Debunks the pervasive and self-congratulatory myth that our country is proudly founded by and for immigrants, and urges readers to embrace a more complex and honest history of the United States
Whether in political debates or discussions about immigration around the kitchen table, many Americans, regardless of party affiliation, will say proudly that we are a nation of immigrants. In this bold new book, historian Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz asserts this ideology is harmful and dishonest because it serves to mask and diminish the US’s history of settler colonialism, genocide, white supremacy, slavery, and structural inequality, all of which we still grapple with today.
She explains that the idea that we are living in a land of opportunity—founded and built by immigrants—was a convenient response by the ruling class and its brain trust to the 1960s demands for decolonialization, justice, reparations, and social equality. Moreover, Dunbar-Ortiz charges that this feel good—but inaccurate—story promotes a benign narrative of progress, obscuring that the country was founded in violence as a settler state, and imperialist since its inception.
While some of us are immigrants or descendants of immigrants, others are descendants of white settlers who arrived as colonizers to displace those who were here since time immemorial, and still others are descendants of those who were kidnapped and forced here against their will. This paradigm shifting new book from the highly acclaimed author of An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States charges that we need to stop believing and perpetuating this simplistic and a historical idea and embrace the real (and often horrific) history of the United States.
Historian Dunbar-Ortiz (An Indigenous Peoples' History of the United States) gives the lie to America's self-image as an immigrant nation in this fiery account. She casts the current surge of populism as the latest episode in a history of U.S. nativism that stretches back before the nation's founding, and contends that America only welcomes immigrants when they can be exploited or recruited to its project of settler colonialism, which was "grounded in the violent theft of land and in racial slavery." She also deconstructs the musical Hamilton to show how it ignores the fact that Alexander Hamilton opposed immigration and owned slaves, and describes how people of Scots-Irish descent dispossessed Native Americans and then claimed themselves as indigenous to the regions they settled. Discussing waves of Irish, Italian, Jewish, Asian, and Hispanic immigration in the 19th and 20th centuries, Dunbar-Ortiz explains how each group fled persecution and poverty only to face racial, ethnic, and religious intolerance from previous U.S. settlers. Dunbar-Ortiz's careful recounting of the suffering and complicity of each group is skillfully done, though the leaps from one historical time period to the next can be jarring. This impassioned and well-documented history pulls no punches.