Like many of the people I grew up with, I’m the child and grandchild of immigrants. The rhetoric currently being used against Latino and Muslim immigrants to the US is the same rhetoric that was used to demonize our relatives emigrating from Italy, Ireland, Eastern Europe and so on. Our grandparents and great-grandparents and beyond were shamed for their culture, their religion, their languages, and their way of life. Defined by the worst of their countrymen and separated from the best.
This is selfish of me, but to understand pain I have to put it in context. My grandmother never taught her children Italian. She explained to me once that she wanted her children to be fully American. I mourn that loss of our heritage, and the fear she still felt as an adult American citizen. I envy the people who were able to maintain that bond.
My mother is also an immigrant to the United States, albeit under very different circumstances. While my grandmother and her family left Italy under the gathering storm clouds of World War II, my mother first came here to work, and then returned - and stayed - to get married. She is considered a “good” immigrant, not because she is educated or contributes to society through the thousands of students she’s educated over her career - but because her background is “acceptable.” She shares a language, a religion, and an ethnicity with the anti-immigrant majority of the United States. She has a culture and accent that is romanticized, imitated, marketed, accepted, and even considered “du jour” thanks to popular media like Outlander. My mother was never forced to forget or fear her background, which is why her children are able to maintain better ties to her cultural history. I'm lucky to have those bonds, and sad to know how many other bonds we've lost.
There is a middle-ground between total cultural assimilation and cultural isolation. We haven’t found it yet.