On May 30, President Trump tweeted, “On June 10th, the United States will impose a 5% Tariff on all goods coming into our Country from Mexico, until such time as illegal migrants coming through Mexico, and into our Country, STOP. The Tariff will gradually increase until the Illegal Immigration problem is remedied.”
Our first questions after reading this concerned the potential impact on U.S. agricultural trade with Mexico, and the U.S., Mexico and Canada Agreement that is awaiting ratification by Congress.
Our thoughts turned to the focus of the tweet — immigration — and how our ancestors entered this country. Given the policy perspectives of the president, would our ancestors have been allowed in?
Daryll’s grandfather was 17 when he arrived, unaccompanied, at Ellis Island on May 6, 1906. He had come from the mountainous farming terrain near Bergen, Norway, in search of economic opportunities that were unavailable there. During his first five years in New York City, he worked odd jobs and accumulated sufficient savings to move to North Dakota and homestead a farm.
During his first winter in North Dakota, he used a Sears Roebuck catalog to learn English beyond what he had picked up in NYC. Over time, he traded farms a number of times, arriving in Iowa in 1939 with his wife and three children (Daryll’s mother and aunt and uncle).
Before moving to Iowa, he sponsored his parents and all but one of his six siblings to make the move to the “new world.” All became productive citizens, accumulating wealth — mostly at farming operations — for their retirement and to hand down to children.
They did not come with advanced degrees or independently wealthy, but they were ambitious, entrepreneurial and had a strong work ethic that they passed on their children and descendants.
Harwood’s great-great grandfather came to the U.S. in the middle of the 19th century along with two other male family members in search of opportunity and to avoid conscription in the Prussian Army, certainly reasons that would not be acceptable in the present political climate. They settled on farms just north of Dayton, Ohio. They too eventually brought other family members here.
When Harwood’s great-grandfather finished eighth grade in the nearby country school, he left the farm, walked to Dayton and found a room where he could stay while he attended and graduated from high school. He then obtained a job and worked his way into upper management in the shoe department of a major department store in Dayton. His son, Harwood’s grandfather and namesake, followed in his father’s footsteps in the shoe business and continued working until he was nearly 80.
While the story of African Americans and American Indians is quite different from these stories, the majority of farmers in the U.S. can trace their origins to immigrants, many of whom came as economic migrants and through “chain migration.” Many who came through formal ports of entry were deloused and treated with suspicion of possible criminal connections. They faced ethnic discrimination for years.
In many ways, the story of earlier waves of immigrants is not so different from those who arrive at America’s borders each day. Today, as then, they are seeking economic opportunity not available in their home countries, and in many cases to escape disorder and violence. They want a better opportunity for themselves and their children.
If the experience of our ancestors is any indication, the children and grandchildren of today’s immigrants will make major contributions to the future of this nation.