Ray Suarez, award-winning journalist and senior correspondent for “PBS News Hour” gave a convocation entitled “The Browning of America” this Tuesday. His talk addressed the important and controversial topics of immigration and increasing diversity.
Suarez mentioned that in the past year, the number of children born in the U.S. that belong to minority ethnic groups surpassed those children born who are of European-American descent. In 30 years, Euro-Americans will comprise less than half of the population of the U.S.
I was glad to see that many Lawrentians and local community members attended the convocation. However, there were a number of empty seats, which is unfortunate considering that the capacity of the Chapel is smaller than the total number of students — not to mention faculty, staff and community members in attendance.
What those who attended the convocation heard was a well-constructed, well-presented profile of what is to come for American demographics. Suarez, aside from being a practiced speaker with a suitable voice for public speaking, also managed to capture a wide range of opinions and arguments in his address.
Sparse but energetic clapping echoed around the Chapel balcony when Suarez acknowledged that a concern for the security of the southern border does not necessarily mean the carrier of that concern is racist.
This interruption was the only instance of clapping during his speech and its isolated and overly enthusiastic nature left me with a suspicion that those who clapped so proudly were misinterpreting Suarez’s point.
He was not justifying the Tea Party’s rallies or the anti-Latino/a sentiment that is so pervasive in this country. What he was saying is that one can have questions about border security while still respecting other peoples and other cultures. I hope that those who clapped are among those who show that respect for new residents of the U.S.
Prejudice against new members of the American community is not without precedent — in fact, few trends have more precedents. The U.S. was founded on genocide; Euro-Americans systematically destroyed the people who lived on these lands until their millions were reduced to pockets of ghost nations.
For years after 1776, the U.S. expanded not as a result of ingenuity but of force and daring purpose. The native nations of North America were not devoid of technical novelty or geographical mastery. Their relationship with the land was older and more complex than something the Euro-Americans could understand in their short years of conquest.
Yet the result of the seizure of these lands is what we have today. The U.S. border has gone unchanged for some time – save for the fluctuating number of overseas territories we hold.
The 20th century was one of declining levels of immigration, but in recent years, these rates have risen again. With them rose anti-immigrant sentiment and undue nationalism. The United States is a country of immigrants — the only Americans not directly descended from immigrants are either members of persecuted native nations or descendants of those brought forcibly as slaves.
How this led to a pervasive culture characterized by erroneous slogans like “This is America. We speak English” is both puzzling and disturbing. It is unjustified to claim that immigrants arriving today are less entitled to a place in American society than those who arrived 50, 100, or even 400 years ago — i.e. the ancestors of the people voicing these prejudices.
People arriving from other countries today are often peaceful seekers of opportunity, education and a new culture. They are not, as many of our ancestors were in the past, perpetrators of a vast crime against native populations. They are speakers of beautiful, varied languages and innovative hosts of new ideas.
We speak English because a majority of European colonizers on the east coast hundreds of years ago were English speakers, not because it is somewhere written in our blood or in an ancient and rich tradition.
The United States is a new and diverse country, and we should strive to embrace that quality. Suarez expressed a hope that all residents of the U.S. will be able to engage in productive and enriching cross-cultural communication in the future rather than resort to segregation and capitulation to unfounded nationalism.
We must not tarnish the futures of coming generations with further racism and violence in the name of ignorant ambition.