Shithole countries II: migration policies throughout American history

The United States of America is a country whose foundations were built upon migration. The first settlers didn´t arrive to a terra nullius, but to a populated country where they were the foreigners. Supported by their manifest destiny theory, they appropriated the land and everything it offered until the 13 colonies declared their independence in 1876 and a new country was born. One of the first waves of immigration was constituted by slaves, brought by the colonies to work in plantations. Slavery was legal in all 13 colonies at the time of the Declaration of Independence. Europeans arrived looking for profitable ventures, but workers except indentured labourers, including convicted criminals, were hard to find due to the harsh conditions, so the colonies resorted on slavery. Massachussets was the first colony to authorise slavery through an enacted law. The most common countries of origin of the slaves were Senegal, Gambia, Guinea-Bissau, Mali, Angola, Congo, Gabon, Ghana (called the Gold Coast or the Slave Coast), the Ivory Coast, Nigeria and Cameroon.


From 1849 to 1882 the country received a large flow of Chinese attracted by the gold rush after which they stayed in the country working on the railway construction and farms for lower wages than the locals. Voices were raised against Oriental immigration and there were riots, like the LA riot in 1871, which resulted in 15 Chinese citizens being lynched. As a result of the riots a clause was inserted and accepted in the new Constitution in California (1879) which forbade employment of any Chinese labourers. Later on, in 1882, the Congress enacted the Chinese Exclusion Act, that excluded Chinese labourers for 10 years and finished Chinese immigration for almost a century. In the same year certain restrictive policies were adopted banning paupers, convicts and the insane.


The country received wave after wave of immigrants. As a result the population tripled due to the arrival of immigrants between 1860 and 1920, when most of them came from western Europe and were mainly protestant; they arrived from Germany, Ireland and England. Immigrants from these countries started decreasing in number after 1890 and Scandinavians decreased after 1910. In 1920, 38% of the foreign born population was made up of Poles, Serbs, Italians, Hungarians, Austrians and Russians who were Catholics, Greek Orthodox or Jewish and hostility to immigrants surfaced in the Sacco & Vanzetti case. There was another wave of migration of Southern and Eastern Europeans in 1923 and the number of nordic Europeans and those of Anglo-Saxon stock decreased. Madison Grant expressed his fear that they would be overwhelmed by lesser breeds who were considered as intellectually inferior to whites from northern Europe. Racists, xenophobes, anti-Catholic and anti-semites supported this quotas system to preserve the WASP proportion of the population. As a result, the Congress adopted the National Origins Quota Act, establishing a greater quota of western and northern Europeans, of whom there was a limit of 150,000 per year, mostly from Ireland, Great Britain, Scandinavia and Germany, barring Asians entirely. This quota survived until de 1960s. Simultaneously, a large number of Mexicans, exempt of the quota regulation went northward across the Río Grande.


Sacco and Vanzetti
All this comes to mind when one is faced with Trump’s project to build a wall between Mexico and the USA in order to prevent South Americans from crossing the borders seeking for a better future. Not to mention the slavery issue; Africans were forced out of their homeland for centuries to be exploited in the States and now African immigrants are blatantly shunned by the president. As Ebba Kalondo, spokesperson of the African Union responded to Trump’s unfortunate comment on January 9th: ‘given the historical reality of how many Africans arrived in the US as slaves, this statement flies in the face of all accepted behaviour and practice’.


A Concise History of the American Republic – Morison, Commanger, Leuchtenburg

Associated Press

Shithole countries

Most of us can still clearly remember Trump’s shithole remark, although his entire tenure has been so dominated by offensive statements that it may be hard to single it out. The shithole remark was uttered in the context of a meeting held on January 9th concerning a bipartisan proposal on the visa lottery, which granted a substantial part of it to misrepresented African countries and Temporary Protective Status nations such as Haiti. It was then, when these countries were mentioned, that Trump asked: ‘why are we having all these people from shithole countries come here?’ This remark wasn’t neither denied by the White House spokesperson Raj Shah nor by the Senator Dick Durbin. However, this is not by any means Trump’s only xenophobic remark. Late in 2017, the New York Times reported that he had complained that Haitian immigrants ‘all have AIDS’ and that the Nigerian who went to the US would ‘never go back to their huts’ in Africa.

pissed off

Sadly, all these remarks shouldn´t startle us much, since Western history has always been linked -and still is through TNCs- to facts supporting Trump’s statement, given the West’s systematic exploitation of non-Western peoples and their natural resources. What may strike us the most is the way that unfortunately common transhistorical concept is expressed. One would expect the president of the most influential and powerful country to be a bit more articulate. However, it goes to show that Western culture is more of a plutocracy than it is a meritocracy. But there may actually be a purpose behind Trump’s bluntness and poor expression. In Noam Chomsky’s words:

‘Trump’s role is to ensure that the media and the public attention are always concentrated on him. He’s a conman, a showman, and in order to maintain public attention you have to do something crazy. So, everyday there’s one insane thing after another and while this is going on, in the background, the wrecking crew is working (…)’

Let’s not fool ourselves; many other Western presidents, politicians and voters endorse implicitly this statement -as we have witnessed in Europe with the wave of increasingly restrictive migration policies- although they publically reject it for the sake of political correctness.


The Guardian, The New York Times, The Times, Huffington Post.


The contact between Latin and Old English started before Anglo-Saxon came to England, since Germanic tribes had already acquired many Latin words. The population also learned  Latin words from the Celts. A century and a half later, Roman missionaries introduced Christianity and an extensive adoption of Latin took place.


In order to determine the period when each borrowed word entered the language we must resort to different kind of evidence or varying value. For instance, if a word occurs in texts such as Beowulf or Cynewulf it indicates that it came into English not later than the early part of the period of Christian influence. However, we cannot be sure how much earlier it was acquired, since the first records belong to the year 700. Some words are not recorded before the 10th century (pīpe– pipe, cīese-cheese), so they can be assigned on other grounds to the period of continental borrowing. In order to establish the date when a term is acquire with resort to the following clues;

  • The character of the words (religious, Germanic) is key in order to trace back their origin. A number of words found in Old English and Old High German can hardly been borrowed before the Anglo-Saxons migrated to England; ‘copper’, which is rare in Old English, was borrowed on the continent (it can be found in more than 6 other Germanic languages).
  • We also find a clue of the origin of the borrowing in the phonetic form of a word; changes can be dated with some definiteness. In Old English –as in most Germanic languages- a change named ‘i-umlaut’ affected certain diphthongs when followed by ĭ or j. Thus, in words such as baƞkiz (benc > bench) or mūsiz (mȳs > plural of mūs, ‘mouse’), taking into account that the change happened in the 7th century, it indicates that the Latin word had been taken into English by that time. That also indicates that monēta (munit in Old English > mynet, Modern English ‘mint’) is an early borrowing. In many words, the evidence for their date of acquisition is funished by the sound changes of Vulgar Latin.

brit house before invasion

Fig.: Welsh house before the Roman invasion

The first Latin words acquired by Old English come from the contact between Latin and the Germanic tribes in the continent. There are hundreds of Latin borrowings in Germanic dialects. In the 4th century, the Germanic population was formed by several million people belonging to all ranks and classes of society. The populations close to the northern border were the most numerous; there were Christian churches set in military roads and trade with the Romans. The Germanic tribes adopted words from the more advanced Roman civilization and they were later adopted by Old English. Thus we find the following words from Germanic transmission;

  • We have some instances related to the main Germanic activities; agriculture, trade and war; pytt > pit; strœt > road, street; mīl > mile; miltestre > courtesan; segn > banner; pīl > javelin; weall > wall; cēap> (bargain, cheap) trade; mangian > trade [mangere > monger; mangung > trade, commerce; mangunghūs > shop;, pund > pound; mydd > bushel; sēam > burden, loan; mynet > coin [mynetian > to mint, to coin, mynete > money-changer]
  • Wine-trade with the Romans; wīn > wine; must > new wine; eced > vinegar; flasce > flask, bottle (note the similarity with Modern German Flasche); cyrfette > from Latin cucurbita, gourd; sester > jar, pitcher.
  • Domestic life; cytel > kettle, from Latin catīnus; mēse > table; scamol > from Latin scamellum, bench, stool; tepet > from Latin tapētum, carpet (note Modern German Teppish), curtain; pyle > from Latin pulvinus, pillow; pilece > from Latin pellicia, robe of skin; sigel > brooch, necklace.
  • Others; cycene > from Latin coquīna, kitchen; cuppe > from Latin cuppa, cup; disc > from Latin discus, dish; cucler > from Latin cocleārium, spoon; mortere > mortar, vesse; līnen > līnum, flax; līne > from Latin līnea, rope, line; gimm > from Latin gemma, gem.
  • Foods; cīese > cheese; spelt > wheat; pipor > pepper; senep > from Latin sināpi, mustard; cisten > from Latin castanea, chesnut; cires > from Latin cerasus, cherry tree; butere > from Latin būtyrum, butter; ynne > from Latin ūnnio, onion; plūme > plum; pise > from Latin pisum, pea; minte > from Latin mentha, mint.
  • Building; cealc > chalk; copor > copper; pic > pitch; tigele > tile.
  • Miscellaneous; mūl > mule; draca > dragon; cāsere > Emperor; Sæternesdæg > Saturday; Cirice > to Latin from Greek kyρikòν > church.
  • Adjectives; Sicor > from Latin securus safe; calv > from Latin calvus, bald.


Words through Celtic transmission; as we have noted in the previous blog entry, there are a considerable amount regarding place-names. An important word -in terms of subsequent word-formation- that the Celts borrowed is ceaster, from Latin castra and it is very common in toponyms; Chester, Colchester, Dorchester, Manchester, Winchester, Lancaster, Doncaster, Gloucester, Worcester. Some of these places were Roman camps, but not all of them. The English attached it freely to a place intended for habitation.

A few other words are thought to belong to this period; port > from Latin portus, harbour, gate, town; munt > from Latin mōns, mountain; torr > from Latin turris, tower, rock; wīk > from Latin vīcus, village.

Source: A history of the English language

Albert C. Baugh and Thomas Cable (Routledge)


The dialects brought by the Jutes, Saxons and Angles interacted with the languages spoken by the Celts, Romans and Scandinavians.

celtic art

In the case of the Celts it is apparent that they were not totally exterminated except in certain areas. A large number of them was assimilated into the new culture. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle narrates the struggle between natives and the new-comers, and the fact that Britons were annihilated certain in areas such as Andreceaster or Pevensey, although this is an exceptional case. In the East and South-East the Germanic conquest was fully accomplished with fewer Celtic populations left. A large number of Celts fled to the West, where we can find a considerable number of Celtic toponyms. Among Celtic place-names we find;

  • Kent – from Celtic Cant or Cantion
  • Deira and Bernicia (two ancient Northumbrian kingdoms) which have their origin in Celtic tribal names.
  • In the West and South-West; Devonshire contains in the first element the tribal name Dumnonii.Cornwall – Cornubian Welsh
  • Cumberland (now part of Cumbria) – ‘land of the Cymry or Britons’
  • London – it possibly goes back to a Celtic designation
  • The first syllable of Winchester, Salisbury, Exeter, Gloucester,Worcester, Lichfield.
  • The earlier name of Canterbury – Durovernum
  • Names of rivers and hills; Thames,
  • various Celtic words for ‘river’ and ‘water’ in Avon, Exe, Esk, Usk, Dover, Wye.
  • Celtic words for ‘hill’; Barr (Welsh bar ‘top, summit’), Bredon (bre – hill), Bryn Mawr (Bryn-hill, Mawr-great), Creech, Pendle (pen-top), crag, luh (lake)
  • Others: Cumb (deep valley) => Duncombe, Holcombe, Winchcombe; Torr (high rock, peak)=>Torr, Torcross, Torhill; Pill (tidal creek)=>Pylle, Huntspill; Brocc (badger)=>Brockholes, Brockhall.

A few Latin words were borrowed during the Roman occupation and are sometimes combined with these Celtic terms; castra, fontana, fossa, portus, vicus.

Outside of place-names the influence is almost negligible. There is only a score of Old English words which can be traced back to a Celtic source within which we find to distinct groups; words learned by the Anglo-Saxons through everyday contact with natives, transmitted orally and words introduced by the Irish Christian missionaries, which have a religious nature.

  • In the first group we find words such as ‘binn’ (basket, crib), ‘bratt’ (cloak), ‘dun’ (dark coloured), ‘ass’ (from Latin ‘asinus’) and ‘brocc’ (brock or badger), and those describing geographical features such as the aforementioned.
  • In the second group we find those terms inherited from Celtic Christianity; ‘ancor'(hermit), ‘dry'(magician), ‘cine'(gathering of parchment leaves), ‘cross’, ‘clugge'(bell), ‘gabolring'(compass), ‘mind'(diadem), ‘stœr'(history), ‘cursian'(curse).

Source: A History of the English Language.

Albert C. Baugh and Thomas Cable (Routledge)

Feral children and attic children

Over the centuries there have been several cases of children who grew up isolated from any human contact. Some of them grew up in the wild, adopted by an animal family, feral children, and some were excluded from almost any human contact or stimulus, attic children. Some of these cases have been studied in detail in order to learn more about the process of language acquisition, as in the cases of Victor of Aveyron, Kaspar Hauser, Amala and Kamala and Genie.


At the time of their discovery most of them had no linguistic abilities and showed signs of a lack of socialization.

Victor of Aveyron was a French feral child found at 12 years of age. He was exposed to society and education by Jean Marc Gaspard Itard, who adopted him. At first he was only able to spell ‘lait’ and ‘oh, Dieu’. He was taken to doctors to find out if he was deaf, which he was not, but they couldn´t make him speak although he showed signs of empathy towards human feelings. Some scholars state that he showed symptoms of autism. The case is shown in François Truffaut’s film ‘L’enfant sauvage’.

Kaspar Hauser allegedly grew in complete isolation. He was discovered at age 16 and lived locked up since 3. During his confinement he was only taught to write his name and say some sentences which he should say when released. Due to his confinement his legs were half-paralised for lack of exercise. In six weeks he was able to talk fluently although there was no sign of his use of language when he was released. Once he learnt to speak, he talked about his memories which described his life in a palace. His origins were never discovered and there were lots of theories linking him to aristocracy and Napoleon. Werner Herzog filmed ‘The enigma of Kaspar Hauser’.

Amala and Kamala, the feral girls from Bengal, India were allegedly raised by a family of wolves. They were taken to Joseph Amrito Lal Singh’s orphanage, where they displayed a wolf-like behaviour, showing calluses in hands and knees from walking on all fours. They howled and did not speak and were said to be nocturnal. But according to Serge Aroles, who studied their case, their behaviour could be but a hoax. He stated that the photos taken of the girls behaving like wolves were taken after their death, that they were other girls posing on all fours at Singh’s request and that the journal kept by Singh had been written after their death as well. Singh was also reported for having beaten Kamala in order to make her act as he described in front of visitors so that he obtained money for his orphanage. According to scholars, Kamala may have been afflicted with Rett syndrome, a neurodevelopmental disorder which impairs normal development.


Genie was discovered in 1970 at age 13 1/2. Daughter of a dysfunctional family, she started to speak late and a doctor suggested that she may have some intellectual impairment. Thinking that the authorities would take the child from him, her father locked her up in a room. Until she was 13 she hardly had human contact. She remained locked in a room, most of the time tied to a chair that also served as a potty, and tied and encaged at night. She was forbidden to produce any sound and if she did she was beaten up. She was hand fed and had no access to TV or radio. At age 13 she only understood 20 words, most of them orders or words with a negative connotation like ‘stop it’, ‘no more’ and ‘no’. The rest of the family did not live far better, as they had to remain inside the house, although they could go outside from time to time always watched by their armed father. Also the father forbade them to address any word to Genie. She was a victim of severe neglect. Her family lost her custody in 1975, but when the budget for Genie’s study were cut down, she was sent back to her mother. Then she found that taking care of Genie was too burdensome for her, and Genie was sent to six different foster homes were she was mistreated and experienced regressions; after vomiting she was so severely punished that she refused to open her mouth again and as a concequence stopped speaking.


Oxana Oleksandrivna (1991) was neglected by her alcoholic parents at an early age and lived surrounded by dogs. After treatment she learnt to subdue her dog-like behaviour and learnt to speak fluently but remains somewhat intellectually impaired.


The “feral woman” Ro Cham H’pnhieng, aged 27 was discovered on the edge of the Cambodian jungle when she was trying to steal food left under a tree. She was identified as a local village girl who disappeared at age 8 while herding buffalo. She couldn´t speak more than a few grunts and walked hunched like an animal; she could only say ‘father’, ‘mother’ and ‘stomachache’. Finally she escaped back into the jungle in 2007.


These cases and others have been subject to studies focused on the Critical Period theory, stating that if a person does not receive linguistic stimulation between ages 2 and puberty, crucial in lateralization -language being linked to the left hemisphere of the brain-, this ability will be severely impaired. This theory was firstly developed by ethologists to be then applied by Eric Lenneberg to language acquisition.

In fiction, Paul Auster deals with ‘attic children’ in The New York Trilogy.

Other feral children:

Wolf-child of Hesse, 1344, discovered at 7

Wolf-child of Wetteravia, 1344, discovered at 12

Bear-child of Lithuania, 1661, discovered at 12

Sheep-child of Ireland, 1672, discovered at 16

Calf-child of Bamberg, 1680

Bear-child of Lithuania, 1694, discovered at 10

Bear-child of Lithuania, discovered at 12

Kidnapped Dutch girl, 1717, discovered at 19

Two boys of Pyrenees, 1719

Peter of Hannover, 1724, discovered at 13

Girl from Sogny, 1731, discovered at 10

Jean of Liège, discovered at 21

Tomko of Hungary, 1767

Bear-girl of Fraumark, 1767, discovered at 18

Victor of Aveyron, 1799, discovered at 11

Kaspar Hauser of Nuremberg, 1828, discovered at 17

Sow-girl of Salzburg, discovered at 22

Child of Husanpur, 1843

Child of Sultanpur, 1848

Child of Chupra

Child of Bankipur

Pig-boy of Holland

Wolf-child of Holland

Wolf-child of Sekandra, 1872, discovered at 6

Child of Sekandra, 1874, discovered at 10

Wolf-child of Kronstadt, discovered at 23

Child of Lucknow, 1876

Child of Jalpaiguri, 1892, discovered at 8

Child of Batsipur, 1893, discovered at 14

Child of Sultanpur, discovered at 12

Amala of Midnapore, 1920, discovered at 2

Kamala of Midnapore, 1920, discovered at 8

Leopard-child of India, 1920

Wolf-child of Maiwana, 1927

Wolf-child of Jhansi, 1933

Leopard-child of Dihungi, discovered at 8

Child of Casamance, 1930s, discovered at 16

Assicia of Liberia, 1930s

Confined child of Pennsylvania, 1938, discovered at 6

Confined child of Ohio, 1940

Gazelle-child of Syria, 1946

Child of New Delhi, 1954, discovered at 12

Gazelle-child of Mauritania, 1960

Ape-child of Teheran, 1961, discovered at 14

Genie, USA, 1970, discovered at 13

Over 50 cases recorded since 1970.

Sources: The Cambridge Encyclopedia of Language. David Crystal.

The three discoveries of America

For thousands of years, the American continent remained undisturbed by the presence of humanity. It was isolated from the migration of human tribes, as proved by the lack of fossil remains previous to those of the Homo Sapiens. The first humans arrived in America probably from Asia across the Bering Strait between 25,000-40,000 years ago. This would constitute the very first discovery of the continent.  The human tribes from Mongolia spread throughout the continent in the course of thousands of years and several distinct ancient American civilizations, each one with their own idiosyncrasies, were born as a result.


The next incursion of humans from other parts of the world took place in the 11th century AD. In the 9th century, Scandinavians from Norway occupied Iceland and in the 10th century, the Icelander Eric the Red discovered Greenland. Of course, he wasn´t the first human in Greenland, where he found a colony whose economy was based on livestock and the export of walrus ivory and falcons. Then, one of Eric the Red’s men called Biarni Heriulfson saw land to the West of Greenland around the year 986, and Eric the Red’s son Leif decided to explore it, reaching its coast in 1001. Leif spent a winter there, in Newfoundland, and then returned to Greenland. Around 1010-15, another Icelander, Thorfinn Karlsefni, together with a group of Eric the Red’s men, explored the coast of Newfoundland -known then as ‘Vinland the Good’- and attempted to settle there, spending two or three winters with the natives. But the natives proved to be quite hostile and the Norsemen returned to Greenland and made no further attempts. Again, the American coast remained undisturbed until 1492.


Driven by social convention, people celebrate the discovery of America on the day Columbus reached the American coasts in 1492, but he didn´t really ‘discovered’ anything that hadn´t been discovered a long time ago. In the same celebratory mood, we could choose the fist option and establish a day 40,000 years ago to throw a commemorative party, or decide on Biarni Heriulfson’s sight of land in the year 986, or select Leif’s expedition in 1001 rather than Christopher Columbus’s arrival. The debate is open.

Source: A concise history of the American Republic, volume I.