America is often referred to as the land of opportunity for anyone wishing to start a new life far away from home. Since the days of Amerigo Vespucci, the territory we now call the United States has been a primary destination for world travelers. In recent years, legislation regarding immigration has been an important topic which provokes fierce debate. Every country has its issues with immigration and none has a perfect regarding the same. However America has been the place where millions of immigrants have made a new home. The late John F. Kennedy, formerly the Thirty-Fifth President of the United States, left us with many writings, interviews and speeches before his untimely death in Dallas, Texas. His sharp wit, uncanny foresight and fierce independence catapulted him to the top of the list of Americans whose names live on forever. As the descendants of Irish settlers from Ireland escaping the potato famine, his family came to America in search of a new life. Their journey was long and their assimilation into a new society rough, with prejudice and xenophobia forming substantial obstacles to peace and happiness. Their plight was never forgotten and is told again in this short but engaging book that clarifies his position that America truly is a nation of immigrants.
Today it is hard for many of us to comprehend that the America as we know it is less than three hundred years old. In fact, my hometown of New York City did not come into existence until 1898. The stories of Ellis Island are legend in American history with tales of immigrants from places such as Ireland, Italy, Germany at The Netherlands. But as Kennedy beautifully explains, America owes its diversity to immigrants from all over. He starts off by giving a brief history of the creation of America before going into the influx of newcomers and their cultures and traditions that they introduced to the American experience. As I read the book, I thought to myself that although it was written in 1958 and published posthumously in 1964 after his death, his words are still relevant today. Currently, America finds itself in the midst of a bitter political climate. Immigration remains a hotly contested topic with the lives of millions of people living in the United States at stake. But as we move forward and consider how to approach immigration, it is wise for us to reminder JFK’s words that immigrants are responsible for the building of our country.
One of the tragedies of America’s development, pointed out by Kennedy in the book, is the backlash and discrimination faced by newly arrived immigrants. Every group of people has had to face discrimination fueled by bigotry and xenophobia. Regrettably, those who engage in such acts easily forget that all of our ancestors come from foreign land. Furthermore, the disenfranchisement of the Native Americans, Aborigines and struggle of the African and Hispanic-American and dark periods and a stain on the American conscience. The more I read his words and listen to his speeches, the more I am concerned that they are more important today. And his death on November 22, 1963, is still one of America’s darkest moments. My father who will turn sixty-five this year, still recalls with vivid detail, the day that Kennedy died. And as I listen to him talk, I can feel and see the sense of loss that engulfs him.
St. Augustine remarked that “the world is a book, those who do not travel read only a page”. Truer words have rarely been spoken. For some of us, it is not merely travel, but a completely new change in life requiring moving from the place known as home to a new land thousands of miles away. Those of us who have always lived in once place may find it difficult to appreciate the struggle many face as they try to make a new life in the United States. But as we go about our daily routines and encounter those who are different, it is imperative that we remember this deeply moving compendium and its words by the late John Fitzgerald Kennedy.