How to Make a Difference: Jennifer Mendelsohn

“People in genealogical glass houses shouldn’t throw stones.”

Jennifer Mendelsohn is #resistancegenealogy, whose mission is to expose the hypocrisy of some of the more egregious and noisy anti-immigrant members of Congress and the Trump Administration.

Victor Scavino, Dan Scavino's "chain migrant" great-grandfather

Victor Scavino, Dan Scavino’s “chain migrant” great-grandfather

For example, White House social media director Dan Scavino, Jr. tweeted an article claiming that “chain migration” was “choking” the US. “Chain migration” is the Trump Administration’s coded characterization of the family reunification immigration policy. Mendelsohn researched Scavino’s genealogy and has shown he is a poster child for the policy he condemns. Mendelsohn provided a detailed, documented account of how over the next 12 years, another 10 Scavino family members — including great-grandfather Gildo— immigrated to the US. “Gildo Scavino, Dan, Jr.’s great-grandfather, went on to marry Carmella Daglia, also an Italian immigrant, in 1918, and their son Aldo was born in New York in 1920. So Social Media Director Scavino is just exactly the product of the system he deplores; he wouldn’t be here to utter his hypocritical cant but for those policies. Sweet.

Another example: White House Senior Advisor Stephen Miller made clear that White House immigration policy would prioritize those immigrants who could already speak English. Yet under Miller’s proposed rules rules, Miller’s own great-grandmother would not have passed muster. In the 1910 census, she is clearly identified as speaking only Yiddish, four years after arriving. Again, we wouldn’t have the benefit of Mr. Miller’s hypocritical cant if the policies he espouses had been in place. It’s tempting, but, nah, it wouldn’t be worth it.

Then there’s Congressman Steve King (R, Iowa), who has become notorious for making thinly veiled racist pronouncements about his perceived threats from immigration. Like, “We can’t restore our civilization with somebody else’s babies,” as he posted on Twitter in March 2017. Rep. King’s grandmother Freda Harm was one of those very babies. She arrived in steerage at Ellis Island in 1894 from Germany at the age of four, according to passenger documents, with her parents and two little siblings. For Rep. King, presumably, the difference, of course, is that white European babies are likely not the “somebody else” he was talking about.

Serious thanks to Ms. Mendelsohn for her work. “If you are not Native American or [your ancestors] did not arrive here in chains, then you or your ancestors immigrated to the US,” Mendelsohn said in an interview with The Times of Israel. In a 2016 Chicago Sun-Times op-ed by George Washington University history professor Tyler Anbinder wrote:

From the days of the Puritans to the present, every generation of Americans has believed that the latest wave of immigrants is completely different from — and inferior to — their own immigrant ancestors and could never become true Americans.

Or as Mendelsohn puts it,

If you are not Native American or [your ancestors] did not arrive here in chains, then you or your ancestors immigrated to the US.

Jennifer Mendelsohn has documented the truth of that point. It’s making a difference.