“…let us earnestly and humbly pray that He will continue to guide and sustain us in the great unfinished tasks of achieving peace, justice, and understanding among all men and nations and of ending misery and suffering wherever they exist.” President John. F. Kennedy, Thanksgiving proclamation, 1963.
Thanksgiving is the special time of year when we give thanks for our blessings. It’s also a time to reflect on the history of our country. Sometimes that reflection is a little distorted.
We think of Thanksgiving as being established by the Pilgrims 400 years ago in 1621, but that wasn’t the first Thanksgiving in North America. Fifty-five years before the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock, 600 Spanish settlers landed in what is now St. Augustine, Florida, on Sept. 8, 1565.
In gratitude for their safe landing, they held a Thanksgiving mass and celebration, including a feast. They had established the oldest continuously occupied city of European origin in North America.
On the west coast of North America, after centuries of exploration, the Spanish began establishing a chain of missions, starting with San Diego in 1769. In 1776, the year the Declaration of Independence was signed in Philadelphia, the San Francisco mission was established. By 1819, Spain controlled most of the Southwest, including what is today California, Nevada, Utah, Colorado, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas.
In 1821, Mexico won its independence from Spain, claiming the territory Spain had controlled. As the United States looked westward, people realized the land Mexico governed was rich in resources. In 1846, the U.S. declared war on Mexico, partly to seize Mexico’s holdings.
In 1848, the war ended with the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo. Mexico ceded most of its southwestern holdings to the U.S. Americans flooded into these conquered territories, displacing the people who had lived there for decades.
All of America was settled this way. Except for Native Americans, everyone has been here for less than 500 years. Europeans moved onto lands which had been occupied for centuries by non-Europeans. That makes most of us immigrants or descendants of immigrants. It also means we are living on land that used to belong to someone else.
Now, a group of right-wingers including Tucker Carlson of Fox News is putting forth something called “Replacement Theory.” They claim that “liberals want immigrants to ‘replace’ native-born Americans in the nation's culture and electorate.” (CNN, April 23, 2021).
This theory completely ignores the history of America. When Europeans landed in North America, the land was occupied by Native Americans, with their own cultures. Europeans pushed them out.
When Anglo-Americans moved from east to west, they expelled the Hispanic-Americans who were already living here. The Native Americans and later the Hispanic-Americans were just as “native-born” as the Anglo-Americans who came later.
Anglo-Americans have no special mandate allowing them to drive other cultures out. When an Anglo-American screams at a Hispanic-American for speaking Spanish, they’re forgetting Spanish was the language here for hundreds of years. It’s English that’s the latecomer.
Another misconception is the idea of “replacing” anyone. If someone lives in the United States, they won’t be required to leave because someone immigrates here. No one will be replaced. What will happen is that our population will grow as it has for over 245 years, since we became a nation.
The real problem for right-wingers is the idea that people with languages and cultures other than theirs are entering the country. They see this through a racist lens. They claim their concern is about people coming here without authorization, but that shows their ignorance of the law.
According to U.S. Code Title 8 Chapter 12 Subchapter II Part1 1158: “any (individual) who is physically present in the United States or who arrives in the United States… irrespective of such (individual’s) status, may apply for asylum in accordance with this section.” It doesn’t matter how that individual got here. They can apply for asylum. That’s the law.
About 30 percent of applicants get approved; those who don’t, get deported. Those approved become residents who work and pay taxes like everyone else.
As we celebrate Thanksgiving, I hope everyone will remember that America has always had a very diverse population. Some of us are Native American. Some of us got here 400 years ago. Some of us got here last week.
We should be thankful to be here and embrace all those who share our country. Nobody is “replacing” anyone else. We are all working to make America the best it can be. Happy Thanksgiving!
Jeanette Strong, whose column appears every other week, is a Nevada Press Association award-winning columnist. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.