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Kristen Piteck
Sue Briggs
English 1050
December 4, 2014
Reflections Essay
One of our countrys biggest hot button issues today is immigration. Securing
the borders (between the United States and Mexico) and what to do about the people
already here illegally are topics that are currently being debated in political circles. There
are a variety of viewpoints on this issue and they are being argued, most of the time very
heatedly many people, especially our politicians. Questions about how immigration
should be handled and who should be able to immigrate have been around almost since
the founding of our country. The issue of racism in immigration is also not a recent one
and unfortunately it continues to play a role today. Its presence is felt more subtly than in
the past, but it simmers under the surface of our ongoing debates about immigration
reform and our countrys current laws. America was built by immigrants, people who
wanted a better life, both economically and politically than they previously had. This is
the motivating factor behind immigration.
Until the late 1800s, immigration limits were not seriously addressed by the
government. In other words, we didnt really have any laws about who and how many
immigrants could enter America. From the start of this country, successive waves of
immigration have occurred, while many people already here often had ambivalent and
even hostile feelings toward those who immigrated. Mary Gordans comment, The

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particulars of the experience in the Great Hall (Ellis Island) were often influenced by
political events and attitudes on the mainland. (433). The majority of immigrants
passing through Ellis Island were northern Europeans and even at the worst of times, they
were usually processed in a matter of hours to a few days at most. Contrast that with the
experiences of Chinese immigrant workers that came to San Francisco and were detained
on Angel Island. Addam, a student in class, shared these thoughts, Though they shared
many similarities, there were some stark differences in the conditions as well. Angel
Island seemingly served as much as a detention, interrogation and exportation center as it
did an immigration hub the average stay was several weeks to several months, in some
cases even years. (Week 2)
In 1875, Congress passed the first restrictive laws for immigration barring
convicts and prostitutes from admission. During the same year, the Chinese Exclusion
Act was passed and stayed in effect until 1942. American immigration history is rife with
racism. From the very founding of America and even before, people of African descent
were forcefully brought here and enslaved. In his address on the fourth of July, Frederick
Douglass speaks of watching slave ships coming to dock in America with cargoes of
Africans (468). People that would have been considered immigrants if they were white
northern Europeans. The 1924 Immigration Act, contained percentage quotas for the
number of persons that were allowed to immigrate from different countries, included a
provision excluding anyone of race or nationality already ineligible for citizenship.
Existing laws dating from 1790 through 1870 excluded people of Asian lineage from
naturalizing. As a result, Asians not previously prevented from immigrating, the Japanese

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in particular, would no longer be admitted to the United States. Two months after the
bombing of Pearl Harbor during World War II, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed
Executive Order 9066, forcing the many Asians had their property taken from them and
were forced to live evacuation of all Japanese Americans to leave the west coast.
120,000 people were dislocated and forced to live in internment camps across the country
from 1942 until 1945. The oral history given by Yuriko Hohri in Studs Turkels The
Good War: An Oral History of World War II gives us a very personal glimpse into her
life and the racism she and many families endured as little as seventy years ago during
World War II. My father was at work. He took care of the vegetable and fruit sections
for two grocery stores. He was brought home by the agents. He was taken to a camp in
Tujunga CanyonThere was a tall barbed-wire fence, so we were unable to touch each
other. (485) Reading the personal stories of people like Frederick Douglass and Yuriko
Hohri help us to view history and the racism that was present from a perspective different
than our own.
The current immigration debates are centered around protecting the border
between Mexico and the United States. We dont hear much about protecting the border
with Canada. I have to believe racism is involved. Again. In the article Passport Photos,
Amitava Kumar illustrates the underlying prejudices along the border by a photo of a sign
at the border crossing. Caution in English for Americans and Prohibido (prohibited)
in Spanish for Mexicans (489). Megan, a student in our class, commented,
I personally have my own photo of that sign at the San Diego and Mexico border.
I have crossed that border and spent a night in Tijuana. The first time I ever saw

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that sign, I was floored. Not by the words but by the picture of the family. My
experience crossing the border was symbolic of what Kumar is talking about
because when I crossed into Mexico- no questions were asked and I had no delay.
In contrast, to get home to America- I had to have my passport and wait in a three
hour line (I wish I was aware of this before I decided to cross (Week 13).
Imagine living on the other side of the border and seeing all the homes and prosperity on
the American side. Wouldnt we all want that opportunity for our families? Mexico, even
more than the other Latin American countries, shares a history with us. Colonized and
colonizer, Mexico and the U.S. have been both. We need to remember the shared history
of our countries. Mexico had occupied a good deal of Texas, California, Arizona, New
Mexico, Utah and Nevada before we did. In Signs from the Heart: California Chicano
Murals one mural La Familia really stands out as identifying with history from both
countries and family values at the center (304).
We live in a transnational world with border crossings of money, power and
people flowing in both directions (497). We cannot close ourselves off from the growth
and influence of immigrants into America. As a country, we need to be more cognizant of
the underlying prejudices that are at play with relation to immigration. We stand to lose
much of what makes America unique if we continue to view immigrants (especially those
of races other than white) as a drain on our resources. Immigrants bring a diversity and
renewal to this country that we need. Our society is enhanced by the different forms of
culture that immigrants bring with them and share with us. Addam, commented,

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Through art however, they can communicate to the visceral part of all people; the
universal part of humanity that appreciates beauty and are unconsciously guided
by curiosity. Art serves as the icebreaker; the opportunity to capitalize on the
natural vulnerability that is curiosity to bridge the course to open dialogue.
(Week 8)
I recognize that immigration is a very complex issue, but I am not sure that it needs to be
as complicated as it is. Common sense tells that people will continue to come here
illegally if they see the opportunity to improve their lives. Providing a guest worker
program would allow people to come here to work and pay taxes until a more
comprehensive overhaul of the immigration system is passed by Congress.
Many of us get in a rut with our viewpoints and close ourselves off from many
influences that we do not agree with. This class has forced me to be more diverse in what
I read. Some of that reading has served to reinforce my viewpoint, but many of the
excerpts and essays helped me broaden my outlook. Seeing things from different angles
makes me question what I believe and use a more open-minded approach in my opinions.
While I have never considered myself to be prejudice, there are many subconscious
thoughts that go into our mental processing. It helps to input perspective from many
sources and examine where our thoughts and opinions are originating.

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Works Cited
Cockcroft and Barnet-Sanchez. Signs From the Heart: California Chicano Murals.
303-309.
Douglass, Frederick. What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?. 460-475.
Gordon, Mary. More Than Just a Shrine: Paying Homage to the Ghosts of Ellis Island.
431-434.
George, Diana and Trimbur, John. 496-497.
History.com/topics/mexican-american-war. Web. 23 Nov. 2014.
History.com/topics/world-war-ii/japenese-american-relocation. Web. 4 Dec. 2014.
History.state.gov/milestones/1921-1936/immigration-act. Web. 23 Nov. 2014.
Immigrationpolicy.org/sites/default/files/docs/WhyDontTheyComeLegally01-08.
Web. 23 Nov. 2014.
Kumar, Amitava. Passport Photos. 514-517.
Turkel, Studs. The Good War. 485-486.

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