Thursday, May 7, 2009

What immigrants used to be like

The Evangelical Covenant Church is divided into different "conferences" and churches here in the Upper Midwest are part of what is known as the Northwest Conference. This year the Northwest Conference is celebrating its 125th anniversary, and recently held its annual meeting in Red Wing.

I attended one of their evening services, in which they sang old Swedish hymns and shared some readings from former members of Covenant churches in the Northwest Conference. I was particularly struck by a writing from a fellow named Hans Mattson, who wrote this in 1869:

"It is true that we have left our beloved land, we have strewn the last flowers upon the grave of our forefathers, and have come here to stay, come here to live, and come here to die. We are not a clannish people, nor do we desire to build up a Scandinavian nationality in your midst…you will bear me witness how readily and fraternally we have mingled with you, learned your language and adopted your ways, and how naturally our children grow up as Americans, side by side with yours. We have been cordially received in the great west by your own pioneers, and have become prosperous and happy. Yes, we love this great country of freedom, and we wish to be and remain Americans.”

And I was struck by the stark contrast between the attitude of this 19th-century immigrant and the attitudes of many who come to America today and make no effort to assimilate. Instead they insist on bilingual education, immediate access to welfare programs and special accommodation for any cultural or religious tradition they bring with them.

I've never been part of the "close-the-borders," anti-immigration crowd. My great-grandparents came here from the Netherlands and found a better life for their children. During my years working for Sen. Boschwitz, I always enjoyed hearing him talk of his immigration experience (his father led the family out of Nazi Germany in the 1930s.) Rudy would talk about how his father would personally vouch for certain immigrants, assuring officials that he would help them assimilate, find work and stay off the public dole.

The people of Hans Mattson's day would never have insisted on being "hyphenated." They weren't Swedish-Americans, African-Americans, German-Americans or anything else with a hyphen. They were thrilled to just be Americans.

1 comment:

  1. Tim - you could not have put this better. Immigrants - legal - not even trying to assimilate (and let's not even think about the millions of illegal immigrants)......and this country cow-towing to them is destroying this once great nation! My prayer is that there will be more blogs like yours, that get widely read, before another election cycle falls upon us! Keep up the good work!
    The Fetching Mrs. Harker :)