the 1890 national census. It completely excluded immigrants from Asia”(Office of the Historian). If that were today that would be 60% of the world’s population not allowed to come to the US.
Present day, the US still is showing cruelty and injustice to people who have immigrated or want to immigrate. Currently, our president is extremely racist and is talking about how he wants to build a wall between us and Mexico. Political leaders and candidates in our country, a country in which many immigrants reside, are openly xenophobic and prejudice. One of our past presidential candidates from the early 2000’s Pat Buchanan stated in referral to immigrants from Mexico: “they are taking our country away from us.” As I said earlier my great grandparents who were Italian immigrated here and like most other large groups of immigrants were treated with contempt. The Italians who were just trying to escape the poverty and injustice of their home were called idiots, accused of stealing jobs from the Americans and were even accused of being linked to terrorism. Today we see injustice and inequality towards immigrants that is very similar to what they faced in the past.
What is Xenophobia and where does it come from?
The Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary’s (n.d.) definition of xenophobia as the “fear and hatred of strangers or foreigners or of anything that is strange or foreign” highlights that the term has been historically used to emphasize a sense of fright of outsiders. However, more recent definitions of xenophobia suggest that the fear of foreigners and their impact is linked with ethnocentrism, which is characterized by the attitude that one’s own group or culture is superior to others (Merriam-Webster Online, n.d.) and also nativism which is, a policy of favoring native inhabitants as opposed to immigrants(Merriam-Webster Online, n.d.). Both of which are characterized by belief in the superiority of one’s nation-state over others. In a study conducted on the Social Psychology of Prejudice, researchers found that individuals and groups ideals that are nativistic, determined by birth country, rather than ideals that are more focused on what that person has done results in more negative views of foreigners. Their experimental studies also showed that nationalism, the belief in the superiority of one’s nation over others, is also related to increased negative views of immigrants(Esses, Dovidio, Semenya, and Jackson). Last, the study showed that individual belief in inherent cultural hierarchies and inequalities within a society is predictive of anti-immigrant sentiments. The information from this study strongly suggests that ethnocentrism, nationalism, nativism, and a belief in a hierarchical world order are heavily associated with xenophobia.
How can we solve this present day problem?
Mutuma Ruteere stated that “Education has a central role in creating new values and attitudes and provides us with important tools for addressing deep-rooted discrimination and the legacy of historical injustices”. Although there are many paths to a solution for xenophobia in the US, I chose to focus more on a path of education and raising awareness in schools and communities to try and solve this major problem. I chose this path instead of one of opposing legislation and creating more tolerant laws because I believe that it will be effective in bringing our country together to face this problem rather which will eventually lead to change in beliefs and legislation all across the country. In the US there is a dire need for public information that tackling misperceptions about foreign nationals as well as education on diversity within the school curriculum. In communities, we need to actively promote respect for the all who reside within the country’s borders and attempt to increase understanding of the root causes of immigration. Education through schooling is by far the most important though. All of those causes of xenophobia that I stated earlier are connected to how the person is raised and what they were exposed to as children. Kids are inherently more sympathetic then adults and if exposed to and taught about the problems people from other countries face we can make an even larger impact.
To truly expose children to real-world experiences while keeping them curious, included and accepting is not an easy thing to do but I have done research and put together some ideas that I think will yield the most effective results.
One of the most important things I think in educating the young on this problem is by having cultural excursions. Depending on where you are and what you have access to this is something very important in the acceptance of people of different ethnicities. This can be done in the form of field trips to various different ethnic neighborhoods in your area and to experience the culture in ways you just can’t get out of a textbook, or possibly if technology allows using skype or facetime to see and talk to people in places around the globe. Beforehand, possibly have kids do some research about the culture that they will be experiencing that day. Encourage students to politely mingle and ask questions and possibly even have members of the community waiting to talk with them. Breaking down barriers is a vital step in the extinction of xenophobia and it begins with getting to know different cultures.
As a part of exposing children to these problems, we need to go deeper than surface level information about these different cultures to help kids understand the day-to-day experiences of diverse members of a particular culture. This includes people in other countries as well as those in the United States. Why do some members of certain groups or culture’s face discrimination and racism? Do recent immigrants face employment and language barriers? How have events like the civil rights movement changed the experiences of a group of people over time? Although controversial these are necessary questions in order to create an empathetic bond between students in the United States and people from other countries.
Often out of politeness, fear of the unknown or fear of offending a person who is different from oneself, we hesitate to ask questions that would help us learn about and appreciate diversity. When young people fail to engage with others who are different from them, stereotypes and misconceptions can flourish. Letting students practice asking questions will increase their comfort level, help them avoid preconceived notions about groups of people, and give them the means to build relationships with diverse individuals. (Provinci).
When faced with a problem as large as xenophobia it’s crazy to think that you can do one thing and it will just disappear, but little by little spreading change around the country will make a huge difference.
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