A few days ago, International Business Times ran an article reporting that "DNA proves that Native American and indigenous Canadian groups along the northern Pacific Ocean have been living there for more than 10,000 years." The article stated that this evidence backs up the oral traditions of the contemporary descendants of these ancient people. The headline, however, erroneously yet not surprisingly declares, "America's First Immigrants: DNA Links Native Americans, Indigenous Canadians To First Ancient Migration."
Were there "immigrants" 10,000 years ago?
In his 1995 book Red Earth, White Lies: Native Americans and the Myth of Scientific Fact, scholar Vine Deloria, Jr. recounted a story of a 1970s trial in Nebraska where Native Americans were fighting to enforce a 19th century treaty. Discussion of the Bering Strait came up and during the break, a white woman came up to Deloria. "Well, dearie, we are all from somewhere," she gushed. Deloria writes that "Her remark was symptomatic of non-Indian response to Indian pleas. By making us immigrants to North America they are able to deny the fact that we were the full, complete and total owners of this continent."
The theft of Indigenous land was the foundation of this nation.
The liberal concept that "we are all immigrants" is dangerous and wrong. Conservatives also critique it, but for a different reason than I will. They argue that it is misleading because a nation cannot be made up of diverse people since the word "nation" originates with Latin word for "birth." Nations must be homogeneous, they say. This is a a damaging critique.
Relying on the idea that "we are all immigrants" makes the violent creation of the nation, the imposition of a border, as well as the traumatic history of the powerful elite deciding who belongs and who doesn't belong, who is a citizen and who is not a citizen invisible. It makes us all appear homogeneous in our immigrant journeys to becoming "American."
The word "migrant" in English dates back to the 1670s but the word "immigrant" dates to the 1790s, a time when nation-states and nationalism were on the rise. The word was used increasingly by the 19th century when Irish immigrants began to come to the United States in rising numbers. By the early 20th century, its use was increasing dramatically as people from Latin America and Eastern and Southern Europe began migrating here.
What the "we are all immigrants" concept hides is the traumatic effects of the theft of land and lives upon which the US was built as well as Manifest Destiny and U.S. imperialism.
Despite Secretary of HUD Ben Carson's allegation that enslaved people were immigrants (made possible by the widespread of acceptance of the "we are all immigrants" lie), over twelve million Africans were brought from African involuntarily; ten million survived the middle passage to come to the Caribbean, South and North America. The descendants of enslaved people undermine the immigrant lie.
In 1846, the U.S. declared war on Mexico and took half of its national territory, including the valuable Pacific ports in 1848. Approximately 100,000 people were incorporated into this nation against their consent. These first "Mexican Americans" were not immigrants. The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo that ended the war did little to protect these forced "Americans." The first generation of Mexican Americans lost land, political and social status, and despite the fact that the Treaty said they would be citizens, they were not treated as citizens. The descendants of the Mexicans involuntarily brought under US control undermine the immigrant lie.
In 1898, the US war against Spanish imperialism lasted a matter of weeks. While the United States was initially welcomed by the Puerto Ricans and Cubans fighting for their independence because the US declared it was fighting for their freedom, the end of the war did not bring freedom. Instead the US annexed Puerto Rico, the Philippines, and Guam as colonies. In 1917, the Jones Act granted Puerto Ricans US citizenship. A recent survey reported by LatinoUSA showed that less than half of Americans believe that Puerto Ricans are U.S. citizens. The existence of Puerto Ricans brought into the US involuntarily undercuts the "we are all immigrants."
We are not all immigrants.