America always has been, as most of us learned in elementary school, a land of immigrants. Officially, we’ve welcomed them with open arms, since virtually all our ancestors came to this land at some point in the last 500 years, voluntarily or otherwise.
That’s the bright side of our legacy.
The dark side is that once our ancestors got here, they too often wanted to keep any more immigrants from coming, especially from ethnic groups different from theirs.
Throughout our history, the ugly side of this legacy has manifested itself in the Ku Klux Klan, the Know-Nothing Party, and various other so-called "nativist" groups.
And that ugliness was, sadly, on display the night before last in a prosperous suburban community called West Bloomfield Township, northwest of Detroit.
West Bloomfield itself is a melting pot. Its 65,000 people are relatively affluent and diverse.
Household income is well over $100,000 a year. The population is three-quarters white, one-eighth or so black, but also includes sizable Chaldean and other minorities, including at last count, more than a thousand Japanese.
The white population is also heavily Jewish, some of whom fled persecution in the collapsing Soviet Union not that long ago. Not surprisingly, West Bloomfield is one of 10 Michigan communities that have designated themselves “welcoming cities” for immigrants.
Yet on Tuesday night, hundreds of people packed a board of trustees meeting and loudly urged the five members to repeal the welcoming resolution.
Their mood and language was ugly.
I heard about this that night from a former student, an absolutely lovely young communications specialist named Anasie, who lives there, is in her 30s, has a masters’ degree and three young daughters.
Anasie was born in Chicago, to parents who came here from Syria. She was a Brownie and a Girl Scout and a star student. She is brilliant, sweet, and has no use for groups like ISIS, which has murdered members of her family.
But Anasie is Muslim, and wears a hijab. She went to the meeting, and told me that she had never been so angry in her life.
“I was called a terrorist, a rapist, a murderer, and booed, and the worst part is that about 90% of the people cheered,” she said.
She took video of those angry and twisted faces, just in case they needed to be held accountable.
“I feel fearful for my kids’ futures,” she said.
I also heard from a reporter I know who was there.
“It was awful. I kept thinking, YOU were refugees, Don’t you remember?” she told me.
Ironically, the most vocal were old Soviet Jews who shouted that new refugees from the Middle East weren’t “classical” immigrants like they were.
Perhaps they should look up how Jews have been treated, or read about the refugee ship the St. Louis.
In the end, West Bloomfield saved itself from complete dishonor by narrowly voting to stay a welcoming city.
Two trustees who should have known better, Larry Brown and Steve Kaplan, disgraced themselves by supporting the bigots.
Someday, I think we’ll get to where our Muslim citizens are as part of the fabric of our lives as Chaldean and Jewish Americans are now.
When that happens, however, we’ll have a new challenge: Who will we discriminate against next?
Jack Lessenberry is Michigan Radio's political analyst. Views expressed in his essays are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of Michigan Radio, its management or the station licensee, The University of Michigan.