C.V. Allen: Somehow, we survived all those other refugee scares

Modesto Bee

Yes, the Stanislaus County Board of Supervisors should pass a resolution asking the state of California to tell the U.S. government that we don’t want to admit into our fair county each and every refugee from Syria, unless, of course, they are Christian. Public safety, you know.

Some folks in Turlock might hesitate a bit – but are those Assyrians or Syrians? I forget which.

Historically we’ve done such a fine job identifying those who mean us harm. Early on it was all those fish-eating papists who took orders from the pope. Not long after that, we became frightened by the “yellow peril,” thousands of Chinese, good mostly for building our railroads and levees – but forbidden to bring wives for fear they would multiply and stay. Couldn’t have that.

And when some did stay, well, we passed a law saying they couldn’t own land, become citizens or vote.

In the late 1880s came the flood of all kinds – undesirables to most citizens. They had nicknames like “bohunks,” “dagos,” “yids,” “micks”; they were the unwashed refuse of other nations. We took them in, but only reluctantly and over the protests of those already here (who forgot how their ancestors came) because we needed them to work in our factories and fill the lands that stretched forever west.

Prior to World War II, when the fate of European Jews was becoming clear, we accepted a few, denying the many. Some were literally turned away at the dock, not allowed to get off a ship, turning it around and condemning some 250 to death in concentration camps. Who needs more Jews? Some people wouldn’t like it. We denied the Holocaust until it became undeniable.

In the ’40s, we moved California’s Japanese population to the desert, fearing they would turn on us in favor of their ancestral homeland. No harm done. After all, they returned … to what? Lost homes, jobs and property – except those allowed in the Army, many of whom died in Italy serving a nation that had interned their families.

Fast forward to the 1960s, a losing war in Vietnam, thousands of Vietnamese who had helped America in the fight, were stranded and abandoned – the “boat people” floating in the sea, uncountried and unwanted. We took some in, but not without protests.

Funny thing happened along the way – the “bohunks,” “dagos,” “huns” and “micks” (and those from countries whose people lack derogatory nicknames) – became Americans. Now we call them winemakers, businessmen and businesswomen, doctors, farmers, neighbors and just plain ordinary people who make us what we are.

What is common to these histories is that our fears were groundless, and we now we know it. The threat from 10,000 carefully vetted – mostly families with children – refugees to a nation that murders at least 12,000 of its own each year is likely to be immeasurably small. What is more likely is 10,000 people will never forget their good fortune in coming to a great nation; a nation they will come to love, perhaps better than those of us who have never known what it means to be wandering the world without safe harbor, without a nation, without welcome.

In the New York harbor is a statue of a lady with a torch held high, facing east. On her pedestal she says something to a fractured world about sending its huddled masses and wretched refuse as she lifts her lamp to illuminate a golden door. I forget the details, but can’t remember any mention of “… except Syrians and Muslims.”

C.V. Allen is a semi-retired Modesto doctor. Send questions or comments to columns@modbee.com.