Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Immigrant Roots

This is an entry from my personal blog that I wanted to repost here. The Fourth of July holiday got me thinking about all that is good and not so good about our country, including the immigration debate. Just some beans and cornbread for thought from this hillbilly:

Like most every American, the people of the Appalachian Mountains are descended from immigrants of other countries. One of the predominant ancestries of the Appalachians is of Scottish and Irish decent, also called the Scotch-Irish. They came to America searching for a better life. They fell in love with the mountains and they began to settle.

Those immigrant roots have been on my mind a considerable amount lately because of the contentious issue immigration has become in America. I often wonder what migrating to North America was like in the 1700's and 1800's, when a good number of my ancestors came here. Were they welcomed to the New World, given the oft romanticized endless opportunites about which most immigrants dreamt? Or were they greeted with inhospitable suspicion, like a non-conforming, criminal subclass?

The Irish had it especially tough. Stories about their plight in New York and Boston in the late 1800s abound, which is why many eventually found the dangerous but decent paying jobs of the mines. Pulling up roots and moving to a foreign place, with a foreign accent and a foreign culture must have been scary, but they were unwaivering in their resolve. It is even tougher for immigrants to the U.S. today as it was for our ancestors. However, their resolve is just as tough as past immigrants, if not tougher.

Which is why we, as a nation of immigrants, have the obligation to find a way for todays immigrants to come here without having to cross the border illegally and be treated like criminals for only wanting what the rest of our immigrant ancestors wanted. Increasing border patrols and utilizing National Guard troops might serve as a day to day fix, but the larger problem remains unsolved. Granting amnesty is not the answer either. Immigrants need an expedited process to apply for legal citizenship. The current process is lengthy, cumbersome, and only encourages illegal border crossings. Our immigration policy desperately needs an overhaul.

America has been the destination of immigrants since 1492. We are a nation of immigrants today. We will continue to be a nation of immigrants in the future. And as immigrants, we must find the resolve to honor that heritage each of us shares. We cannot expect nor accept anything less.


Jonesie said...

Last summer I took a tour through New York's Lower East Side Tenement Museum (, which focuses on immigration and was fascinating. They lead you through a tenement with one-room apartments accurately restored to reflect the lives of three past immigrant families. One of the things that I learned was that before the late nineteenth century (I think), there were no "immigration" laws as such: if you made it to our boundaries, you were an American.

Along with that, I also met a Scottish woman when I was in New York. She asked me about being from the South, but when I started talking about the large number of Scotch-Irish descendants, she went ballistic! She was very offended by being called "a liquor," Scotch. I had never heard that before! So I got paranoid and started looking up derivations and checking formal studies of "Scottish"-Irish descendants, and almost all of them still listed Scotch-Irish, so I figure we have to chalk it up to an American form of the word.

Jeremy Peters said...

Thanks for sharing about your visit to New York. The Tenement Museum sounds very interesting.

I agree with you and the proud Scottish woman you talked with that the term "Scotch-Irish" is somewhat of a mislabeling. Not only does in infer alcoholism, but it also mislables as a distinct people what is in fact a very broad and diverse population. But like many people, it's the form I grew up hearing and have been accustomed to using. Other less used but perhaps more palatable variations include the "Scots-Irish" and "Ulster Scots".

I believe it originates from the Scottish settlers to Ulster in the 17th century. It was from the resulting blend of Scottish and Irish people of Northern Ireland that the immigrants to America came which I reference in the blog.

Thanks again for sharing your thoughts!

Eric Drummond Smith said...

From what I understand, for what its worth, the nomiker "Scotch-Irish" rather than "Scots-Irish" probably just evolved out the evolving accent pattern of the Appalachian folk - southern Appalachians, after all, are known for their tendency to use hard "ch" sounds, including, for instance, in the way we refer to ourselves as "Ap-pah-lah-chuns" as opposed to "Ap-pah-lay-shuns" or "Ap-pah-lay-she-ans," (not to mention this version) as some people outside of the region refer to us. As to alcohol, while I am something of a whiskey man myself, and a particular fan of fine Scotch, I can say I don't think that has anything to do with the title "Scotch-Irish," in particular given that there was no effort to even pretend that American whiskeys (whether the traditional Kentucky or Tennessee or the now largely extinct Pennsylvanian or Virginian brands) were more akin to their British ancestors than they, in point of fact, were.

Matt Davis said...

There is a great book on the subject of the Scots-Irish migration to America (3 waves, actually). James Webb's "Born Fighting - How the Scots-Irish Shaped America". It really taught me alot about my own ancestry in a way that the family tree just couldn't do.

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