A Nation of Immigrants by John F Kennedy
In this weeks first book report, I got to dive into the mind of Senator John Fitzgerald Kennedy before he became our 35th President. “A NATION OF IMMIGRANTS” was written by JFK in 1958 five years prior to his assassination but wasn’t published until 1964 a year after his death. Published by the Anti-Defamation League when its National Director Ben Epstein asked a young senator from Boston to write on the topic of immigration for the ADL’s “One Nation Library” project to battle Xenophobia and anti-immigration rhetoric that was on a rise at the time. The book was then re-released in 2018 for its 60th anniversary with a foreword by Jonathan Greenblatt, the current National Director and CEO of The ADL. Jonathan Greenblatt, now a dear friend and fellow freedom fighter, is the one who personally gave me this book after he and I had an intense first encounter at the ADL headquarters. I requested an in person meeting after I read his response to my now infamous Cannons Class episode with Professor Griff. Initially Jonathan wrote that he was disturbed that I would use my platform to perpetuate Antisemitic conspiracy theories and suggested that I educate myself on why my comments were so hurtful. So that’s exactly what I did; I sought out every Jewish leader and scholar I could and read every book on the topics pertaining to Antisemitism. Many heated debates and difficult conversations later, my colleagues and I came to the conclusion that we are not each other’s enemy and ultimately we are all living in a nation filled with pain. I stumbled upon a profound quote that has sat with me for the last couple of months, “Until you heal the wounds that hurt you, you will continue to bleed on people who didn’t even cut you.” That’s what I believe this nation is doing, bleeding all over each other. This is what I told my friend Jonathan and then he handed me this book and said “This Nation was built by Immigrants.” I quickly added, “Yeah, some not by choice!” Jonathan responded, “Kennedy says that in the book!” I was instantly intrigued. In Jonathan’s foreword he gives a brief description of the ADL’s background and his own upbringing. He states that this book isn’t just a history lesson, it’s real life and his life. From Jonathan’s own wife all the way to his Grandfather who came to America in 1938, he has personally witnessed the importance of what JFK was cultivating in this essay. In a brief overview Kennedy indoctrinates and inculcates what America has done for immigrants and what immigrants have done for America. At the time this was written it took some courage to drop a book that viewed immigrants compassionately, and today people still hate on so called “folks who aren’t from here”. Kennedy does not shy away from these dangerous and outdated mindsets in this book. He gives you a glimpse from both sides of the looking glass. He writes about the noble and generous people we claim to be and wanna-be, but Kennedy also gives the reality of the narrow-minded, prejudice and outright hateful people we often are. As early as page 7, Kennedy acknowledges the Black experience in America. Writing that we were “bought and sold and had no choice in immigrating to America”. Kennedy goes on to detail that, “Only in the case of the Negro has the melting pot failed to bring a minority into the full stream of American life”.
In a later chapter, Kennedy argues that the process of integrating Americans under one nationality failed in the case of African Americans. He shares, “Today, we are belatedly, but resolutely, engaged in ending this condition of national exclusion and shame and abolishing forever the concept of second-class citizenship in the United States”. All Facts, to this day!
Kennedy even writes his own discrimination that his family had to endure as Irish immigrants in early centuries, from unfair entry quotas to flat out bigotry towards early Irish Americans who were looked at as “lesser thans”. Kennedy’s family migrated to America during the years of the Irish Potato famine to seek a better life and eventually his lineage acquired that American dream that many of our communities are still chasing. But in the late 18th century Kennedy teaches that the white male property-owning Anglo Saxon Protestant dominated society and had a tight grip on who could actually be citizens of our country. Members of the 4th Congress eventually lost their argument to exclude non-white, non-property-owning, non-Anglo Saxon, non-Protestants in 1797.
Kennedy also wrote about his goals for America. Hoping to one day “turn to the world, and to our own past, with clean hands and a clear conscience.” He often reminded us “We must remain mindful that there is much more that unites us than divides us.” I completely agree and even in healthy discourse we can all have our opinions about our nations future the facts about our origins are undebatable. Kennedy concludes by offering, “Everywhere immigrants have enriched and strengthened the fabric of American life,”. Which today is still an inspiring observation considering we are currently experiencing an administration that wants to keep immigrants out by building a “wall”. Ironically in this book President Kennedy wrote, “If there had to be city walls, the walls had doors and the doors were open to anyone with the will and the heart to get here.” That is truly the American dream of today. The inalienable rights to “Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” Hopefully we can get back on that course in this moment of reset and reconciliation. Restorative Justice is amongst my brothers and sisters! Powerful and Inspiring Read!