21st-Century Pilgrims – Randall Margo, PhD

By Randall Margo, PhD
G.L.O.B.A.L Justice Commentator/Global Economy & Administration Adjunct Faculty, Golden Gate University; Public Administrator

Refugees enduring their trek out of troubled Middle East and African nations through the Balkans, now face numbing autumn rains, soon to give way to the colder snows of winter, as they seek Europe’s more serene and affluent destinations. But, should providence enable them to complete their journey, other crucibles will remain. Clearly, the struggles of their predecessors to assimilate culturally and economically within these wealthier European countries constitutes the most significant hurdle confronting these newcomers, and to a similar extent, gives pause to many Europeans whose nations are still willing to accept these migrants. Why has integration proved so difficult? Well, perhaps a comparison with immigrants from other places and times can provide some insight.

Our own history begins with the Pilgrims migrating to America during the 1620s and their journey and reasons for leaving mirror some of what is happening with today’s refugees. During the 1620s, fighting between Catholics and Protestants was occurring in Northern Europe, later to be known as the Thirty Years War. Meanwhile, England, which had broken from the Catholic Church during the reign of Henry VIII nearly a century earlier to form the Church of England, still retained many of the practices of Catholicism. When the Pilgrims sought to create their own Church separate from the Church of England, the government’s maltreatment of them included fines and jail.

Faced with this ongoing harassment, the Pilgrims initially moved to Holland, where they were able to practice their faith. Yet, like many of today’s refugees, the Pilgrims were anxious about losing their culture and heritage as Englishmen within the Dutch culture. They also feared a potential religious war between the Dutch and Spanish. So, they set sail to America, to escape the risk of war and the loss of their culture through assimilation.

Jewish immigration to America contended with similar issues. When the assassination of the Russian Czar in 1881 was falsely blamed on a Jewish conspiracy, a horrific pogrom began in Russia and the lands it ruled including Poland, Latvia, Lithuania and the Ukraine, as well as neighboring regions. Many Jews were forced to leave at the point of a gun, as violence and destruction visited their shtetls. Between 1880-1924 approximately 3 million Jews sought refuge in the United States, coming mostly from Eastern Europe.

The views and opinions expressed are those of the author(s) and do not imply endorsement by G.L.O.B.A.L. Justice. We are a faith-based, nonpartisan organization that seeks to extend the conversation about justice with a posture of dignity and respect.