Having spent a substantial amount of time in foreign countries I was looking forward to reading this edition of Lapham’s Quarterly. Furthermore, there is an anti-foreigner strain that gained a little steam under the Trump Presidency. History is rife with anti-immigrant sentiment and the USA is no exception. There was a discussion back in the 90s if America is more of a melting pot or a mixing bowl. I’d argue it is a bit of both but recently it seems there are those who do not like melting or mixing and this belongs squarely to the Republican party and their dalliance with white nationalism. This was brought out into the open by Trump’s mention that there were “good people on both sides” during a white nationalist rally where a young lady was killed.
I experienced a bit of this myself in elementary school. I’m part polish and there were plenty of jokes about the “dumb polack” Therefore, I never let anyone know about my ethnicity. These jokes came primarily from kids of Italian heritage who proudly wore an Italian horn gold necklace. What I didn’t know at the time was that the Italians also had a rough time immigrating to America and had their own derogatory slurs “WOP” (Without Pass), “Dego” which probably came from the common name “Diego” and so on.
Therefore, I was curious to read how foreigners were mentioned in writings throughout history in this periodical. Here are my highlights.
“When the Lord your God brings you into the land that you are about to enter and occupy” he gives over to you the peoples who happen to be already present, and “then you must utterly destroy them… the Lord your God has chosen you out of all the peoples on earth to be his people, his treasured possession.
Unfortunately this passage was used by Christians in America to justify their horrible treatment of the Native Americans. This is Old Testament which can be brutal with a wrathful God. Jesus brings the New Testament which speaks more of love. It is too bad that the evangelical strain running through the USA is OK with foreigners so long as they remain in the minority. Love everyone yes, but so long as there are only a few of those “others.”
The footpaths in Tahiti are rather difficult for a European, and “to go into the mountains” demands even of the natives a degree of effort which they do not care to undertake unnecessarily.
This reminded me of my trip to Hawaii and looking at those forested mountains and what secrets they keep put there by ancient Hawaiians. Reading this passage I began to wonder if perhaps they didn’t travel into those forests much at all since it can be pretty dangerous.
Among peoples that go naked, as among animals, the difference between the sexes is less accentuated than in our climates. Thanks to our cinctures and corsets we have succeeded in making an artificial being out of a woman. She is an anomaly, and nature herself, obedient to the laws of heredity, aids us in complicating and enervating her. We carefully keep her in a state of nervous weakness and muscular inferiority, and in guarding her from fatigue, we take away from her possibilities of development. Thus modeled on a bizarre ideal of slenderness to which, strangely enough we continue to adhere, our women have nothing in common with us, and this, perhaps, may not be without grave moral and social disadvantages.
In the USA it is capitalism which has turned women into something of an object. The system tells them they must be beautiful and so a woman is transformed by makeup, made a few inches taller by high-heels (which hurt the feet), and clothing that is always tighter and often more revealing than what men usually wear.
Furthermore, the objectification has gained steam with apps like TikTok where hordes of young women gain followers by using sexuality: dancing around and wearing revealing clothing amongst other activities. Society keeps getting worse and worse.
... My grandmother had to yield at last to my father, and it was settled that I was to go to school at Santee Agency, Nebraska, where Dr. Alfred L. Riggs was then fairly started in the work of his great mission school, which has turned out some of the best educated Sioux Indians.- Paul Gauguin – Noa Noa
The missionary school, a place designed to eradicate the native culture and replace it with that of the white man.
Every day without fail they wash their faces and their heads with the dirtiest and filthiest water there could be. A young serving girl comes every morning with breakfast and with it a great basin of water. She proffers it to her master, who washes his hands and face in it, as well as his hair. He washes and disentangles his hair, using a comb, there in the basin, then he blows his nose and spits and does every filthy thing imaginable in the water. When he has finished, the servant carries the bowl to the man next to him. She goes on passing the basin around from one to another until she has taken it to all the men in the house in turn. And each of them blows his nose and spits and washes his face and hair in the basin. – Ahmad ibn Fadlan, from The Book of Ahmad ibn Fadlan.
I remember this scene from the movie “The 13th Warrior” with Antonio Banderas. I too thought it was disgusting just like his character. Reflecting a little further I noticed how I’ve changed my own habits due to my experience in Japan. I no longer wear shoes indoors, I’ve bought a Japanese electronic bidet and thoroughly subscribe to the idea of “uchi, soto” which is basically that the outside is dirty and the inside is clean. Therefore, it is imperative to take the shoes off and wash your hands when coming inside.
To venerate it was their prescribed duty, for it was their God, before whom they would bow their foreheads to the ground, and to which their mouths sang hymns. They fainted at its appearance, they raised their eyes to contemplate it, they were consumed with passion when it was exhibited, and boasted of nothing else when they had seen it. They went into ecstasies at its reappearance, they offered up their lives for it and sought comfort from it, so much so that they had copies made of it which they worshiped, before which they prostrated themselves in their houses and so on which they called when they gave evidence. – Imad ad-Din – Ciceronian Eloquence
I’m amazed to reflect and see our culture is still just as primitive. In the USA the population worships Jesus and God yet look down on cultures that worship other things. It seems so primitive in the other cultures but we have a hard time looking in the mirror.
As for me, one of the reasons I shed religion is due to my fascination with ancient history. We know a lot about history up to the Romans but before that it is pretty sparse. It always catches my interest when something about humanity is discovered from 40,000 years ago. There was a lot going on before Jesus Christ and in the immense time humanity has been around Christianity is still the new kid on the block.
Today, the alien barbarians of the West, the lowly organs of the legs and feet of the world, are dashing about across the seas, trampling other countries underfoot, and daring, with their squinting eyes and limping feet, to override the noble nations. What manner of arrogance is this!
…. The land amid the seas that the Western barbarians call America occupies the hindmost region of the earth; thus, its people are stupid and simple and are incapable of doing things. – Aizawa Seishisai, from “New Thesis.”
Those of European descent have a hard time understanding the atrocities of colonialism and a worse time accepting responsibility for it. They always absolve themselves by saying “times were different then!” Europeans went to those countries, took it from the natives and said “this is ours now.” It always makes me happy when I explain to my own son of Japanese descent that the reason Japan isn’t a Christian country is that the Japanese had samurai and chased out those Europeans with a katana. Other Asian countries weren’t so powerful and so the Spanish, Portuguese and Dutch simply said “well, your land is our land now and if you have a problem with it we’ll kill you.” That didn’t work in Japan pre World War Two.
But in my experience, foreignness can as often be an asset. The outsider enjoys a kind of diplomatic immunity in many places, and if he seems witless or alien to some, he will seem glamorous and exotic to as many others.
Completely agree! I lived three years in Japan and at first it was difficult to acknowledge that I’ll never fit it, I’ll always be a “gaijin.” But after I accepted that I realized I could use it to my benefit. There is quite a bit of freedom in not being part of the group. When I worked at Japan Airlines I would always leave at 5:00 when the Japanese would stay longer, not because they were doing work, they just felt they had to stay so long as others were. My leaving promptly at 5:00 also benefited a Japanese person who left with me because I gave her a ride. I was her excuse to leave. 🙂
Besides, I know that Japan can work as smoothly as it does only by having everyone sing their specific parts from the same score, creating a single choral body. The system that keeps me out produces the efficiency and harmony that draws me in. – Pico Iyer – The Foreign Spell
In the Philippines, five years later, the United States military briefly set up its own camps during a brutal campaign against independence fighters, executing civilians and waterboarding suspects during interrogations, actions considered so brutal that officers faced court-martial for their conduct.
Another instance of European colonialism that neither America, nor any colonizing country can face up and repent for, especially in this political atmosphere. Just wave your flags and chant USA. This is all well and good but it is not a positive thing to simply refuse to look at the sins of the past. Healing begins with recognizing that there is indeed a wound.
The attempt to standardize and humanize internment conditions had also rehabilitated the idea of concentration camps and eroded memories of the brutality of the colonial camps. Indeed, once the public had adjusted to the idea of imprisoning innocent foreigners preemptively, governments learned how to harness anxiety of a foreign danger – with the underlying fear of crime, degeneracy, and disease – and assign it to other target groups, often domestic enemies.
This was written a long time ago and is just as applicable today, especially with President Trump. What did he call Mexicans? “Murderers, rapists and I assume, some good people.” We’ve not made much progress as a society.
The system would find its champion under Stalin, whose Gulag rose in part on the back of Trotsky’s few unremarkable weeks in an internment camp in Nova Scotia. – Andrea Pitzer – Enemy Aliens
The division of the Roman state into warring factions, with all its attendant vices, had originated some years before, as a result of peace and of that material prosperity which men regard as the greatest blessing. Down to the destruction of Carthage, the people and senate shared the government peaceably and with due restraint, and the citizens did not compete for glory or power; fear of its enemies preserved the good morals of the state. But when the people were relieved of this fear, the favorite vices of prosperity – license and pride – appeared as a natural consequence. Thus the peace and quiet which they had longed for in time of adversity proved, when they obtained it, to be even more grievous and bitter than the adversity. For the nobles started to use their position, and the people their liberty, to gratify their selfish passions, every man snatching and seizing what he could for himself. So the whole community was split into parties, and the republic, which hitherto had been the common interest of all was torn asunder. – Sallust – The Jugurthine War; 40 BC.
They say history doesn’t repeat itself but it rhymes. The USA is rhyming pretty well with the passage above these days.
If a country is a land of defined and defended borders, within which reside a people of a common ancestry, history, language, faith, culture, and traditions, in what sense are we Americans one nation and one people today? – Pat Buchanan – Immigration is Destroying America, 2014.
America is a melting pot comprised of people from many different nations, cultures and backgrounds. These are welcomed as evidenced by the Statue of Liberty even if that idea has suffered many stains along the way. Pat is flat out wrong as his skewed idea is a America for Anglo-Saxon Protestants which just isn’t true.
The Roman historian Tacitus wrote in his late first-century work Germania that for the German tribes, “Drinking bouts lasting all day and all night are not considered in any way disgraceful. The quarrels that inevitably arise over the cups are seldom settled merely by hard words, but more often by killing and wounding.”
In my studies of history I’ve learned that the Germans are a warring people. From the Visigoths who defeated the Romans to the Saxon people who started both World Wars I’m come to believe that aggressiveness is built into their DNA. Therefore, all of Europe got a shutter when Germany greatly increased their military budget recently due to the invasion of Ukraine by Russia. Europe is saying “Oh, no, here we go again.”