Everyone living in the U.S. is an immigrant. Every one migrated to this region of the world, whether it was 5 years ago, 50 years ago, 500 years ago, or 15,000 years ago. People migrated for many reasons – poverty, escaping from intolerable conditions, looking for a better life, or as captives.
The original inhabitants of North America, the Native Americans came to this continent 15,000 years ago by traveling across a bridge of land connecting Asia with North America. Like all human beings, Native Americans were one of many immigrant populations who left Africa thousands of years ago looking for new environments.
Native Americans lived on this continent for generations, with a variety of cultures from hunter-gatherer tribes to early civilizations. But their lives were ruined by a new wave of immigrants – Europeans who began colonizing the Americas in the 16th century. Millions of Native Americans were killed by disease or violence. By the early 20th century, the original population of Native Americans had been reduced to 250,000 from twelve million.
The colonies were run by elites from Europe, but the people who did the work were poor Europeans forced to immigrate because of poverty. Many Europeans who arrived in North America were “indentured servants”, people who signed a contract to work for an employer for a number of years. Immigrants were the labor force which did the work of the colonies. In the South, the huge agricultural plantations were developed using a different immigrant labor – an estimated 600,000 African slaves taken captive and sold into slavery.
During the 19th century, the U.S. Expanded its territory to the West Coast, creating a market for U.S. industry. Immigrants were brought to the U.S. to do the most difficult work of building and working in factories, building the railroads, settling new territories. Between 1840 to 1850, almost 20 percent of Ireland’s entire population was brought to the U.S. to work. At the same time hundreds of thousands of Chinese immigrated looking for work, creating whole communities in cities such as New York and San Francisco.
In 1848 the U.S. fought a war to expand its empire seizing the entire northern part of Mexico and making it part of the U.S. The states of California, Nevada, Utah, New Mexico, and Arizona were created and the 200,000 original inhabitants found themselves in the United States.
After the Civil War, U.S. industry expanded even more, and wave after wave of immigrants were brought to the country. Immigrants came form everywhere – from Germany, Scandinavia, Hungary, Italy, Poland, Russia, and many other countries. Between 1882 and 1914, twenty million immigrants came to the U.S. to work in the factories.
The latest wave of immigrants to the U.S. has been overwhelmingly those who come from Latin America. These immigrants have been forced to leave their home countries, many of which have been plundered by the U.S. Between 1960 and 2000 the number of Latin American immigrants to the U.S. has tripled, with nearly 21 million people coming from various countries. These immigrants work in the hardest, dirtiest and lowest paid jobs – sweatshops, factories, construction, meatpacking, and other jobs.
Looking at the history of North America, there can be no mistake. We are all immigrants. And the vast majority of us have been brought over to do the work which creates the wealth of this society. The divisions in culture, language, and history have been used by politicians and employers to divide us and to make one population of immigrants hate the other. But this is absurd. We may come from different places and have arrived on this continent at different times, but there is nothing which makes any one of us truly different. What we have in common is that we are the ones who do the work of this society. Workers in this country, and around the world gain nothing from being divided by race, language, and culture. We have every interest instead to struggle to put an end to the system of exploitation which uses our differences to divide, conquer and exploit us.