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This tone-deaf cartoonist forgets that Thanksgiving is about immigration

This cartoon, which appeared on the Indianapolis Star website for a few hours today, has been generating a lot of outrage:

One problem with the cartoon is the stereotypical portrayal of Hispanics. (The Star edited out the mustache from the guy in the red cap in attempt to eliminate the racist overtones. Then they apparently realized this was hopeless and took down the cartoon altogether.) Hispanic Americans celebrate Thanksgiving like the rest of us, and it's hard to imagine very many of them find this cartoon funny.

A second problem with the cartoon is that it gives a misleading impression of the president's immigration announcement. The centerpiece of the plan is a proposal to give greater legal certainty to 4.3 million people who are already in the United States — and have been for several years. So it doesn't authorize a big flood of new immigrants (it does allow around 40,000 new high-skilled immigrants over the next decade).

Indeed, leaving the vast majority of unauthorized immigrants in the United States wasn't even Obama's idea. Congress has only appropriated enough money for the government to deport around 400,000 people each year. So Obama couldn't deport the bulk of the undocumented population even if he wanted to. The president's plan simply gives 4.3 million people who were not going to be deportation priorities greater certainty about the next three years.

But the larger problem with the cartoon is that it seems oblivious to the meaning of the Thanksgiving holiday. Remember, the classic Thanksgiving story is about Pilgrims — a.k.a. immigrants — who showed up on American shores uninvited, and in precarious economic circumstances. Thanksgiving is a celebration of the fact that the native-born Americans who lived in the area welcomed these newcomers, shared their food with them, and helped them make the transition to their new home.

Over the next four centuries, the United States followed the example of those native Americans, welcoming wave after wave of immigrants from countries all over the planet. Almost everyone in America today is descended from some of those immigrants.

Thanksgiving is partly about celebrating our immigrant heritage, and partly about reflecting on the many unearned blessings most of us enjoy by virtue of living in one of the freest and most prosperous nations on earth. So it's pretty tone-deaf to use the holiday as an occasion for mean-spirited immigrant-bashing.

Update: The Star has removed the cartoon from its website and posted a statement about the incident:

We are removing the cartoon from the opinion section of our website, as well as an earlier version posted on Facebook that showed one character with a mustache.

This action is not a comment on the issue of illegal immigration or a statement about Gary's right to express his opinions strongly. We encourage and support diverse opinion. But the depictions in this case were inappropriate; his point could have been expressed in other ways.

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