Immigrants in America

by Tor Dahl

I am an immigrant to this country. You may perceive me to have a biased view of the current immigration debate. And you may be right. But I have 3,000 relatives in this country. And about the same number of relatives in Norway, where I come from. I live in Minnesota where the number of descendants of Norwegian immigrants is about 850,000. That is bigger than the population of Oslo, Norway.

I suppose the American Indians were once undocumented natives of this country. And most of the early immigrants likely were as well--Columbus for sure, and Leif Ericson. Perhaps even the ancestors of Mitch McConnell and John Boehner as well. If so, it may just be a historical blessing the latter two critics happens to be "legal" just because a law was passed that made them "legal" at a fortuitous time.

Many of my relatives who came before me were discriminated against because of their gender, education, age or employment. They told us so, in books and articles, in their own newspapers, and in their marches for a more just society. So we know about their challenges. And like all the other ethnic groups, they succeeded. When they were unwanted in certain churches, they built their own. They did the same for colleges, universities, cooperatives, banks, and insurance companies. And then they became voters, and elected their own people. And then they were fine.

I think that was what the establishment was afraid of--somehow people with strange names like Walter Mondale, Albert Quie, Knute Nelson, Earl Warren (his name was anglified from the Norwegian "Varran", a farm in Mid-Norway) and many more: Conrad Hilton (a farm near Jessheim in Norway), that these uncouth, not-of-us kind of people should acquire power and riches in America. And they kept coming, names disguised for some of them, Scoop Jackson, Knute Rockne, Liv Ullmann, Robert Wagner, Melanie Griffith, Robert Mitchum, James Cagney, Peter Graves, James Arness, Ralph Evinrude, Norman Borlaug, Marilyn Monroe, Boomer Esiason, Bob Fosse, Josh Groban, Charles Schulze, Skitch Henderson, Gypsy Rose Lee, Eric Sevareid, The Andrews Sisters, Hubert Humphrey, Lauris Norstad, John Thune, Eliot Ness, C. Walton Lillehei, Earl Bakken, Sally Ride, David Preus, Virginia Mayo, Robert Bly, Siri Hustvedt, Ann Reinking, Thorstein Veblen, and many, many more. All are descendants of Norwegian immigrants. It has been said that no rich Norwegian ever came across the Atlantic and settled in the US. Most of the ancestors of the people I have listed came from humble beginnings. Few could speak English. Some lived in sod huts on the Midwest prairie. Many fought in the American Civil War, and all the other wars that followed.

One million in all left Norway for America--the highest emigration rate of any country except for Ireland. From all these uneducated, poor, and apprehensive people came the famous descendants I listed above.

All ethnic groups will show the same picture. All of them. You may discriminate against them, they will rise. You may deny them access, they will find a way. Each time we erect barriers against people because how they look, talk, eat, work, they will succeed. But they won't forget.

History shows that when you suppress a people, when you deny them fair treatment, when you hate them, call them names, discriminate against them, they will rise. In anger, at times, but mostly from courage fueled by fear or despair, human misery that could not be sustained even by the mighty Roman empire.

Fix this immigration problem! This county needs new blood, new energies, and children. Above all this country must welcome and love their children. They are the future, and they will remember what an unfeeling government did to them, and to their parents. Don't make them hate us.

We remember, and those memories made this a fairer, more just and yes, a greater country than what we would have had, had we not come. That is the contribution of every ethnic group, e pluribus Unum, from many, ONE! That is America's comparative advantage, that's how a thousand cultures together constitute a greater whole.

We may not have come here because of the American Constitution. But that may be why we stayed. And we still hold its truths to be self evident.