Utah is no stranger to immigration. Historically, its inhabitants come from all over the world. They continue to come from both national and international backgrounds. Most of the students at Snow College in Ephraim, Utah have migrated from some other locale.
On October 3rd, the convocation “Migration, Labor, and Community” was presented on this very subject at the Eccles Center. The event was introduced by Fernando Montano and featured Professors Jon Cox, English Brooks and Michael Brenchley as speakers. Many from Snow’s student body attended.
John Cox, instructor of History from the Social Science Department, gave first presentation, his focus being how migration is integral to United States history. “We are a nation of immigrants” he said. He then gave a history of European and Chinese immigration. He spoke of public perception regarding ethnic stereotypes as well as racial prejudices toward these individuals.
Immigration law was vastly different in the previous eras of this nation. At the iconic Ellis Island, the most active immigration processing station, all that was required to enter and work toward United States citizenship was 10 dollars, after having been inspected to be in good health. Only two percent of people attempting to enter the United States were ever turned away. Immigration law remained flexible for many years following, and there was no passport requirement until 1918.
Professor Cox commented: “I hear some involved in politics today saying they aren’t opposed to immigration but that they just want it to be legal immigration. Some will say that “My great, great grandfather came here legally. People today should do the same.” We should remember that our laws today are different. Everyone came legally back then. Today things are a little bit different.”
The time was then turned to English Brooks of the English Department faculty to further explain the history, with a focus on immigration specific to the Wasatch Front, the Great Basin region, and the Western U.S. more generally.
Professor Brooks began with the history of the Scandinavian immigrants of Ephraim and Sanpete County, who had a distinct cultural heritage. These differences, in contrast with the established Anglo-American settlers, would at times create tensions among the ethnic groups, despite their commonly sharing mutual membership in Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS).
Going further back, he explained that indigenous peoples were immigrating around this continent long before national borders had been established.
“People who migrate tend to do so for very compelling reasons. Sometimes it’s following food, better environmental conditions, or economic opportunities. Sometimes it’s fleeing repressive or threatening conditions back home,” he said. “What we ought to remember is that we are all immigrants, and most of us would have a hard time distancing our family history from our immigrant backgrounds, especially in this country… Immigration has affected different racial and ethnic groups in uneven and often unequal ways.
A popular political expression for indigenous American people was referenced: “We didn’t cross the border. The border crossed us.” For Native Americans and Mexicans who resided on this American continent before the currently established United States national border, this statement is unequivocal. Some feel that immigration should be a human right, seeing it as necessary for fulfillment in life and sometimes even survival itself.
Upon closing, Professor Brooks referenced a quote from Dieter F. Uchtdorf, who is in the First Presidency of the LDS church:
“I hope that a lot of people who are thinking of immigration as a political issue will look more at the human side of this topic, that they may make sure that we’re compassionate. We of all people should be cognizant of issues surrounding immigration. Look at our histories. Look at the pioneers who came here. It was not too long ago.”
Mike Brenchley, who teaches sociology and anthropology here at Snow, ended the convocation on the subject of the conditions of migrant labor in the United States. He, like the other professors, expressed that the issue of immigration is integral to our national identity. He encouraged majority populations to think about living with diversity and how to interact with it.
“Migration is the history of america,” he said. “There is an interesting question to ask of most of our ancestors that have recently migrated here. What kind of conditions had they lived in? Many of them were migrant laborers when they first came.”
He spoke of the farm worker and social activist Cesar Chavez, who was born in Arizona to migrant laborers and worked with his family and community under harsh labor conditions. He had witnessed these conditions firsthand, including child labor. Chavez became a leader in the movement for farm workers rights, and fought throughout his life for fairness regarding the treatment of migrant minority laborers and all farm workers.
Chavez cofounded the United Farm Workers Association with Dolores Huerta in 1962.
Huerta originated the famous quote: “Every moment is an organizing opportunity, every person a potential activist, every minute a chance to change the world.”
Professor Brenchley closed his presentation with these remarks: “Whether it’s the Latino community, whether it’s other migrant populations, these are people that are part of our community. They’ve helped feed the nation and the world and have contributed economically, socially, and politically. How are we going to deal with that? Whatever our ethnicity or race or our job, are we going to be able to treat each other with respect, as people like Chavez, Heurta, and Martin Luther King have said?”
It is estimated that 211,810 of those living in Utah are immigrants (FAIR). That is, between eight and nine percent of the population. Those who live in the Utah are surrounded by family migration, farming practices and service based migrant labor on a consistent basis. Those who attend school here are exposed to their fellow students who have immigrated to receive an education. Immigration law is continuously at the forefront of regional and national political debate. Utah, along with Arizona, hosts some of the most controversial and nationally discussed immigration reform policies.
Migration continues to be the unfolding history of this United States of America. These members of the academic faculty at Snow College have expressed an acute understanding and willful consideration on this subject, and have encouraged their students to do the same.