Multiculturalism–Why It Binds, Not Divides Nations

During the past four hundred years, the American people have struggled with multicultural issues in an effort to create a society inhabited by those of diverse backgrounds. In the 1660s when England took over New Amsterdam, they found a city in which over 14 languages were spoken including Hebrew of early Jewish settlers who fled the Spanish Inquistion. Benjamin Franklin, writing in the 1750s was concerned about efforts of alien immigrants to “Germanize” the English colonists. We Americans have always confronted multicultural issues which invariably included bigotry and prejudice.

Early American history contained two major issues of diversity– slavery and Catholicism. English settlers brought their anti-Catholicism to the colonies and that feeling endured for hundreds of years. The arrival of poor Irish immigrants in the 1830s and 1840s resulted in a dramatic rise in percent of Americans who were Catholic. Nineteenth century America was familiar with newspaper ads warning “No Irish Need Apply.” During the time period 1890-1824, over 20 million immigrants arrived, mainly from eastern and southern Europe, including millions of Jews. These people were subjected to the same comments as made about contemporary Hispanics– they worked for low wages, they took jobs away from native Americans, they refused to speak English, they lacked regard for the basic concepts of democracy. The 1924 Quota Act was designed to keep Jews and east and south Euorpe immigrants from arriving.

I have a copy of the NFL Team Roster for 1940. Next to each player’s name are words like, Polish, Italian, Irish, Jewish, German, etc…Ethnicity was always alive and well in American history. A typical day in 1940 would have seen about a dozen newspapers printed in languages such as Yiddish, Italian, Polish, etc… One could walk for blocks in areas like Little Italy and only hear Italian spoken. it is a myth claiming olden time immigrants were fluent in English and avoided using their native language. There was a vibrant Yiddish theater in New York and some of its actors like Edward G. Robinson went on to fame in Hollywood.

The fight to respect ethnic, racial, an cultural diversity in this nation has been going on for over a hundred years. Laws to end quotas that kept Jews or Catholics or Negroes from entering college were sought. Legislation to end discrimination in hiring or to make illegal restrictive covenants which deprived Jews, Catholics or black skinned people from living in neighborhoods were not achieved until the 1960s. The integration of the armed forces was the result of Missouri born President Harry Truman’s directive and Texas born President Lyndon Johnson, pushed through civil rights laws that seriously damaged his Democratic party but saved the soul of America.

The result is the presence of Condi Rice in the Cabinet or Colin Powell becoming head of the armed forces or Italians serving on the Supreme Court or several US senators who are of the Jewish faith or Japanese Americans holding position of responsibility in government or women finally being able to assume leadership of major corporations. Every accusation against an Hispanic today was made against ancestors of the person who used the slanderous words. We Americans are far from perfect in our quest to attain equality for all citizens, but we are marching along the highway trod by Martin Luther King. It is a long road, filled with potholes and detours, but hopefully, we continue the march for freedom.

The United States has always been a nation of diverse people, it has always struggled with integration of newcomers, it has always possessed those who hate immigrants. In the 1840s the Know Nothing Party wanted an end to Catholic Irish immigration. Fortunately, the majority of Americans have refused allowing the haters to overwhelm the drive for equity for all.