Katherine: Looking into the Past… or Seeing into the Future?

Katherine Moone
July 29, 2010

This past weekend I took a bus out of Washington, D.C. to visit the great city of New York.  My main destination of this particular trip was to see Ellis and Liberty Islands, something I’ve never done before.

Katherine Moone

Katherine Moone

While seeing the Statue of Liberty up–close and personal was a powerful experience, visiting the museum at Ellis Island was unique in its mystique, history, and, interestingly, repetition.

During the nearly 10 months that I have been here in the CCAO office as a volunteer, the issue that I have been working on the most is immigration.  The parallels that I saw between the obstacles and prejudice that immigrants in the U.S. in the early 1900s faced, compared to today, were unmistakable.

Political cartoons from the late 1800s and early 1900s depicting immigrants as job-takers, bad for the economy, Communists, dirty and criminals could just as easily be published in today’s magazines and newspapers, with perhaps the word “terrorists” replacing the word “Communists.”  The fears “native-born” U.S. citizens harbored against the unknown ‘other’ was as common a theme then as it is now in our evening news.

The jobs that the recently arrived immigrant did are the same types of low-wage labor that many immigrants do today.  The argument about the need for people to speak English was present back then, as evidenced by posters advertising citizenship and English classes, just as it is today.  Questions about who should stay in the U.S. and who should be detained or removed were also deliberated, as a park ranger explained during a talk.

A thought that I couldn’t shake as I was reading, listening, and engaging in conversation with people is how easily we forget our past.  Many people today who are the great-granddaughters and sons of immigrants who were treated terribly upon arriving in the U.S. are the same people who curse immigrants today.  If, in remembering our history, we all lived by the Golden Rule, I can only imagine the kind of place our world would be.