There are few advantages to being an old person; one of them being a good memory and an objective grasp of history. My mother was a great story-teller and as she worked she would regale me with tales about my ancestors. On this day, watching the marchers demonstrating for equal rights for people who have breached the borders of our land while the factions argue about what to do about it, I see a possible parallel to the history of the nation and I pondered whether that history is repeating itself.
My sixth great-grandfather steered his sailing ship up the great St. Lawrence River long before the first settlers arrived from England. His ships carried trinkets, fabrics, and tools to trade to the Indians for their valuable furs. The men were struck by the beauty and plentitude of the country as well as the richness of the furs which they carried back home with them. In time many of them or their children, entranced by their fathers' stories, followed in their footsteps and settled here with their families.
The first Europeans who came here to settle were attracted by the adventure, the pristine beauty of the land, and the opportunity to build a life of freedom. They were educated people and people of faith who truly desired to live in peace. However, they were soon followed by the mountebanks, many of whom were pensioned by their families on the condition that they leave their native country to avoid embarassment. Others were sentenced to "the colonies" in lieu of punishment for crimes against their fellow man or the crown. Once the nation was established, laws were enacted to prevent the "undesireables" from entering and immigrants were required to have a minimum of education, a home in which to live, and an American citizen as sponsor.
When the strange men with the pale faces and the white eyes began intruding upon their space, the Indians were perplexed about what to do about them. They poured in like locusts, taking over the territory which had been hunting grounds, they plowed the precious land, and they would defend their efforts by force if necessary. Some Indians were content to say only that there weren't really that many of them and they were not a threat, but others were more than ready to make war against them and to drive them out. The good aliens would teach the natives to grow good crops and many would share their provisions with a hungry warrior. However, the numbers of strangers grew until there was no choice but to try to rid themselves of their unwelcome guests. Unfortunately, by the time it became apparent that they must mount a defense, it was too late. The intruders had taken over large sections of land, built guarded forts from which to launch raids against the Indian villages, and forced them into areas that were strange and not conducive to their accustomed way of life. Finally there was no defense. The red man was herded into reservations and made dependent upon the new people and lost their national identity and way of life. Their culture was lost forever.
The winds of time blew on and generation begat generation until we felt entitled to this land and our feeling of confidence grew. We continued to build our cities and to develop our industries and became a world power, immune to any threat and capable of vanquishing any enemy. We became fat and smug, revelling in our ability to live well and feeling entitled to everything we wanted. We were the invincible America, the beautiful, the best in the world, and feared no man or no army.
But now we have become the Indians. Our trinkets, fabrics, and tools are coming from afar on great ships as horde of people who do not belong here are pouring over our borders, establishing residences, and rearing families despite our protestations. They are largely poverty-stricken and uneducated. Not a few are fugituves from justice in their own country, many carrying contraband material that is banned by our laws. No matter how many of them we catch and return to their homeland, many more will take their place. They work our land, they take over sections of our great cities, and they make war against our law enforcement officials. Furthermore, they march in our streets demanding that their rights to live here be recognized.
Now we see history repeating as there are many among us who are prone to accede to the demands of the invaders. After all, they work so hard we won't have to perform the unpleasant tasks, there is lots of room, and most of them are good people. We are Christian people and it is the right thing to do to make them welcome, let them settle here and raise their families, enjoying all the peace and prosperity which has made this nation so attractive. Others see the unacceptable among them, the criminals, the illiterate, and the dishonest, and exclaim that they will ruin our way of life. While those who own labor-intensive businesses are happy to have workers who will work for less than the prevailing wage, those native-born workers who find themselves pushed out of their customary employment are vehement in their opposition to the unregulated influx of foreigners. Will we close and adequately guard our borders to prevent more of the interlopers from entering? Will we return those who are here illegally and require them to apply for re-entry according to our laws? Or will we fling open the door, allowing all comers to move into our space, to alter our culture to conform to theirs, to change our rules and regulations to their liking and to push our accustomed way of life into the history books forever?
Yes, now we are the Indians. Will we make the same mistakes?