Recent Immigrants Complain of Prejudice | News | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

Recent Immigrants Complain of Prejudice

Immigrant-rights activists conducted a candlelight vigil last Thursday, complaining that too often, immigrants are the victims of intolerance on the part of locals.

"Yes, our skin is a different color, and yes, some of us have exotic names," admitted John Smith, a cooper who recently moved here to serve the British garrison. Speaking to the gathering of about two dozen, Smith objected to what he called "nativist bigotry."

"People are constantly staring you down, and shouting at you to 'go home,' which frightens the game away," Smith said. Even in polite conversation, "People will say things like, 'No, I mean where are you really from?'

"The scalpings don't help either," Smith added.

After the protest broke up, Smith said that prejudice isn't just hurting the immigrants. New arrivals are key to Pittsburgh's survival.

"The world is changing: You look around and see whole villages just emptying out," Smith said. "The locals here just seem to be dying off from smallpox or what have you. Who knows why that's happening? But the point is that if this town is going to thrive in the future, it's going to have to embrace newcomers, like it or not."

"Pittsburgh is especially hard for young people," Prudence James, a 22-year-old scullery maid, told a reporter. "All the restaurants seem to close so early, and people around here seem really resistant to new ideas. I mean, everywhere else people are thrilled by the teachings of John Calvin, young people especially. But around here, you constantly hear the natives say, 'This was good enough for our ancestors -- why would we do it any differently now?' Plus, last week my entire family was massacred in a reprisal raid, just because we dispossessed several families from their land. That's the kind of mindset that makes it really hard to get anything accomplished."

The immigrants' protest proceeded quietly, though occasional shouts of "Learn to speak Shawnee!" were hurled from passing birch-bark canoes. But if the protest was intended to change minds, there is work still to be done.

"We're a goodhearted people, and we welcome anyone who wants to work hard and learn our ways," said Running Calf, a Delaware Indian who serves as sachem for a primitive settlement in Cranberry. "But these people have no interest in learning our ways. They're filthy too -- they sleep with their animals. And they're constantly trying to get people drunk and start trouble.

"If this keeps up, every time you use a signal drum, you're going to have to start by striking it once just to get somebody who speaks Lenape. That's not the country I grew up in."