Keepapitchinin, the Mormon History blog » “Our Foreign-Born Friends”

“Our Foreign-Born Friends”

By: Ardis E. Parshall - March 21, 2012

The editors of the Young Woman’s Journal (1928) had this to say about accepting the immigrants among us:

Those who are American born would do well to come into closer relationship with those from other lands who have accepted the gospel message and have gathered to Zion to be one with us. They, more than likely, have made sacrifices undreamed of by some of our young people and which, if known, would excite sympathy and admiration.

The giving up of one’s native land to become a loyal citizen under a new government is in itself no little thing and many of our members would never have done so but for the sake of their religion. While appreciating the glorious privileges of America and knowing it to be the “Promised Land” they nevertheless cherish, as all good people do, the institutions, the customs, and natural attractions of the land of their nativity. All, practically, represent civilizations older than ours; many come from great, populous cities to settle, perchance, in our small rural communities, which, though they offer to us all that is to be desired, must seem tiny and provincial to newcomers in contrast with the homes they have left.

Many, too, of our foreign-born friends represent a higher place in society in the old world than we may realize. We have in mind a good brother who in his native land was well educated and was a skilled bookkeeper, but who, on coming to this country, was compelled, because of his inability to speak the language, to accept a somewhat menial position. Faithfully and efficiently, however, he did his work, although one could but wonder if his heart was sometimes heavy because of his changed condition.

In another instance, an ordinary caretaker was found to have been an expert in a certain line; in his native Holland he had learned the secrets of properly cleaning and preserving valuable oil paintings, and was doubtless well paid for his rare service.

The following incident reveals something of the pleasure that may come through association with these friends from distant lands. [There follows the account of a YLMIA board member visiting a northern Utah community and receiving hospitality from an unnamed Danish family.] … “Oh, we love America,” they said, “and we love the Gospel, but our memories of Denmark are very tender. when we came here we should not have minded so much the change in leaving the old cities for these rather crude conditions if only the people had realized our position; but they appeared to think we were uneducated and uncultured.”

Let us get closer to our foreign-born friends. … Let them participate frequently in our exercises, for in no better way can they acquire our language. Let them join us in our studies and in our recreation, for they need us and we need them.

In some quarters, this would be the signal to complain about illegal immigration, to note that most of the foreign-born coming to the U.S. are not coming because of their acceptance of the Gospel, to assert that many have no intention of becoming citizens or demonstrating loyalty to the U.S., to claim that many won’t ever learn the language and cling too tightly to “the institutions, the customs, and natural attractions of the land of their nativity.”

Not here, okay? Let’s take it for granted that each nation, including the United States, has “the right to enforce its laws and secure its borders,” in the words of the Church’s statement on immigration made late last year. We also have the duty, according to that same statement, to “follow Jesus Christ by loving our neighbors. The Savior taught that the meaning of ‘neighbor’ includes all of God’s children, in all places, at all times.”

Rather than argue the politics, let’s note how long we as Church members have welcomed “our foreign-born friends.” Maybe some of us, or our parents or grandparents, have been those “foreign-born friends.” What successes can you report in welcoming them into our church ranks? What more do we need to do?



  1. Fine, Ardis. It’s your blog (or should I say “you’re blog” or even “you are blog”?), but JUST WHAT PART OF ILLEGAL DO YOU NOT UNDERSTAND???

    Comment by Mark B. — March 21, 2012 @ 6:46 am

  2. Just what am I supposed to do with you, dear boy?

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — March 21, 2012 @ 6:56 am

  3. I guess you could deport me to the FAIR blog (not the Mormon FAIR, but the Facists Against Immigration Reality) and see how I fare over there.

    Comment by Mark B. — March 21, 2012 @ 7:35 am

  4. Maybe it’s the part that illegal non-Hispanics are not treated with the same suspicion that legal Hispanics are. (Sorry, Ardis).

    Comment by Grant — March 21, 2012 @ 8:16 am

  5. Speaking of Danish immigrants, I’ve been reading personal and local histories and have been struck by the fact that the authors never mention the Danish immigrants in the community.

    It seems like the old American and English families created some sort of a social “upper class” and rarely included the Danish and Germans in their circles. It’s understandable, of course, due to differences of language and culture, but unfortunate.

    It’s also a little amusing to notice a century and a half later, since their children and grandchildren intermarried extensively.

    Comment by Amy T — March 21, 2012 @ 8:21 am

  6. I remark often how much I enjoy the ward where I live and its many non-US born members. Their stories are tender and inspiring and keep us a little less ethnocentric.

    In general, I find good acceptance of LDS-member immigrants, not so much for non-LDS. I think this has always been the case, considering the stories from my Greek and Jewish friends whose families have been in Utah for 100+ years. The young German professional man who has lived in the neighborhood for a year has been fawned over greatly since his baptism a couple of months ago.

    I’m not sure what to do about it, but I think economic segregation is one major barrier. Very often, the newcomers never intersect our (my) circles. And, Sunday morning still remains one of the most segregated times in US society.

    Comment by charlene — March 21, 2012 @ 9:35 am

  7. We are seeing increasing numbers of LDS immigrants in our ward. Currently, we have members who are from Mongolia, China, Cambodia, Vietnam, Ghana, Ivory Coast, Chile and one family also hails from Occupied Virginia. It’s fun when we have ward activities with food, like the cultural dinner we had a few weeks ago. We had haggis, pork Schnitzel, Chilean corn casserole, Divine Egg Rolls (always capitalized in our ward), Korean sushi, and too many others that I can’t recall them all. I just know that I ate too much.

    Comment by kevinf — March 21, 2012 @ 11:30 am

  8. The 1928 article seems to indicate that immigrants have condescended to come to America because of their religion, and that they deserve better treatment because of the sacrifices they have made.

    The more recent church document recognizes that many immigrants–even those working menial positions–are living a far higher standard economically than they did in their native land.

    So the question is: Does it matter? Does a Philipino surgeon that works a relatively menial job in the U.S. deserve more “fellowshipping” than the Mexican that trims your lawn, but has far more money than he did in Mexico? My view of the Gospel is that no, it shouldn’t matter. My reality is that yes, it does. A family from Denmark moved into our ward six months ago, and have been welcomed [in my opinion] because the husband is a well-paid executive. Those at the other end of the economic spectrum, not so much. I guess it’s just human nature.

    Comment by The Other Clark — March 21, 2012 @ 11:51 am

  9. Our ward only has a few immigrants, from Japan, Thailand, Switzerland, Sudan, Dominican Republic, and … I forget, somewhere in central America. Columbia, maybe?

    For the most part, they seem to be well accepted and fit in. As near as I can tell, people seem perfectly willing to make allowances for imperfect English and differences in custom, and in many cases make special effort to ensure they feel included.

    However, I suspect there are times when those efforts fall short or miss the mark. I’m sure there are times the immigrants feel they aren’t really fitting in. One sister mentioned to me a few months ago that she doesn’t feel like she really has any good friends in the ward (but then, I don’t either, and I don’t have a language/culture barrier to blame for it).

    The Sudanese family has had the most difficult time. Between the mother’s almost incomprehensible English, severe economic strains (the husband abandoned the family and went back to Africa shortly after they moved into our neighborhood), medical problems, and weak to nonexistant testimonies, they have never really integrated with the ward. They have been reasonably active during times of strong, proactive home/visiting teachers and youth leaders that have stopped by to provide rides for every meeting, but not otherwise. I’m not sure what we could have done better — one poor RS president almost wore herself out, spending several days a week working with the sister trying to improve her English and get resolution to the medical issues. I do have a nagging feeling that there is more I could have done — or maybe could be doing now. But I’m not sure what it is.

    Comment by lindberg — March 21, 2012 @ 12:52 pm

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