The relationship between the frontier and immigration may be a complex issue, but it is one that has played out the same every time. To keep ourselves “safe” from a variety of factors, Americans feel the need to point to others who look dissimilar.
Americans have always been fearful of immigrants. First, the Irish and blacks were discriminated against. Then because the Irish were white our discrimination found other targets. Based upon the Puritan tradition and John Winthrop’s “city on the hill,” Americans have always felt superior to other groups and yet fearful of them. Since the frontier myths that Americans have learned include the idea of the good guy always defeating the bad guy, we must protect ourselves somehow. We cannot protect ourselves against the almost-certainty of another terrorist attack, so we protect ourselves against the “dangerous” immigrants again.
It seems that an “us” and “them” mentality is always needed. In recent times, our fear about many aspects in our society has escalated. Because we are still terrified of what happened on Sept. 11 and are afraid of what is happening to and in our country right now, we lull ourselves into a false sense of safety by aiming at others who are not the problem. This parallels even the war in Iraq because we went to war without ever finding the culprits who caused us so much pain and grief.
Because we are fearful about our economy, we blame the Mexicans for coming here and taking our jobs. Upon closer inspection, these people do not take jobs from most Americans. They fill jobs that Americans are unwilling or unable to do. According to a new study, “High levels of immigration in the past 15 years do not appear to have hurt employment opportunities for American workers, according to a new report” (Hart).
Because we are concerned about national security, we build a 700 mile security fence to protect ourselves. But Mexicans have not done anything to Americans. Since most studies tell us that even illegal immigrants add to the economy, what are people so afraid of? We must find ways to make ourselves feel safe, and a huge fence separating “us” from “them” seems like one way to do it. Of course, we were all immigrants at one point in time too, but time has been on our side. We have had time to blend and melt and form the American culture. More and more today, we don’t want to give other immigrants that chance to form an American identity. For a country that prides itself on diversity, this seems rather strange.
Because we are fearful of the changes in the very social fabric of our society, we stop people who don’t look like us from coming into our culture. Therefore it is easy to be fearful of foreigners. We can blame them for changing our culture rather than looking at the decisions that we have made to cause changes. Our laws are breaking down because we are not following them nor instilling those values in our children. Values are changing because of television, technology, science, and many other things. Our social problems have very little or nothing to do with immigration.
But again, the good guys must triumph in that mythology of the American frontier, and we believe we are the good guys. Therefore, we must protect ourselves even if we are protecting ourselves from the wrong enemy.
Hart, Kim. “Study Finds Immigrants Don’t Hurt U.S. Jobs,” Washington Post, August
11, 2006, Page D01. Retrieved on April 23, 2007 at