Immigrants make America great. Our railroads, our steel skyscrapers, our farming and beef industries were all built by immigrants. Some, like the Spanish cattle pioneer Simon de Arocha, became titans. Some, like the Chinese workers who built the transcontinental railroads, were all but silenced. While the history of the Pilgrims’ arrival at Plymouth Rock is a staple of elementary school curricula everywhere, we very rarely hear the personal stories of sacrifice, courage and grit from other countries ― like China, Spain and Norway ― that laid the foundation for who we are as a nation today.
That’s why it was such a gratifying experience to contribute to HISTORY’s latest program, “America: Promised Land,” that is airing on Monday (Memorial Day, appropriately). Over the course of the two part special, HISTORY will explain how deeply ingrained immigration and migration are in the American fabric. With stories of German-American battalions in the Civil War and Chinese laborers building our nation’s first mass transit systems, their latest program America: #PromisedLand shows us that America is a “nation of nations.”
While immigrant hate groups like the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) are infiltrating news media outlets, spreading messages of fear supported by skewed statistics and extreme anecdotes, “America: #PromisedLand” offers non-politicized, well-researched accounts of immigrants from as early as the mid-1600s. The accounts shared are stories of sacrifice and bravery as men and women took their families into the unknown in hopes of creating a better life.
These stories are imperative to creating deeper understanding and connections between immigrants and U.S.-born Americans. As a young man growing up in the Bay area, my immigrant status felt more divisive than inclusive. It didn’t occur to me that I was truly a part of the “American way.” I never knew that my family’s journey from the Philippines was not too different from the journeys of the 12 million immigrants that came through Ellis Island, or the immigrants from across the globe featured in “America: Promise Land.”
Because we all have one thing in common, our families’ yearnings for a better life brought us to this land. And our perspectives, ideas, and sweat — along with the blood, resilience, and innovation of African slaves and their descendants — helped America become the “most productive, the most wealthy, and the most powerful nation in history.” Immigrants make America great, because immigrants made America.
Jose Antonio Vargas is a contributor to HISTORY’s upcoming event series “America: Promised Land” premiering on Memorial Day at 9/8c. He is also a pulitzer prize-winning journalist and the CEO of Define American.