From immigration to discrimination
An American story
By Jim S
Have just finished reading Ahmagh Khan's, "Worse
than Blacks". I felt
that the author seemed to believe that there was something unique
about the discrimiantion that some Iranians have
found in America. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Iranian experience in America is the immigrant experience in
America. It is a story that has repeated itself over the past three
years in the country. Each wave of new immigrants has faced exactly
the same kind of discrimination and hardship which Iranians have
faced in their adopted home. Immigration and discrimination are
as American as apple pie. This does not mean that I agree with
it or condone it in any way, but it is a historical reality that
is beyond dispute.
Whether one wishes to discuss the German-American
experience in the New World in the 18th century, the Irish-American
experiences of the 19th century, the Italian-American and Polish-American
experiences of the early 20th century, or the Iranian-American
experience of the late 20th century it is the same story of discrimination
and social rejection played over and over and over again.
While I do not doubt that the writer feels that
America has not been the most welcoming of places, he ought to
keep in mind that
it usually takes an ethnic group two to three generations to find
economic prosperity and social acceptance in America. The discrimination
felt by Iranian immigrants is no different from that experienced
by the ancestors of today's native born Americans.
If history is repeated in the same way that it has
always been repeated then the grandchildren of Ahmagh Khan will
be discriminating against some other poor immigrant in thirty of
forty years from now. If any of you still think that the discrimination
experienced by Iranians has more to do with your native nationality
than the fact that you are immigrants please read the following.
Maybe, you will come to see that discrimination against immigrants
is something that has plauged our country for a long time and will
continue to do so after we've all passed on.
It began in 1845 when acre upon acre of Irish farmland ended in
black rot. In the next seven years over 1 million Irish would immigrate
to the United States.
Wave after wave of them came in what came to be called "coffin ships".
"Already weak from hunger, these unfortunate
souls were packed into overcrowded, squalid ships for the voyage
across the Atlantic. The close quarters, unsanitary
conditions, poor food, and weakened state of the emigrants created the ideal
conditions for the propagation of typhus, an infectious disease caused by fleas
"The decision to leave Ireland was only the
beginning of a long and difficult journey. Once aboard the ship
that would bring them to America (a 2-3 month trip),
the emigrating Irish found almost intolerable conditions. The steerage compartments
were about five feet high with two tiers of beds. Men, women and children
(sometimes as many as 900 people) were crowded together with room
only for themselves and
their belongings rolled up next to them. A narrow cot was provided for each
person but often it was not even wide enough to turn over. Beds
and bedding were not
aired out or washed until the day before arrival and inspection by government
officials. The only air and light available was through a hatchway, which
was closed during stormy or rough weather. The air became increasingly
foul as the journey progressed. Food was often insufficient and not cooked
properly. Grain, hardened and served as a lump, was common. Clean
water was also insufficient
for the needs of the steerage passengers. Toilets were inadequate for the
number of people aboard, and stench permeated the air."
Sometimes these ships would arrive in port with
less then half of their original passenger list. Even so, the ships
represented hope, for in Ireland the Famine
was so severe that entire families would eat the last of their food then
board up their doors and windows so that no one passing by would be subjected
the sight of their dying. To stay was sure death. To go was a risk but
hope at the end of the voyage if it were survived.
The two main ports of entry into the United States were New York
and Boston. Once there the vast majority remained in the port
city where they landed,
mainly because they had little money to travel any further. It strained
of those two main cities to have such a large influx of immigrants and
caused mounting discrimination. Housing was limited and, according to census
of the period, as many as nine people would be sharing one room. Competition
for employment with the existing population was fierce and employment discrimination
against the Irish became common.
As a result it became acceptable to discriminate
against the Irish and newspapers depicted them as lazy, stupid
and dirty. Newspapers ads for
end with "No Irish need apply." and restaurants and hotels would display
signs saying "No Irish permitted in this establishment."
"In 1851-1852, railroad contractors in New York
advertised for workers and promised good pay. When mostly Irish
applied, the pay was lowered to fifty-five cents
a day. When the workers protested, the militia was called in to force
the men to accept."
Many of the Irish reacted to the discrimination
by deliberately getting rid of their accents, changing their names
and even abandoning Catholicism.
to go work on the railroads, canals and in the mines where jobs were
to be had but where they were also discriminated against and forced
and in harsher conditions then other workers were expected to accept.
departure of the Irish from their stricken land was a mass migration
on an epic scale,
and in the villages and towns of Ireland a way of life, a communal
culture, and an ancient language were wiped out. At the same time,
of the Famine
Irish in America transformed the young republic so profoundly that
the flight of the hungry from Ireland became a milepost in U.S.
history. The Famine
Irish immigrants were the original huddled masses. They came not
with dreams and
plans, but with the modest goal of staying alive.
their land stricken with another kind of scourge, has left many
in your community feeling that an Irishman 150 years ago could
It is ironic
that the descendants of many of those first immigrants from Ireland
are probably guilty of discriminating against Iranians nowadays,
is the way the
story goes. While it has taken many ethnic groups generations
to find success and prosperity
in America's melting pot, Iranians have done it with remarkable
Perhaps, there are those among you who continue to
feel the sting
of prejudice and
discrimination, but if it is any comfort all, you should know
that your children and grandchildren
will no longer have to endure its pain because you took it
all for them.
goodbye to spam!