In the News
Immigrants must earn right to be Americans| Houston Chronicle | October 11, 2011
There are probably many Houstonians who don’t really care about the Columbus Day holiday we observed this week, other than for the fact that it may have given them a three-day weekend. Or, they were a little annoyed because the mail didn’t come and their bank wasn’t open.
There were probably others who resent a holiday to honor a man many modern historians accuse of unleashing generations of oppression against the true natives of the Americas. Finally, there were those who went to work, gave their all during a busy day, went home exhausted, slumped in front of the TV and asked themselves, “what holiday?”
As an American immigrant who came here from Lebanon many years ago and earned my citizenship, I don’t fit into any of those categories. Columbus Day was an important day of reflection in my mind because although Christopher Columbus first landed on an island that is not part of the United States, and he certainly wasn’t the true first immigrant to the Americas, the symbol he now represents should be an important one to all who come from abroad to make this country home.
Immigration has always been a touchy subject in this and any other country. The political battle over both legal and illegal immigration from south of the Texas border is certainly not the first such fight that has raged in this country and is not likely to be the last. But, I believe the current fight will end just as the others have – with the immigrant population that is the focus of the fight fully proving its value to the country and culture.
“Irish Need Not Apply” was the message at job sites in 1860. One hundred years later, John Fitzgerald Kennedy was president. In 1924 Congress reprehensibly passed the Asian Exclusion Act, designed to limit Asian Immigration and limit the freedoms of those already here. Today, I need not spend any time outlining the benefits provided to this country by its strong and growing Asian population. Over the decades Arab immigrants such as myself have experienced a range of receptions, from outright to open arms.
In each and every case, including the current one, the hostility ended not because the switch of enlightenment was thrown on in the minds of the vast majority of Americans. It came because the immigrant population rolled up its sleeves, went to work, and added another element of greatness to the greatest country on earth. In the current battle over Latin American immigration, I believe that has already happened but recognize that some still do not.