In his well-known lecture at the Sorbonne in 1882, Ernest Renan remarked that ‘the essence of a nation is that all its individuals have many things in common, and that all have forgotten many things as well’.1 For nations like the United States with historically high rates of immigration and cultural diversity, it is both harder for its individuals to have many things in common and harder to forget what they do have in common. When national commonalities cannot be assumed, they are typically imagined.2 One of the most powerful national ‘myths’ for post-War America is the proposition that the United States is a ‘nation of immigrants’.3 Through this narrative of migration, the nation affirms that the uniqueness and strength of American society lies in its ability to welcome and incorporate the contributions of millions of immigrants generation upon generation. The power of this narrative is manifest in school textbooks and in a multitude of historical monuments and museums dedicated to migrant history in America’s ‘gateway’ cities and prairie settlements.4 Most pervasively, it is manifest in contemporary political discourse, even - and sometimes most obviously - in the discourse of conservative politics.
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