Overly panoramic in breadth but still a worthwhile contribution to the immigration debate.

Americans Knocking at Freedom's Door

A debut book explores U.S. immigration policy from the perspective of the nation’s historical and religious character.

Immigration has always been a contentious topic in the U.S., and the most searching discussions often revolve around the constitutive components of American identity. In her book, Smith-DeBoe provides a broad historical perspective in an attempt to capture the nation’s core character, or the “American DNA.” She begins with biblical history—with special emphasis on the story of Noah’s Ark—and traces the human race’s genealogy through successive tribal permutations. Immigration debate usually takes its bearings around ethnic, national, and cultural diversity, but the author is first interested in establishing the common ancestries of humankind. This is also an account of Christianity’s birth, and Smith-Deboe tracks the arc of the religion’s development through the Middle Ages and Reformation period to the religious oppression in Europe that partly inspired the original wave of migration to America. Then the author’s attention turns to America’s formation out of its fledgling colonial phase and the essential role religious faith played in the nation’s establishment: “There were different protestant communities and some imposed their way of life and views on others once they arrived in the colonies, but no one can question the fact that America was begun by people who honored God and set their founding principles from the words in the Bible.” Smith-DeBoe contends that the country’s shared Judeo-Christian heritage—the core of its “DNA”—must be the guiding principle of any reasonable immigration policy. The book concludes with a reflection on the author’s Amish background, which at first seems misplaced but turns out to be a provocative reflection on a people who have successfully combined a spirit of countercultural separatism with deeply felt patriotism. This is an eclectic work, and the author is to be credited with an effort to liberate immigration debate from myopically partisan talking points. The sweeping yet brief history of humanity is unnecessary to make her essential arguments, and the book probably should have begun with the discussion of Christianity in early modern Europe. In addition, the culminating chapter on immigration doesn’t provide nearly enough specific policy guidance. But Smith-Deboe makes about as powerful a case as one will find that America’s religiousness is not only important, but also consistent with its political secularism.

Overly panoramic in breadth but still a worthwhile contribution to the immigration debate.

Pub Date: Aug. 5, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-5320-0101-7

Page Count: 346

Publisher: iUniverse

Review Posted Online: Oct. 19, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2016

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For Howard Zinn, long-time civil rights and anti-war activist, history and ideology have a lot in common. Since he thinks that everything is in someone's interest, the historian—Zinn posits—has to figure out whose interests he or she is defining/defending/reconstructing (hence one of his previous books, The Politics of History). Zinn has no doubts about where he stands in this "people's history": "it is a history disrespectful of governments and respectful of people's movements of resistance." So what we get here, instead of the usual survey of wars, presidents, and institutions, is a survey of the usual rebellions, strikes, and protest movements. Zinn starts out by depicting the arrival of Columbus in North America from the standpoint of the Indians (which amounts to their standpoint as constructed from the observations of the Europeans); and, after easily establishing the cultural disharmony that ensued, he goes on to the importation of slaves into the colonies. Add the laborers and indentured servants that followed, plus women and later immigrants, and you have Zinn's amorphous constituency. To hear Zinn tell it, all anyone did in America at any time was to oppress or be oppressed; and so he obscures as much as his hated mainstream historical foes do—only in Zinn's case there is that absurd presumption that virtually everything that came to pass was the work of ruling-class planning: this amounts to one great indictment for conspiracy. Despite surface similarities, this is not a social history, since we get no sense of the fabric of life. Instead of negating the one-sided histories he detests, Zinn has merely reversed the image; the distortion remains.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1979

ISBN: 0061965588

Page Count: 772

Publisher: Harper & Row

Review Posted Online: May 26, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1979

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This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

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The powerful story of a father’s past and a son’s future.

Atlantic senior writer Coates (The Beautiful Struggle: A Father, Two Sons, and an Unlikely Road to Manhood, 2008) offers this eloquent memoir as a letter to his teenage son, bearing witness to his own experiences and conveying passionate hopes for his son’s life. “I am wounded,” he writes. “I am marked by old codes, which shielded me in one world and then chained me in the next.” Coates grew up in the tough neighborhood of West Baltimore, beaten into obedience by his father. “I was a capable boy, intelligent and well-liked,” he remembers, “but powerfully afraid.” His life changed dramatically at Howard University, where his father taught and from which several siblings graduated. Howard, he writes, “had always been one of the most critical gathering posts for black people.” He calls it The Mecca, and its faculty and his fellow students expanded his horizons, helping him to understand “that the black world was its own thing, more than a photo-negative of the people who believe they are white.” Coates refers repeatedly to whites’ insistence on their exclusive racial identity; he realizes now “that nothing so essentialist as race” divides people, but rather “the actual injury done by people intent on naming us, intent on believing that what they have named matters more than anything we could ever actually do.” After he married, the author’s world widened again in New York, and later in Paris, where he finally felt extricated from white America’s exploitative, consumerist dreams. He came to understand that “race” does not fully explain “the breach between the world and me,” yet race exerts a crucial force, and young blacks like his son are vulnerable and endangered by “majoritarian bandits.” Coates desperately wants his son to be able to live “apart from fear—even apart from me.”

This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

Pub Date: July 8, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-8129-9354-7

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Spiegel & Grau

Review Posted Online: May 6, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2015

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