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Christmas: An Immigrant Story

xmasHello, dear readers. I hope you’re all feeling joyful this holiday season, whether you celebrate any particular holiday or not.

I’d like to tell you a little immigrant story. This one’s not a heartwarming tale about a family of refugees being welcomed into their new home during the holidays, or an orphaned Honduran girl who finds love and safety with a nice Texas couple who bring home her long-lost brother on Christmas (I made that one up). No, this is a history we seem to have forgotten: the immigration of Christmas itself.

We don’t give immigrants enough credit. Think of everything they’ve given us! I’m not just talking about salsa and samosas; I’m talking about the things many think of as traditionally, inherently American. Here are some immigrant contributions you may not be aware of:

  1. White people! Where would we be without white people? (Rhetorical question.) White people were not Made in the USA. Immigrants with light-colored skin have been coming to this land for hundreds of years, and skillfully creating more white people. You may wonder why they’re born with that sun-sensitive skin. While it does seem kind of impractical, it allows people from the cold, Northern regions of the earth to soak up more of the essential vitamin D that Southern regions can access year-round. This is one of the reasons you find so many light-skinned people in Minnesota. But really, you’ll find them everywhere in this country – they’ve even adapted to the more tropical regions. And all those hundreds of millions of white people in the United States are immigrants or the descendants of Immigrants! Look it up!
  2. The English Language! Most of us use it every day without thinking about it, right? But the English Language was brought to us by immigrants, too! If it weren’t for immigrants, you might be speaking Navajo or Sioux or any of the 250 or so languages that used to be spoken by people in the region we now call the United States. Immigrants from the island of England (ˈɪŋ.ɡlənd) gave us the gift of this language in the 17th And its erratic spelling has frustrated Americans ever since.
  3. Christmas! The phrase “Merry Christmas” was made popular by foreign writer Charles Dickens, the Christmas tree came from Germany, even Jesus himself is an import![i] History tells us that Jesus actually came from the Middle East, as did his ideas and his followers. The religions that grew out of his teachings were brought into this country via a circuitous route from the Middle East and the Levant, through Western Asia, then Europe before arriving here. The native citizens of this country had never heard of Jesus until immigrants brought Christianity to this beautiful land and shared it with those who were born here.

Now before you get on your high horse and say, yeah, but what good are those things? And what about the other things those same immigrants brought, like smallpox and forced labor and massive environmental destruction? Just remember this: YOU may be one of them. No joke! If you are not one of or a descendant of either native people, enslaved people who were forced to come here, or the 1.2 million mestizos who were “repatriated” into Mexico during the Great Depression after simply remaining on the vast swath of land taken by the United States with the Treaty of Guadalupe, you are a child of immigrants! Don’t know your family history? If you have light skin, I have the psychic ability to tell you that you have immigrant blood! Don’t you feel exotic?

When you look at all the white people who not only live in this country, but hold positions of power, you see that this is truly a nation of immigrants. Every single one of our 44 Presidents has been a descendant of immigrants, including both the not-that-white current President and the President-Elect! How many countries can say that? Immigrants have not only survived and thrived in the US, they have become the dominant culture. So when people say they fear the influx of immigrants into the US, I say, pshaw! This is what we do! If you like the dominant American trends of the last few centuries – white, Christian, English-speaking – then you like the impact immigration has had on this country, so why fix what ain’t broken? If you’re ambivalent about those things or ready for a change, you can look forward to the influence that new immigrants historically and inevitably have here.

In this time of anti-immigrant rhetoric, let’s take a moment to remember not just recent immigrants who work and live and love on this, our shared land, but those forgotten immigrants who brought us so many of the quaint and useful things that we all enjoy every day, especially in this season they call Christmas (ˈkrɪs·məs).

 

[i] Unless you’re Mormon.

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