This administration, and the American people at large, have time and again shown that they hate immigrants of color.
Trump’s administration has boisterously supported banning refugees and asylum seekers from the Middle East and, more recently, Honduras and Central America. The president recently announced his plans to violate the 14th Amendment and cancel birthright citizenship for the children of non-citizens in the US. Earlier this year, we witnessed thousands of children locked in concentration camps after being separated from their parents by ICE, a process still happening as I write this article.
In response to this white nationalist agenda has come a strong, pro-immigrant reaction. Well-meaning white liberals across the country have rightfully denounced the fascist practices of immigration enforcement. They have tweeted and hashtagged that the United States is a nation founded, built, and sustained by immigrants, of whom we citizens are all descendants. A viral photo that circulated this 4th of July showed a white woman holding a sign that read “What’s your American heritage,” to which the only answerable options were Native Americans, slaves, refugees, and/or immigrants.
This idea is echoed by pieces of pop culture like the hit musical “Hamilton.” Its most famous line goes “immigrants, we get the job done” in an exchange between Alexander Hamilton and Marquis de Lafayette, portrayed by two men of color. This narrative aims to paint the United States as a nation of immigrants, for immigrants, and by immigrants since its very beginnings in the 1700s. But these talking points omit an entirely different, much less picturesque group: colonizers.
There are still many white Americans whose ancestors came here during the 16th-17th centuries from England, France, and the Netherlands. These settlers, although often escaping adversity and poverty themselves, did not come here en masse as peaceful workers seeking to better this country. They settled and stole land previously inhabited by First Nations peoples, thousands of whom were killed by gunfire and invasive plagues. Many others were sold into slavery up and down the Atlantic.
These Europeans were extensions of a larger imperial project that continues to lead to the slaughter of indigenous communities to this day. From the perspective of First Nations people, these were not wayward immigrants pursuing the American dream. Men like George Washington, Alexander Hamilton, and Thomas Jefferson were not “immigrants” or the “descendants” of immigrants, but colonizers on indigenous land.
I’m not saying every single European who came to colonial North America was a bloodthirsty conqueror. Furthermore, millions of white Americans do in fact have noble ancestry stories. Many of our ancestors came from Ireland, Poland, Germany, Italy, and beyond to escape poverty, religious persecution, and ethnic conflict to build a better life in the 19th century. Many Latinx communities were already living here, since much of the American West was Mexican and Spanish Territory during the same period.
Today, however, in our attempts to show solidarity with immigrants of color, we whitewash US history and do not deconstruct what being an “immigrant” really means. This idea that the Founding Fathers and the white Americans who came after them were all immigrants like today’s asylum seekers excludes the perspective and experiences of First Nations people.
This narrative about immigration absolves white liberals, myself included, of taking responsibility for the systemic benefits these conquistadores set up in their earliest stages. Worst of all, the viral picture previously mentioned tries to include First Nations people in the story of America’s heritage but excludes the colonial legacy that actively attempts to expunge them from this country.
We, white Americans, must do all we can to resist deportations, free all prisoners in immigration camps, and reunite children with their families. But we cannot turn immigration into a colorblind issue, as it is anything but. We cannot act like all our ancestors came to this land on equal moral footing.