During the recently-concluded Summer Olympics in Rio, five young women representing the United States collected a number of gold and silver medals competing in gymnastics. Two of these young women are black Americans, one is a Hispanic-American, one is a Jewish-American, while the final member is from Texas.
I mention this because I recently got a correspondence that used the term, “Hyphen American” in a pejorative manner. However, one might wonder how this country developed without a series of hyphen Americans.
Between 1863 and 1869, the first transcontinental railroad was built between San Francisco, California and Council Bluffs, Iowa. Manual labor to build the roadbed, bridges and tunnels was carried out primarily by Chinese emigrants. One could say that these individuals, Chinese-Americans, contributed to the ability of the United States to increase commerce between the east and west coasts of our country.
Irish individuals emigrated to what is now the United States from the 17 to the mid-19th century. These Irish-Americans fought in our revolutionary war and some were signers of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. Andrew Jackson was the first Irish-American President. John F. Kennedy, elected in 1960, was also of Irish-American descent.. In the 1820s more Irish immigrated to the US to help with canal building, lumbering, and civil construction projects. The Erie Canal was one such project. Irish-Americans helped the US develop economically.
From 1880 to 1920 up to 4 million Italians came to the United States. Many of these immigrants accepted low-wage, manual-labor jobs. They were employed in the construction of roads, sewers, subways, and bridges in the northeastern cities. An Italian-American family carved the Lincoln Memorial. An Italian-American developed the concept of the branch bank. Italian-Americans founded companies such as Progresso, Planters Peanuts, and Chef Boyardee. Where would we be today were it not for the contribution of the Irish-Americans.
From the colonial era to 1870, Poles and Polish subjects came to the US as individuals or in small groups. Many found manual labor jobs in coal mines and heavy industries such as steel mills, slaughterhouses and oil and sugar refineries. So as with other groups that have come to America, Polish-Americans have contributed to the history and development of the United States.
There is a song that I occasionally hear on the radio, “Who’s Gonna Build Your Wall?” In part the song states:
Who’s gonna build your wall boys?
Who’s gonna mow your lawn?
Who’s gonna cook your Mexican food
When your Mexican maid is gone?
Mexican-Americans have been a part of our society from before Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and California were states. They have become part of the workforce in industries such as meat packing, construction, landscaping, hotel and other service industries and agriculture. As with other groups, Mexican-Americans took jobs that lead to the continued development of our way of life.
I could continue to summarize the contributions of the many groups of people who have come to the United States to better their lives and how in turn they contributed to the development of our country. An inscription on the Statue of Liberty states, “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me. I lift my lamp beside the golden door!
So instead of building walls and sending people back to the country of origin and blocking new immigration unless they are screened, maybe we should respond as we always have. Let’s embrace the contributions of the many hyphen Americans.
Bob Newby is an educator and Erath County resident. He is a member of the E-T's community columnists and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.