Ilhan Omar is my Great Grandmother

I don’t watch television anymore, but yesterday it was hard to miss the clips of right wing  TV commentator Tucker Carlson ranting about Minnesota Congresswoman Ilhan Omar and the supposed danger she poses to ‘real Americans” that were circulating on the Internet.

“Maybe we are importing people from places whose values are simply antithetical to ours. … ​No country can import large numbers of people who hate it and expect to survive”

As the descendent of German and Polish immigrants who came to the United States in the 19th Century (over 200 years ago on my mothers side), I would, at first glance, have little in common with the Somali immigrants Tucker Carlson hates. And yet, having studied the history of American immigration, Carlson’s words not only sound familiar, they’re an almost carbon copy of the writings of another upper-class WASP nativist, Henry Cabot Lodge. Lodge, no ignorant Southern cracker, but a Boston Brahim and Harvard graduate, hated my Polish great grandparents almost as much as Carlson hates Ilhan Omar and her Somali parents. In fact, he even defended the idea of lynching Italians (and yes, it actually happened), arguing that it was a measure necessary to control the growth of the mafia.

The killing of the prisoners at New Orleans was due chiefly to the fact that they were supposed to be members of the Mafia, but it would be a great mistake to suppose that the Mafia stands alone. Societies or political organizations which regard assassination as legitimate have been the product of repressive government on the continent of Europe. They are the offspring of conditions and of ideas wholly alien to the people of the United States. Nevertheless, to certain minds they present a permanent attraction, and there are classes of men sufficiently illiterate and sufficiently criminal to reproduce them wherever they may happen to be, even where there is no repressive government to serve as an excuse. The last twenty years have shown the existence of these societies at various times in one form or another in the United States. They have appeared in different parts of the country, and have usually been put down and their deeds punished by ordinary process of law. We have had, for example, the Molly Maguires in Pennsylvania, the Anarchists in Chicago, the Mafia in New Orleans, and, according to a recent statement in the New York Times, there is a similar organization among some of the Poles.

I just confess I have not studied the history of Polish American anarchism and have no idea what any Polish American version of the mafia would have been called in the late 19th Century. But I know very well what Lodge thought about the possibility of Polish immigrants becoming “real Americans.” He considered it impossible. They were “unassimilable.”

While the people who for two hundred and fifty years have been migrating to America have continued to furnish large numbers of immigrants to the United States, other races of totally different race origin, with whom the English-speaking people have never hitherto been assimilated or brought in contact, have suddenly begun to immigrate to the United States in large numbers. Russians, Hungarians, Poles, Bohemians, Italians, Greeks, and even Asiatics, whose immigration to America was almost unknown twenty years ago, have during the last twenty years poured in in steadily increasing numbers, until now they nearly equal the immigration of those races kindred in blood or speech, or both, by whom the United States has hitherto been built up and the American people formed.

Sadly, Poles, Italians and other Southern and Eastern Europeans proved themselves to be all too assimilable, in time becoming generic, white bread Americans just like their fellow immigrants from Northern and Western Europe. It would have been much better for all of us had they held on to their tradition of radicalism, that anarchism that so terrified Henry Cabot Lodge. It’s no mystery why Ilhan Omar is one of the best and most radical members of Congress and the thoroughly assimilated Italian American Nancy Pelosi one of the worst. Hopefully she’ll continue to make Tucker Carlson soil his diapers.

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