The battle over the travel ban echoes our history from the founding, slicing deep into the heart of American sympathies: Are refugees and migrants coming ashore to be seen as humble ‘guests of the nation?’ or as American as anyone, just for getting through the gate? George Washington said he was building an “asylum for the oppressed” of all nations. And so the Statue of Liberty, the Mother of Exiles, with her world-wide welcome.
Italian Immigrants at Ellis Island
Kansan-Kenyan Barack Obama embodied the whole dream: an America for searchers, strivers, migrants like his father: the polyglot nation-of-all-nations, not the world’s master but the world’s story. And now the counter-story from the man who doubted that Obama was born American, much less that he belonged in the White House.
The ‘who we are’ question, between Immigration Nation and Fortress America, is one that all our show guests have explored deeply and widely, traversing all sorts of social, political and historical terrains. Neil Swidey, a staff writer for the Globe, brings back to life the story of the anti-Immigration movement in Boston at the turn of the 20th century. It’s a story of Brahmins and ‘barbarians’; a story of privilege, of savage inhumanity, and of unenlightened righteousness.
Francis Fukuyama reframes the argument in ideological terms, arguing that to be an American is to espouse a particular political creed. In his own words:
You have political values that define what it means to be American. It’s not tied to religion, to ethnicity, to race. So that anyone who espouses those values can be an American.
Aziz Rana partly agrees with Fukuyama, that a kind of American creed rests at the foundation of American identity. Or at least it did, at one particular period of time. From the mid-20th century on through to the end of the Cold War, a form of American identity was manufactured as a weapon to be used in ideological warfare with the Soviet Union. Prior to WWII, American identity was inextricably bound up with race.
Nadeem Mazen, brings in local politico perspective to our immigration debate here in Greater Boston. In 2013, Mazen became the first Muslim city councilor in Cambridge, Massachussetts, and was recently re-elected after running a Bernie-esque hyperprogressive grassroots campaign. His position on the city council and his work with the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) inspired the Bannon-led newsroom at Breitbart to label him “Hamas on the Charles.” Now, Mazen is striking back at the islamophobes in the White House and making a general call for Muslim-Americans to run for public office.
Sheida Dayani, a Persian-born poet and translator, tells us about her initial reaction to “the human ban” and how paradoxically she feels most American when teaching Persian texts to her students at Harvard.
Listen below to her poem entitled The Ordinary Man of this Neighborhood.