Immigration and Discrimination
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During the late 1800’s and into the 1900’s many people immigrated to the United States from Europe and Asia in hope of finding prosperity, and a better life than the one they were leading in their old homes. Another reason was the sudden industrialization of Europe. (The transformation from small, agriculture-based societies to manufacturing economies was so rapid and sweeping that it became known as the Industrial Revolution.) With all this occurring so quickly many people decided to come to America, but when they arrived here they didn’t get what they expected.
More than 12 million people immigrated through Ellis Island between 1892 and 1924, the peak years of the port. They came to America hoping to find the “promise land” but from their journey till when they first arrived in America wasn’t so promising.
Nearly all of the immigrants faced a terrible trip to the U.S., such as sitting in steerage, not receiving a lot of food or proper medical attention, and being crammed together in a very small area. Along with the bad conditions, the immigrants also faced many prejudices and hardships as they arrived.
Upon arriving in Ellis Island, the immigrants were given a physical examination to see whether or not they were fit to live in the United States. In 1891, Congress created the INS, or Immigration and Naturalization Service to administer federal laws dealing with admission, exclusion, and deportation of aliens. The overwhelming majority of immigrants, regardless of ethnicity, were subjected to discrimination. They were not given the same opportunities as native born Americans even if they were equally qualified for certain jobs.
Ellis Island though, wasn’t nearly as bad as its counterpart on the west coast, Angel Island. Generally on Ellis Island, immigrants were processed within hours or days, but on Angel Island it took weeks or even months. It soon turned into a detention center and because of its proximity towards Asia it consisted mostly of Asians, predominantly of Chinese descent.
Many laws and acts were passed over the course of several years when the immigrants started filtering in more and more in order to limit the amount of people that came from various countries. Quotas were set for the number of people coming to the U.S. from a certain country and a quota was set for the total number of people that entered America. People were scared for their jobs and didn’t want any more people here to take over the land.
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Immigration Ellis Island Discrimination Detention Peak Prejudices Weeks Months Exclusion
The newly arrived immigrants were discriminated against and not well liked inside and outside of the workplace. Often times, the same ethnic groups moved together into small areas of cities called ghettos. Ghettos are a quarter of a city in which members of a minority group live especially because of social, legal, or economic pressures. This is something which minorities still face in today’s society as well.
Although the number of people who migrate to the United States has decreased since the early 1900s, the discrimination still exists. Even though racism isn’t as large an issue as it once was, there are still many cases in which the society is divided based on race. The recent police brutalities and killings are examples of what some believe are racism or racial profiling. Atlanta Braves pitcher John Rocker was also quoted as making racial remarks in an interview with a writer from Sports Illustrated.
Along with all the sensitivity towards racism comes the question that asks whether it is equal rights or special rights. Many feel strongly about the subject and society still continues to grapple with the topic of racial discrimination and prejudice. Where as about a hundred years ago nearly everyone was full of hatred towards immigrants who came here and spoke about it with no remorse. The idea of making racial statements in public is becoming more and more a taboo thing to do.
But when businesses began to move production overseas in the early 1990s for cheaper labor costs, many proud working-class Anglo-Australians — including the kind of foreman who hired my father — were laid off. These were hard-working folks who had left school at 15 and had been loyal to single companies for decades. The mood shifted.
Some people in Footscray started to see multiculturalism as a punishment inflicted on them by the government. After all, it was the working-class whites who had to share their neighborhoods, jobs and schools with the new arrivals.
One evening, when my mother, brother and I were walking home, a car pulled alongside. The teenage passengers rolled down their windows and yelled out: “Go home! Stop stealing our jobs!” I was too young to know that Australia was going through its worst recession since the Great Depression.
Another time, someone threw a rock through our front window. Instead of having the glass replaced, my mother just drew the curtains and lowered the canvas awning outside, permanently darkening that area of our living room. My father would not repair the window, hoping to avoid provoking more hostility.
“Most Australians are good,” he told us. “Those are the bad ones. Just ignore them.”
My best friend’s father mowed the lawns at our school. Her mother worked for the juvenile justice department. They were white Australians who lived in a concrete house like ours. The mother would tell us about poor children she encountered who felt hopeless; one kid was so desperate he injected Vegemite in his veins in search of a high.
Unlike their fathers and grandfathers, these working-class white kids could no longer leave school at 15 and easily find jobs that would set them up for life. Now they were lost, on the streets causing trouble, tormenting the newcomers. The immigrants were also scrabbling at the bottom of the barrel, yet we were seen as the main threat to the Australian working-class way of life.
It had long been this way for migrants in Australia. In drafting the Immigration Restriction Act of 1901, Alfred Deakin, who later became prime minister, specifically went after Asian immigrants. “It is not the bad qualities, but the good qualities of these alien races that make them so dangerous to us,” he said. “It is their inexhaustible energy, their power of applying themselves to new tasks, their endurance and low standard of living that make them such competitors.”
In the mid-1990s, Pauline Hanson was elected to Parliament and formed her new political party One Nation, claiming that Australia was in danger of being “swamped by Asians.” It was an easy claim to make: In 1971, the Asian population of Footscray made up a mere 1 percent of the population, but by 1996, it had risen to 17 percent.
At the same time that Dad was telling us to ignore the Bad White Australians, Bad Asians were beginning to appear everywhere. Vietnamese heroin dealers on the 7 o’clock news, Filipino welfare cheats on the radio, Chinese slumlords in the papers. Ms. Hanson declared that Asians had “their own culture and religion, form ghettos and do not assimilate.” People started wearing printed yellow T-shirts, the word “full” emblazoned across a map of Australia.
Keep your head down, my parents advised, because there was no point in fighting such bigotry.
The next time I went to my best friend’s house, her father had tacked up a poster of Ms. Hanson draped in the Australian flag. He sought to reassure me that it had nothing to do with our family. Echoing my father’s line about white Australians, he said, “Yous are the good ones.”
I wasn’t quite sure I believed him, but we tried hard to be good. By the late 1990s, I made it to university, and eventually moved out of my old neighborhood. I became a lawyer and then a writer, and my new middle-class existence seemed to buffer me against the more blatant acts of discrimination.
But last year, when I was seven months pregnant, my Anglo-Australian husband and I found a leaflet stuck to our car outside a Melbourne hardware store. It was a badly photocopied image of a little black boy and a white girl seen through the scope of a gun. Written on it in big black letters was “Stop race mixing.”
“Too late now,” I told my husband.
My college-educated friends were horrified, wondering how I could joke about such terrible racism. I could because it wasn’t a rock through the window. It wasn’t a fist to the face, or a polite but suspect withdrawal of a job offer — all things I have seen happen to friends from my old neighborhood. Yet I’m aware that what I now dismiss as the pathetic mad ramblings of a white supremacist would be a genuine menace to my safety if I were still living in that house with the broken window.
After almost two decades out of Parliament and a brief stint in jail, Pauline Hanson has been re-elected to the Senate, her One Nation party winning four seats there. Now their main target is Muslims, but the game is the same.
As Mr. Ruteere, the U.N. official, pointed out, our problems in Australia are not unique. In Europe and America similar xenophobic ideologies are brewing. Refugees are no longer comforted by a welcoming Australian government. Our new arrivals are no longer benefiting from a national policy of multiculturalism that tells them they belong. They are told to fit in or get lost, yet no one demonstrates how to achieve this assimilation.
I now understand how terrified those without power in Australia feel: They can’t even confront a pregnant woman face-to-face; instead they deposit racist posters and slink off. I am reminded of a line in Ecclesiastes: “I saw the tears of the oppressed and that they had no one to comfort them. On the side of their oppressors was power, but they had no one to comfort them.”
Racists feel that no one, neither society nor the government, appreciates how the modern world has left them behind. But one group shares their unrelenting feelings of deep-seated fear and anxiety: their victims.
What I have learned from experience is this: In your moments of vulnerability, the bigots will still come for you. Your tongue could still be cut out, your windows smashed. You can go about quietly achieving and trying to keep a low profile, but you can never choose invisibility. When the bigots decide to see you, they will see you.
But I am no longer keeping my head down. I can see them, too.Continue reading the main story