Thursday, September 20, 2007

You're Wrong Again Mr. De la Cova (Part 1)

While doing research for the Pat Oliphant cartoon story, I also ran into important information about famed cartoonist Thomas Nast. In one condemning letter against the controversial Oliphant cartoon, our favorite Ph.D., Antonio Rafael De la Cova, compared the cartoon to "the racist, anti-immigrant spirit" exhibited by the 19th Century cartoonist Thomas Nast.

But, history shows that Nast wasn't racist, or anti-immigrant. But, in fact, his work revealed a man who stood up for Chinese immigrants, supported abolition, and respected the rights of other minorities, despite the powerful calls of American Nativism at the time (check cartoon above by Nast). Let's review.

In his email to the Washington Post (posted on Babalu blog of course), Mr. De la Cova provides a link to his website that takes the reader to a page called "Nativism and Bigotry - Thomas Nast." This page provides four Nast cartoons that clearly reveal an anti-Catholic and anti-Irish attitude by Nast. This is accurate. But, is it racist and anti-immigrant? Let's look closer.

In a 2002 symposium held on the centennial mark of Thomas Nast's death, Morton Keller, Spector Professor of History (Emeritus) at Brandeis University, presented a summary of Nast's life. He said: "[Nast] reacted with passion against white Southern violence against the Freedmen, Indians denied the vote, and Chinese immigrants facing exclusion." Keller's comments are supported by four Nast cartoons: one is provided at the top, and another ironically happens to be on Mr. De la Cova's Thomas Nast webpage. The cartoon shows Columbia (symbolizing the US) telling an angry Irish mob: "Hands off, gentlemen! America needs fair play for all Men."

This certainly doesn't seem racist. I wonder why Mr. De la Cova would think so?

Furthermore, this same cartoon contradicts Mr. De la Cova's description of Nast as anti-immigrant. The Nast cartoon (from 1871) shows sympathy for Chinese immigrant laborers, who at the time were being targeted by exclusionary forces (which included Irish immigrants) against Black and Chinese. By 1882, the US stopped all Chinese immigration with the Chinese Exclusion Act, which subsequently caused harmful effects on the ethnic population, and provided a grim legal precedent for Blacks later.

According to Keller:

"Nast came of political age not in the prewar antislavery crusade, but in the crucible of the [Civil] War. Saving the Union, freeing the slaves, supporting Lincoln’s Republicans against a Democratic party that was bitterly anti-black and, at best, lukewarm on fighting the Confederacy: these were his defining issues. Emancipation and the compelling vision of a postwar Great Republic, in which all races and ethnic groups would share in an equal American citizenship, had a strong, self-evident appeal for him."

Where's the "racist, anti-immigrant spirit" that Mr. De la Cova speaks of?

To be fair, let's also examine the anti-Catholic and anti-Irish cartoons by Nast.

[Part 2]

No comments: