Subscribe
TD originals

This Land Was Stolen for You and Me

This 1876 woodcut designed by A.R. Waud and engraved by J.P. Davis shows Samoset, the first Native American to make contact with the pilgrims of Plymouth Colony. (Wikimedia)

Donald Trump is right about one thing: This is our New American Moment.

America has a great opportunity, and as United States Olympic hockey coach Herb Brooks said almost 40 years ago, “Great moments are born from great opportunity.”

But before every U.S. citizen can “be proud of this land that we love,” we have to start being honest about America.

Native Americans have a saying: “Treat the earth well: it was not given to you by your parents, it was loaned to you by your children. We do not inherit the Earth from our Ancestors, we borrow it from our Children.”

Americans could learn a lot from Native Americans, the only true “legal” citizens of the United States. A Native American underscored this point at an anti-illegal immigration protest in Arizona a few years ago.

Next time someone calls another immigrant “illegal,” remind them that America was founded on illegal immigration.

“The pilgrims that came over on the Mayflower were undocumented immigrants,” explained Cenk Uygur on The Young Turks. “They did not have any papers. They didn’t ask the permission of the Native Americans to land here. And then they certainly didn’t ask the permission of the Native Americans when they started butchering them. And then moving them onto reservations. And then violating those agreements. And moving them again. And having them die on the road. And then having them die on the reservations. And then having them die in the fields that they used to hunt in and live in.”

If Native Americans had built a wall, America might look a little different. To be clear, the land of our country was stolen from Native Americans by undocumented immigrants. Anyone who is complaining about illegal immigrants needs to stop.

Jennifer Mendelsohn, a Baltimore-based freelance journalist, started a project called #resistancegenealogy to point out the blatant and rampant hypocrisy of the anti-immigrant stance. Mendelsohn confronts anti-immigration public figures on Twitter with their own family histories. One of her targets was White House Director of Social Media Dan Scavino Jr., who called for an end to “chain migration.” Mendelsohn looked up Scavino’s family history and explained how his ancestors are like immigrants being condemned.

“If you are not Native American or [your ancestors] did not arrive here in chains, then you or your ancestors immigrated to the U.S.,” Mendelsohn told The Times of Israel.

“People in genealogical glass houses shouldn’t throw stones, and we’re all in genealogical glass houses metaphorically speaking,” she added.

Since we are all in this American experiment together, we have to create fair immigration policy—not a ransom note—that works for the 21st century. That will require compromise, but the solution is not as hard as some claim.

Set up a system that provides a path to citizenship for the immigrants who are productive members of society—the millions of undocumented citizens who are living, working and paying taxes in America. Law-abiding immigrants are contributing billions of dollars to the U.S. economy. Give those immigrants, young and old, a reasonable path to citizenship. They should not have to wait 10 to 12 years.

Not all immigrants are “rapists and drug dealers.” In fact, the data show that crime is not correlated with immigration. With a vetting system, we can identify the undocumented undesirables, the real criminals. Find them. And deport them.

Treating every immigrant as a criminal is wrong. Labeling undocumented immigrants as “illegal” is inhumane. Forcing people to live in fear and uncertainty is un-American. Or perhaps the vitriol surrounding our immigration debate is as American as apple pie. If that’s the case, we need to start being un-American.

Every U.S. citizen needs to recognize and accept the truth about U.S. history. Stop with the bogus “this is our country—go home” arguments. Enough with the “illegal” talk. Remember: Every U.S. citizen who is not a Native American or a descendant of slaves had ancestors who immigrated to America. Every U.S. citizen who is not a Native American is living on stolen land.

Think about that when you’re standing for the national anthem or listening to Woody Guthrie.

If we wanted to put “This Land Is Your Land” in proper historical context, Guthrie’s refrain would read like this:

This land is not your land, this land is not my land
From California to the New York island
From the redwood forest, to the gulf stream waters
This land was stolen for you and me.

None of us were around when this country was founded. Maybe some of us would have treated the Native Americans better if we had been.

Yolanda Lopez riffs off the Montgomery Flagg “Uncle Sam” poster in 1981. (Center for the Study of Political Graphics)

We can begin to make amends by being honest about America’s roots. Then we can pass some enlightened immigration reform.

Eric Ortiz
Managing Editor
Eric Ortiz is the managing editor of Truthdig. A journalist and innovator with two decades in digital media, Ortiz founded the mobile app startup Evrybit, a live storytelling and reporting tool, as a 2014 John…
Eric Ortiz

Now you can personalize your Truthdig experience. To bookmark your favorite articles, please create a user profile.

Personalize your Truthdig experience. Choose authors to follow, bookmark your favorite articles and more.
Your Truthdig, your way. Access your favorite authors, articles and more.
or
or

A password will be e-mailed to you.

Statements and opinions expressed in articles and comments are those of the authors, not Truthdig. Truthdig takes no responsibility for such statements or opinions.