restricted access 57 Old Poison in New Bottles: The Deep Roots of Modern Nativism
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57 Old Poison in New Bottles: The Deep Roots of Modern Nativism JOE R. FEAGIN Dating back at least two centuries, anti-immigrant nativism has profoundly shaped the history and present demography of this nation. For instance, the 1990 census revealed that only twelve of the world's nearly two hundred countries were checked off by as much as one percent of Americans as countries of national origin: Britain, Ireland, Canada, Italy, Russia, Poland, France, Netherlands, Sweden, Germany, Norway, and Mexico . From 1607 to 1990 the major waves of immigrants to this country came from Great Britain and certain other European countries (all but one in northern Europe), and from Africa and Mexico. Conspicuously absent from the list are any countries in the Middle East, Asia, South America, or post-colonial Africa. For the most part, both immigration and the shape of the U.S. population reflect the desires , interests, and purposes of Americans of European descent. Indeed, if the United States had not had a Euro-American nativist movement from the 1880s to 1920s, there would not have been a Chinese Exclusion Act (1882), an anti-Japanese "Gentleman's Agreement" (1907-1908), or a series of immigration acts from 1917 to 1924 designed to keep out southern and eastern Europeans. In addition, there would not have been a 1924 Immigration Act sharply reducing the number of Catholic immigrants from countries like Italy and Poland and the number of Jewish immigrants from eastern Europe-and excluding Asian immigrants. If these regulations and laws had not been in effect, the current U.S. population would likely include far more Asian Americans and have a majority composed of Catholic and Jewish Americans. Battles over immigration, then, are struggles over the composition and character of the nation. The same is true today, as many native-born Americans are rising to assert their desire to shape the u.s. population, once again in narrow cultural or racial terms. As in the past, most of the new American nativists wish to keep the nation predominantly white and European. The foundation for aggressive nativism in North America begins in the expansion of European capitalism. By the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries several European nations, especially the Netherlands, France, and England, had spurred the globalization of capitalism . In the process they created a type of colonialism with fundamental inequalities between colonizers and the newly colonized. Beginning in the 1600s, English immigrants began a major colonization of North America, taking over Native American lands in four From IMMIGRANTS OUT! THE NEW NATIVISM AND THE ANTI-IMMIGRANT IMPULSE IN THE UNITED STATES edited by Juan Perea. Copyright © 1996. Reprinted by permission of New York University Press. Copyrighted Material Old Poison in New Bottles 349 distinctive waves. The first to come were English Puritans, who settled in New England and brought dissenting Protestant churches. A second wave, consisting of a few Royalists and many indentured servants, came to Virginia in the mid-17th century and established a hierarchical colony with Anglican churches. A third wave of English Quakers came to the Delaware Valley between 1675 and 1725 and established a pluralistic system based on spiritual and social equality and an intense work ethic. The fourth wave came to the Appalachian backcountry from the borderlands of Britain between 1718 and 1775; this group represented English, Scotch, and Scotch-Irish ancestries and was mostly Protestant. While each group had a distinctive type of English or Scottish culture, for the most part they shared a commitment to an Anglo-Protestant culture, central to which were variants of the English language.1 This fierce commitment to English norms, values, and ways of operating begins the trail to modern nativism. In particular, the famous Puritans built a base for the ethnocentrism and parochialism of the newly emerging u.S.-republic. They developed, as Joel Kovel has noted, "a powerful tradition of hating strangers, foreigners, and subversives."2 This tradition was honed in the bloody attacks by Puritans on the native population. The Puritan immigrants created the first colonial settler-society, one animated by the arrogant notion that these English settlers would make better use of what they saw as undeveloped "wilderness" than "wild savages" who were the present occupants. Commenting on this English settler perspective, Kovel has noted that "The land wasn't densely settled, but it was settled everywhere , and everywhere the whites went they had to get rid of highly developed and very profoundly interesting cultures that had achieved a kind of equilibrium with...


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