Tag Archives: Immigration

The Parallels to Today


A few minutes before series starts–Betty Cherry Heritage Hall at Mount Mercy is filling up.

One thing about a history lecture—it can leave you mildly depressed, thinking “we’ve seen it before.”

In the wake of World War I, restrictive immigration rules were put in place in reaction to the Red Scare. A poster from that era proclaims “America for Americans.” The poster was made by the KKK.

Throughout America’s history, this land of immigrants has struggled with fear of the newcomer. In the 19th century, it as the Irish who were destroying the fabric of this country. Late in that century, we feared the “yellow menace” and banned Chinese immigration.

Now, we are worried about Hispanics, especially Mexicans.

It was interesting to hear MMU Assistant Professor of History Allison McNeese briefly cover the story of the U.S. and Iowa from an immigration point of view. She used many period images—quotes from letters, editorial cartoons and photographs.


Allison McNeese shows a World War I Ding Darling cartoon from the Des Moines Register showing fear of the state’s large German population during World War I.

image of logo-color.jpgThe 2016 Fall Faculty Series: Building Walls, Building Bridges: The U.S. as an Immigrant Nation got off to a good start tonight. Approximately 100 people crowded into Betty Cherry Heritage Hall to hear McNeese speak.

Afterwards, there were cookies in the library by a set of posters that display information on U.S. immigration. I suppose my one regret is we didn’t have more people come down to the library to view the posters, but the good news is they will be on display for some time.

If you missed the first event, don’t despair—there’s lots more to come. More of my photos from day 1 here. Check out the whole series at www.mtmercy.edu/immigration.


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I Felt Like the US Is Becoming Honduras

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The 7 million people of Honduras do not live in a poor country—because it is rich in natural resources—but in a country of extensive poverty, said Héctor Efrén Flores.

That poverty has many roots—Central American wars of the 1980s, supported by the United States, are one. Extensive drug cartels funded by drugs sales in the United States is another. An economy warped by the impact of, and money from, illegal immigration to the United States, is a third.

Flores outlined some realities of Honduras in a speech Feb. 23 as part of the Global Issues Series at Mount Mercy University. In his speech, Flores—a lawyer, poet and activist—said Honduras has six families that own most of the country—200 people who basically possess a land of 7 million souls. Lest we be smug, my fellow Norte Americanos, let us note that not only is our middle class imploding, but our politics is increasingly ineffective in a warped, dysfunctional democracy whose government seems to be for sale to the highest billionaire bidders.

“We don’t need your idea of democracy,” Flores said at one point.

Ouch. He is probably right, but I think we need our idea of democracy. In the current election cycle, our dysfunction has grown to the point where one of our two major parties seems torn between a neo-fascist business tycoon clearly not qualified to be mayor of a modest city, let alone president, and a far-right, extreme ideologue legislator haTED by his own peers. The middle, it seems, no longer exists.

Well, we’re not Honduras, yet. But I wish we were comfortably farther from that kind of political corruption rather than edging that way.

Anyway, Flores wasn’t calling for us to take to the streets in the United States, but rather to condemn the corrupt government of Honduras, to stop emphasizing the military in our foreign aid, and to, mostly, leave Honduras alone to find its way.

“If you tell everyone what you learned tonight,” he said, “that would help a lot.”

In our current presidential campaign, it’s become fashionable for Republicans to bash immigrants. Flores says he doesn’t really think immigration is the root of the problem—it’s our insistence on making immigration illegal. If Hondurans could come to the U.S. legally, he says, they wouldn’t have to work in the shadows for substandard pay.

He hinted that the thinks it’s a bit too convenient that the byzantine, ruthless United States immigration regulations force Central American workers to be marginalized and thus easier for American businesses to exploit and underpay.

I don’t know if that’s the whole story. Immigration is such a big issue that it will partly be the focus of a whole series of conversations at Mount Mercy this fall. But I do think Flores was making a valid point.

So, kudos, Dr. Mohammad Chaichian. The Global Issues Series at MMU, which you coordinate, brought an interesting, thought-provoking speaker to Mount Mercy.

Flores, whose speech was translated from Spanish to English by Kate Kedley, a University of Iowa language doctoral student, was introduced by Belkis Suarez, assistant professor of Spanish. Suarez noted that Flores works for Fe y Alegría, an international Jesuit group that promotes education and social justice in many countries. That group was started by a Jesuit priest in the Venezuelan town Suarez came from.

Flores said his work as a political activist is dangerous. He fears for his life “todos los dias.” But he maintains hope for a better future for Honduras, and he says aiming to achieve that better future is worthy of his voice and the risks he takes every day.

Honduras, he said, is the greatest country on Earth, a multicultural land of possibility. Peace and economic development, which would be brought on by true democracy, could help Hondurans realize those possibilities.

If felt myself moved by such optimism in the face of adversity. It made me think of us, the United States. If we, the people, don’t like the current state of our politics, it is up to us to speak out, to make our own future something that is worthy of our voices.

Fe y Alegría, faith and joy: these are not things that are easy to have in times of adversity. But they are more conditions of the heart than rewards from outside us. May we have enough faith in ourselves to work towards a more joyous future—for us, for Honduras, for todo del mundo.


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And for 2016 Our Series Is …

“No one was even looking in our direction, and I felt the way that I often felt in this country-simultaneously conspicuous and invisible, like an oddity whom everyone noticed but chose to ignore.” The Book of Unknown Americans.

I’m pretty excited for the 2016 Fall Faculty Series at Mount Mercy University. The theme was chosen Monday at our faculty meeting from among many ideas submitted by staff and faculty.

Joy Ochs, our faculty chair, was last year’s applause-o-meter, but decided the dignity of her office prevented her from doing that role this year. I, on the other hand, have no dignity that I am aware of, so I stood there, hands to my right, ready to sweep in an arc leftward to measure the applause.

There were a whole menu of ideas presented, but after brief discussion, the faculty settled on these finalists:

  • The Mercy Jubilee Year, declared by Pope Francis.
  • The Status of American Democracy.
  • Immigration to the United States.
  • Assimilation vs Identity Among the People Who Immigrated to the United States.

I’m not sure we exactly articulated the fourth idea that way—it was more like “the immigration and assimilation idea.” We got caught up in the interesting debate over whether to even use the term “melting pot,” which is mostly an analogy that works for white Europeans and not so well for everyone else.

But number 4 was a clear winner, the one that moved my hands most over to the left due to the volume of applause. I’m pretty pleased with that choice. The first idea was timely, and tied a larger Catholic theme to MMU, the second was certainly relevant and no doubt will be discussed in many class, and the third was likely to be a hot topic in this election cycle—but the fourth idea can incorporate many of the suggested themes as forum topics.

For example, the Sisters of Mercy come from Ireland, and one suggested theme on our larger menu of choices was to play off of the 100th anniversary of the 1916 Easter Uprising—to think about Irish immigration and what it means. Two of the suggestions had to do with prominent 19th century prejudices that have not completely disappeared in 21st century America: Anti-Chinese sentiment and anti-Catholic sentiment. Another idea had to do with the roots of the nativist movement in 19th century America. And any or all of these could become event-forum topics in our 2016 series.

Also today, we have Donald Trump’s first commercial, an abysmal video calling for a ban on Muslims entering the U.S. “until we can figure out what’s going on.” One thing going on is a churlish attempt to create a religious test for immigration, something from which true Americans recoil in horror. But then, to be honest, “recoil in horror” is pretty much my default reaction to almost all things related to The Donald.

But, I digress. The Muslim-American experience is something that could be discussed in this year’s series.

We have a good theme for our 2016 series, one that taps into a universal American experience: The question of assimilation vs identity. It applies to all immigrant groups—and most of us are members of or come from various immigrant groups—as well as to Native Americans, who live in a country with an alien-dominated culture. No doubt all those good White Americans occupying a federal wildlife preserve in Oregon just want to return the West to its rightful, indigenous owners, right?

Sorry, another digression. I’m back on topic again.

Book cover

I’m about 2/3 of the way through this book. It’s a good read.

What the faculty selected is also a good theme because Christina Henríquez, the author of  “The Book of Unknown Americans,” is speaking this fall at MMU—so we already have an event set that can resonate well with the new fall series.

As a reminder, this is the third such series MMU has hosted. In 2014, we had a big conversation about the far-reaching cultural effects of World War I: “A Century of Glory and Shame: Mount Mercy Reflects on How WWI Made Today.” In 2015, we decided to try a Fall Faculty Series again, this time the theme was: “Stories We Tell: Legacies of the Vietnam War.”

Both proved very popular, drawing faculty, staff, students and community members to multiple events. The two previous series also touched on anniversaries: The 100th anniversary of the start of World War I, the 50th anniversary of U.S. combat forces entering Vietnam in large numbers and the 40th anniversary of the war ending.

This year is neither a war nor an anniversary, but I think it’s good to do something different. Plus, even if it is not an anniversary, the theme clearly touches on immigration, which is bound to continue to be a hot topic.

Anyway, now comes the dreaming and planning. We need to name this thing in a way that resonates, that can draw community members in. Candice from nursing suggested that “journey” should be part of the name. We fussed a while at the faculty meeting over whether “melting pot” should be mentioned, and I brought up the competing “quilt” analogy.

Here are my initial attempts at names for the 2016 series:

“Journeys to America: What is Native and what is New in a Patchwork Nation.”
“The Reality Behind the Melting Pot: Assimilation and Identity in the U.S.A.”
“What it Means to be U.S.: Reflections on Our Immigrant-Ethnic Heritage.”

Honestly, none of them exactly rolls off the tongue. I’m not feeling the naming magic, yet.

So, what are your thoughts? If you were to name a series of events about how immigrants and natives assimilate or remain culturally separated in the United States, what would you call it?

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