I am not intimidated by the fact that people want to come to America, and if you are like me, you are deeply upset that our leaders recently chose to separate children from their families under the guise of enforcing law. This is despicable. We used to celebrate immigration as part of our tradition. We used to harbor the tempest-toss, the tired, the poor, and welcomed to our shores the huddled masses yearning to breathe free. I wrote this book to help make sure we don’t forget that.
In this book I use the 1986 animated film “An American Tail” as a framing device to explore the experiences of émigrés who lived in the United States during the Gilded Age. While the film itself celebrates the arrival of the Mousekewitz family to the U.S., this essay will comment on the evolution of U.S. immigration policy from the late 19th to early 21st centuries. Special attention is paid to the National Origins Act, the Chinese Exclusion Act, and to President Trump’s 2017 “Muslim bans.” Major push and pull factors associated with immigration are examined as well; a comparison between the socioeconomic conditions of the Gilded Age and modern era follow.
In this essay, I argue that the Trump administration’s views on immigration are similar to those of the 19th century’s Nativists and their supporters. I attempt to show that the essay’s highlighted immigration policies are steeped in xenophobia, are intentionally designed not to solve the problems lawmakers claim they address, and are antithetical to the values that the U.S.—a nation of immigrants—claims as a deep part of its identity.
In “An American Tail,” the film’s main heel, Warren T. Rat, tries to convince the marginalized mice-inhabitants of his world that one of his lies is truthful. Even as his story conspicuously unwinds around him, he reasserts himself by asking, “Who are you going to believe? Me, or your own eyes?” After reading this essay, I hope you will be able to trust your own eyes. You will be equipped with enough historic knowledge and context to think critically about President Trump’s rhetoric on immigration and refugees, decide if this is something you wish to resist, and do so while still trusting in the basic goodness of the American people.
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