The subject of immigration has always been a hot political topic in the United States. The DNA of our nation is comprised of people from many different lands, many who have fought and died to make this country great.
In their honor this Memorial Day, HISTORY is taking a journey back to the inception of the United States in the new, two-day, four-part docudrama "America: Promised Land," which tells the stories of the everyday heroes who helped transform this great nation.
"One of the things I find inspiring is that when you look at this special, you realize the great things that our ancestors accomplished," Mike Stiller, VP Development & Programming, HISTORY and executive producer of "America: Promised Land," told Fox News. "If you’re Dutch, who knew that you saved New York City? If you’re German, you were 10 percent of the Union Army and you helped keep the union together during the Revolutionary War."
From early days when the Puritans established the Massachusetts Bay Colony in a town they named Boston, through the telling of historical events such as the Dutch Fur Trade, the effect the creation of the postage stamp had on Irish immigrants, the California Gold Rush, Germans coming to the aid of the Union Army in vast numbers during the Civil War, and more, "America: Promised Land" looks at how immigration transformed America as different people brought different ideas and skills to the new country.
An interesting point of "America: Promised Land" is that, despite belief to the contrary, the reality of immigration is that it is not passive. The people who come to the U.S. tend to be risk takers. They tend to be people who are willing to take a journey, especially back in the early years of our nation when the voyage was just too arduous for them to return home, so they were making a once-in-a-lifetime trip to a new world.
Another case in point is that many of the immigrants are among the best and brightest, who in bringing new ideas to the new world fueled growth and developed new inventions, things such as mail-order catalogs, the Franklin Stove, the automatic flour mill, the cotton gin, the swivel chair, cupcakes and coffee percolators, to name a few.
"The number of patents taken out are disproportionally higher among immigrant groups," Stiller says.
Additionally, the docudrama looks at the struggles and hardships that some populations endured during their journey to America, such as the transport of people during the transatlantic slave trade, the illness that struck the Puritans cooped up on tiny ships, and Italian communities in New York being targeted by criminal organizations.
"Newly arrived immigrants had a lot to prove, and one of the reasons they came to the United States was the availability of jobs and the availability of opportunity," says Stiller.
Truth be told, the U.S. has received more immigrants since its inception than any other society, and even today it is still considered by those hoping to emigrate here the land where dreams can true.
"In the last hundred years alone, there’s been a new American every 57 seconds," Stiller says. "Right now we’re in a time when immigration is very controversial, but what you realize is immigration has always controversial. There’s always an aspect of people wanting to come to the United States and people who are already here having angst about that, but one of the reasons they come is the dream, whether it’s the dream of land, the dream of work, or it’s the dream of religious freedom."
"America: Promised Land" premieres Monday, May 29 and Tuesday, May 30 on HISTORY.