Ask most people about what is looked upon as our first Thanksgiving as a fledgling nation, and my guess is they can tell you that it was a meal shared between the “Pilgrims and some Indians.”
Beyond that, I’m not sure how many other details would be forthcoming.
Now, with much greater consequence perhaps than children not knowing who Squanto was, we are also viewing the global refugee crisis we face through a lack of knowledge.
As a deep and detailed understanding of our nation’s history has been erased from our schools over the past 50 years or so, we have a population that has come to believe that those who would want to pause, or at the very least examine, the potential consequences of importing 100,000 refugees over a 12-month period from a part of the world that is the hotbed of terrorism, are racist, bigoted, xenophobic, or insert explicative here.
This is where we are today, and it is quite stunning.
The very idea that we as a nation have always simply held the front door wide open to anyone and everyone who is a refugee, a would-be immigrant, or is profoundly poor and disadvantaged is utter nonsense. For President Obama to engage in rhetoric stating that for us to deny these refugees unfettered access to our borders is “against our values as a nation” is also false.
We, as a nation, have throughout our history taken steps to ensure those that come here mean us no harm. Were those steps sometimes flawed? At times, yes. But it doesn’t change the fact that while we want to receive the world’s huddled masses and those yearning to breathe free, we are under no obligation to do so at potentially our own peril in the last remaining months of one president’s final term.
Putting out the welcome mat for a terror group who has said they will in fact hide among refugees to gain entrance to America, and who are developing a chemical weapons branch within their organization, without some kind of thoughtful, careful approach, is not in our best interest as a nation, nor in the interest of the refugees and immigrants who wish to come here.
In fact, America has a long history of not allowing certain immigrants into the country at various times.
Most historical documents point to The Chinese Exclusion Act of May 1882 as the first federally controlled exclusion of a certain class of people. From there, the list is long of groups who have been restricted over time, for various reasons. Shmoop.com, which is a website for students, has a section that reviews the Ellis Island Era Immigration Time Line. It cites the Chinese Exclusion Act, and goes on from there to include several immigration acts and restrictions, the Haymarket Riot, the Ford Committee investigations, immigration quotas and more.
Did we get it right every time? Of course not. But the idea that we’ve never had immigration quotas or a careful approach to whom we let in is fantasy.
This Thanksgiving, let’s look to our nation’s history to see where we got it right, and where we’ve gone astray. Let’s turn off the politically incentivized sound bites, and actually examine who we are as a nation from our own historical facts. Let’s celebrate, embrace and relearn about that first Thanksgiving, our history, and what makes America special and unique on the face of the globe, so that when we face these modern challenges we can have a command of who we are as a nation.
Let’s work to export the American ideas of liberty and freedom and prosperity around the world so there aren’t billions of people on the planet living in poverty and war and tyranny, where terrorism thrives and can grow; people who are desperate to come here, but will never be able to.
The best way to honor our heritage as a nation of immigrants, from the first Thanksgiving between the Wampanoag and the dwindling Mayflower colonists (and, incidentally the decades of peace that initially existed between them) right up until now, is to keep America safe from those who wish us harm. If we don’t protect the idea of America, we will lose Her.
It is insanity to suggest that by denying entrance to those who wish to destroy us, we are somehow being untrue to our ideals. We only have to look to our own history, our mistakes and successes, and remember who we are to show us how to get it right this time.
Julie McDonald-Smith lives in North Yarmouth. She is a registered nurse, former Capitol Hill staffer, publicity chairwoman of the Cumberland County Republican Committee, and occasional guest host on WGAN 560AM. Her column appears every other week.