Ted Kennedy passed away today, the third-longest serving member of the Senate in history, and a man who affected the lives of hundreds of millions of Americans. In a family of public servants, he perhaps did the most for our country of any of the Kennedy brothers, and he certainly made a profound impact in almost all of our lives, as immigrants and the descendants of immigrants. Most notably in civil rights and immigration, but also in practically every other walk of life, he has affected the lives of South Asian immigrants.
From the moment he entered the Senate in 1962, he was devoted to the causes of Civil Rights and Immigration Reform, in a large part motivated by his own family’s experience. His great-grandparents had been immigrants to the United States from Ireland, and his family had profoundly benefited from the opportunities that America offered while also bearing the brunt of discrimination against Irish Catholics. He recounted these experiences as he fiercely advocated for the Civil Rights Act of 1965, and most relevantly to us, the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965. Kennedy described how his immigrant ancestry impacted him in an insightful 2006 NPR interview about his work on immigration policy:
(My grandfather told me about when..) no Irish need apply for jobs. They were constantly ostracized and discriminated against, primarily against employment and every other aspect of social-political and economic life. And then they gradually asserted themselves. My grandfather Fitzgerald was the first son of immigrants that was elected to the Congress of the United States, and also a mayor of a major city, which was a major breakthrough. But the sting of discrimination they felt was very powerful and stayed with them. And that became a very important element in the whole restructuring of our immigrant bill in 1965.
The Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 “abolished the national-origin quotas that had been in place in the United States since the Immigration Act of 1924.” The quotas based on preferences for ethnicities from Western Europe were significantly loosened, opening the doors for immigrants from Africa and Asia to come to this country in far greater numbers.
In 1965, Kennedy was floor manager for an immigration bill that ended four decades of preferences for Northern Europeans at the expense of Asians and other groups and, some have argued, paved the way for Barack Obama’s presidential victory (Slate).
His legislative skill in passing this bill was extraordinary, given the fact that there was no powerful constituency lobbying for people, such as my parents, who were not yet in the country:
Karen Narasaki, who heads the Asian American Justice Center, finds the 1965 immigration overhaul all the more extraordinary because there’s evidence it was not popular with the public.
“It was not what people were marching in the streets over in the 1960s,” she says. “It was really a group of political elites who were trying to look into the future. And again, it was the issue of, ‘Are we going to be true to what we say our values are?'” (NPR)
Kennedy stayed true to those values of tolerance, acceptance, and appreciation of the fact that our country is “A Nation of Immigrants” throughout his career, working hard in the last few years to pass immigration reform legislation, which would have covered legalization of illegal immigrants, a guest-worker program, and border enforcement issues. Though he did not live to see the end of such a measure, President Obama has committed to comprehensive immigration reform early next year, and if it passes, it will owe much to Senator Kennedy’s work.
Many politicians lose touch or relevance as they get older, but Kennedy remained in touch with the concerns of every generation of Americans even as he entered his 70’s. My friends and I were as excited as anyone when he endorsed President Obama back in February of last year, inspired as he spoke of once again “passing the torch to the next generation.”In that same event, Obama said that Kennedy’s values embodied “the best of the Democratic Party,” and never were truer words said. For his 47 years in the Senate, his immigration legislation is the work that most profoundly affected the lives of South Asians, but the staggering body of his work, from healthcare reform to disability empowerment to patient’s rights, touched the life of every American. He was a supporter of anyone who faced disadvantage, discrimination or denial of rights; he was a true champion of the American Dream.
I’m sure he was a nice man, but the whole Kennedy thing just reeks so much of the impoverishing-of-millions Gandhi family-worship from back in the old country that I can’t get into it at all.
for me, the central figure of the kennedy drama is joe sr, who at one point was one of the wealthiest men in the world and harbored presidential ambitions himself until he completely misread Hitler.
i particularly like his reaction to the discrimination he faced at the hands of the boston brahmins: he started his own bank.
Manju, who really cares about that trivia?
This is a post — a pretty well-written one — celebrating Teddy Kennedy’s legislative achievements, which had a marked impact on the South Asian community in America. Yeah, so what, he came from an affluent family. Plenty of people in history come from such backgrounds, but few make the kinds of commitments he did.
And Jinendra, I don’t think anyone worships the Kennedys anymore. Indeed, Ted Kennedy had some serious imperfections, which we would be wrong to overlook (though I believe it would also be wrong to dismiss him outright because of them — he did a lot of good all the same). It was different during the JFK/RFK era, of course — there was a certain Kennedy aura — but that era is over. Case in point: Caroline Kennedy was passed over for Hillary Clinton’s Senate seat in favor of a relatively unknown congresswoman from upstate NY named Kristen Gillibrand.
Amardeep, I hope you are right that the Kennedy’s are not worshiped so much anymore by the Americans. Such worship of a human family is very dangerous. We have to strive hard to be modern people. It is too easy to fall back on easy ways. See Pankaj Mishra, Temptations of the West: How to Be Modern in India, Pakistan, Tibet, and Beyond.
“See P***** M*****, T*********s of the W**t: How to Be Modern, etc.”
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Yes, cc, please buy my book. I have others too–you should look into them. Pankaj M.
I suppose that’s because ‘Kennedy aura’ has been replaced with ‘Obamania’?
Personality cults always thrive, whether in the third world or in the first world.
But Ted Kennedy, with all his imperfections, was still a tall leader.I wish the scions of political dynasties in India learn from such examples.RIP, Mr.Kennedy.
amardeep, i wasn’t trying to diminish ted’s accomplishments b/c he came from privilege, just celebrating his father’s methodology in overcoming the lack thereof. he was really driven by a deep seeded competitive need to outdo the bigots who looked down on him. he felt especially vindicated when made ambassador to the court of st james, returning to the land, where his family was once 2nd class citizens, as conquering hero.
Dude, I didn’t even know about this till I read SM! I feel sad. It’s a bit shocking. Ted Kennedy was an institution, kind of like the Queen – you just don’t think he’s going to die.
Now I feel a peculiar sense of loss, like you just lost something that you always took for granted.
He did a lot with what he was given, but he could have done more. Differnt people respond to different deaths of high profile public figures (Michale Jackson, Farah Fawcett, etc.), and I won’t take that away from anyone, but I agree with Jinendra that although this is saddening, celebrity worship and progressive politics are not an ideal combination. I think Ted Kennedy would have agreed 🙂
“… I don’t think anyone worships the Kennedys anymore.
I suppose that’s because ‘Kennedy aura’ has been replaced with ‘Obamania’?
Personality cults always thrive, whether in the third world or in the first world.”
Kudos to the late Ted — I probably wouldn’t be living here if it weren’t for him, although my dad’s research grant was probably more responsible. Ted Kennedy also went to Bangladesh in 1971, and publicized the plight of people there. I don’t know to what extent he succeeded in his intentions, but most “rich” people don’t bother even that much. Speaking as someone who arrived in the U.S. (albeit very young) in the 60s, I have some memories of the Kennedy high years, and other impressions I inhaled, as children do, from those around me. The cult of the Kennedys during the 60s makes the Obama cult look pale by comparison, no pun intended. JFK’s wife Jackie was young and beautiful. Who could forget the pictures of her and sister on a “goodwill” trip to India, riding an elephant wearing sheath dresses and heels (the ladies, not the elephant.) That puzzled me–surely a salwar kameez was in order, and Jackie would have loved the Indian colors and materials. Somebody goofed. Anyway, the crowds were delighted and a good time was had by all. I got my first view of an American presidency, and it was different than had been described by my family prior to coming to America. President Kennedy and his family appeared very into being American…he was a war hero–big deal less than 20 years after WWII; he was a hand-on-heart for flag type. But he could mock himself, charming the press with jokes and repartee. Of course the substance of it all was that his administration didn’t get what it wanted for the most part, but at least it had some entertainment value, unless you were Cuban. He seemed to “get” other countries povs in a way other american presidents and politicians didn’t. OK–that’s just the way it seemed at the time. Their popularity was a different animal from the popularity of Ghandi, who had a good-daddy aura for those who admired him and a bad-daddy auro for those who didn’t. Third World leaders are operating in an entirely different paradigm–sheer survival is at stake to much greater degree, and they are far more likely to project as father (or mother) figures. They have no time for meandering into style vs. substance territory. Style only bites the dust fast. The 60s opened as Brave New World. Most white Americans we came into contact with viewed Indians as students or professors, hence, interesting and not much of a threat. Most Americans have never been too enthused about intellect unless it was used to make clever machinery, or money. India was one of the “emerging democracies” that would partner with America eventually. Everyone who counted was sure of that. During the election summer of 1960, writer Norman Mailer wrote about JFK as “Superman comes to the Supermarket.” Beyond the fascination of looks and style, Kennedy’s appeal was “Nietzschean.” He seemed to “know” something. He was intellectual and yet not. Mostly not, I think. A certain critical mass of society had reached the point where physical needs and desires were met and all that was left was to fulfill the American Mandate and expiate American sins. The U.S. was richer than it had ever been, or, probably, would ever be again. The globalization of the economy was still well in the future. The mandate they invented long ago while appropriating the western part of North America, but the urge to fulfill it came from where? God? Elvis? Race integration? Sputnik? The Founding Fathers? beleagured foreign masses yearning to breathe free? University professors? In a secular society, people get confused. Enough people had the vague intimation that something entirely different was now at the table. For me there was a feeling of possibilities, a thrilling sense of being a world citizen, while still being “American” and “Indian.” Big wollop as the years went on and bodies fell. Even after the assassination, Kennedy pictures guaranteed a big sell on any magazine stand through the 60s. There’d never been anything like it before, or so they said, and I doubt there will be anything just like it.
In Ted’s honor,a petition should be started to have the Dike Bridge be renamed after him.
Of all the Kennedys, I don’t think people worshipped Teddy. But he should get credit, in the way people stop and remember and give credit to people when they pass, for his major accomplishments in nearly five decades in the Senate. As the post makes clear, nearly all of us who read this blog, immigrants and childen and grandchildren of immigrants, owe something to Teddy Kennedy for stopping preferences and allowing people from Asia to migrate here. In addition, the Civil Rights Act puts in place the framework that allows us all to live and work here from from discrimination, and gives us recourse if we do face discrimination. Add in Medicare, the ADA, and numerous other legislative accomplishments, and it is not a cult of personality or hero worship to say that Teddy Kennedy was a great legislator, a great American, and God bless him.
I hope that Governor Patrick understand that this senate seat is bleepin golden and doesn’t just give it away for nothing.
How I miss Sen.Kennedy in the current “debate” over healthcare! Kennedy was the scourge of the rabid right. He eviscerated the Bork nomination and left Reagan humiliated when he successfully organized an override of Reagan’s shameful veto of the Comprehensive Anti-Apartheid Act of 1986. Kennedy pursued the liberal agenda with a vigor that only executives – FDR and LBJ – have before, And he was never associated with any ethnic or special interest lobby – he built coalitions to unify groups across divides and encouraged one group into to buy into the causes of another. Kennedy made us immigrants (or children of immigrants) buy into a host of other causes, healthcare for HIV+ people, LGBT issues, unions, refugees, asylees, single parents, children, and many many others. This was a man who was beholden to no interests except his constituents. Candidates ran against him simply to gain public recognition – Mitt Romney for instance. He called out cant and hypocrisy fearlessly, as when he criticised Reagan’s attempts to triangulate in 1980 by seeming to praise FDR.
And he really meant every word of it, and lived by it all these 47 years in the Senate when he said,
Senator Edward Kennedy Amar Rahe
“Manju, who really cares about that trivia?”
Wow! I thought it was an interesting comment and read up on how the Kennedy family became such a dynasty. It took money to enter politics even back then, and so I thought it was a pretty interesting point.
Came across this on another blog.
It may have started as a politically prudent move by a Democratic senator eyeing the White House during a Republican regime. But Kennedy stood up to the Nixon administration in 1971 and alerted the world to the bloodshed that was engulfing then-East Pakistan.
“In 1971, there were very few leaders from the so-called free world who were paying any attention to what was going on in Bangladesh. And for Ted Kennedy to come forward and to personally visit, the impact was huge,” said Akku Chowdhury, founder and director of Bangladesh’s Liberation War Museum.
“And that’s one thing Bangladeshis have always remembered.”
Chappaquiddick is in Dukes County.The latitude of Chappaquiddick is 41.387N. The longitude is -70.505W. It is in the Eastern Standard time zone. Elevation is 3 feet. In this beautiful scenic location, a man – who later in life championed the entry for the poor, trodden and defenseless immigrants – would not open the door for a fellow citizen.
Correction, Zabin, this was a few years after he championed the entry of immigrants. Also since you were there busy documenting what actually happened would you vouchsafe to present us a first hand report of the incident, and also tell us why you did not do anything to save Mary Jo?
I’m going to pour out some of my chai in the honor of Teddy Uncle.
Kennedy was a Scumbag who like to joke about Chappaquidick
That’s classy Ted Kennedy.
TK treated scum like scum deserved to be treated. We mistakenly believe that in America liberalism stands in opposition to conservatism. Actually liberalism is opposed by the forces of reaction. There are conservatives, but their label has been appropriated by the reactionaries. Ted Kennedy was unabashed in taking reactionaries to task. Given the number of Congressmen for hire these days (some of whom are upto 70% sold out to coporate interests) and get paid to pass bills that make it legal to fleece people of their hard earned money, Ted Kennedy was too kind to some of them. Since all that those who felt the sting of Ted Kennedy’s whiplash of scorn and ridicule can talk about is Chappaquiddick, I take it that they have no answer to this lion of a liberal.
They talk about another incident as well. Since I admire realpolitik, especially when all humanity is not lost, I’ll let a fellow progressive and admirer of Ted tell you about it:
Twice, Teddy did despicable things with his privilege, very publicly.
On Chappaquiddick Island, he drove his car off a bridge and made his way to safety; his female passenger, Mary Jo Kopechne, drowned. I won’t pretend to know if Teddy could have saved her, though I believe he would have if he could. What we all know, because he told us so, is that he fled the scene and did not call authorities until her body was discovered the next day, making it impossible to determine the extent of his responsibility with regard to alcohol consumption. His attorneys argued, and the Massachusetts Supreme Court agreed, that the inquest into Mary Jo’s death would be held in secret. In the end, Teddy faced a two-month suspended sentence for leaving the scene of an accident, and no more.
In Palm Beach, Florida, two decades later, Teddy threw around his weight on behalf of his young nephew, William Kennedy Smith, with whom he’d been drinking the night William was accused of sexual assault. Though William had been accused of sexual assault multiple times before (and has been accused again since), Teddy vociferously protested his nephew’s innocence and participated in the smear campaign against his accuser, who found herself pitted against the entire Kennedy clan and the enormous privileges its membership carries. Smith was found not guilty of all charges. His accuser’s identity was made public.
so you are saying that pre-65 quotas would have never been altered were it not for TK?
And who came in numbers after 1965? was it ditch diggers and dhobis or doctors and engineers?
ADA is an unalloyed good?
I do think this is well-written but am I the only one who’s stomach turns when even the brightest of youths are more than capable (eager even?) to lay laurels fit for the truly pure at the feet of such a thoroughly political animal, a master of steering rents and proving public-choice libertarians right? Nowhere in this piece is the awareness that TK was plugged into a set of political processes to which he was connected even while in the womb. If the accumulation of human capital is to be considered, TK had no need for money. His youthful terminal indiscretion could have taken any form and it would have been as easily dispatched as MJK was.
To be clear, while your Lion supported the 1965 Immigration act, he did not author it. His contribution (by the way) was to very incorrectly predict that the act would have no effect on the American demographic. Chappaquiddick occurred in 1969. Since 1969, your Lion authored and chaired immigration committees in 2004, 2005 and 2007. But since you had the gall to bring up 1965, your supposed “correction” is very confusing because it only underlines his hypocrisy. You will note that per his own account, he left the vehicle and did not report the incident till much later. Yet, his own cohorts have indicated he treated Chappaquiddick as a joke.
Because I was not there. I also was not there to witness his continued infidelity, or when he drank himself into stupors in which neither he or his drinking cohorts could recollect or would admit to sexual assault. I was not around either to see your Lion’s wife at the time of Chappaquiddick, Joan Bennett drink her self to madness on account of her husband’s conduct. But then again, because I was not around when any of these things happened, therefore to your point, they did not happen, right?
Typical selective memory in liberal thought works all the time. Perhaps if all these things did happen, hey, never mind, it was oh, so long ago, right? After all he did so many wonderful things like helping mummy and daddy come to America.
This is most true of the first 10-15 years after 1965 after which the demographics changed – but never to the point of enabling the famed huddled masses (at least from the Eastern hemisphere) to come to the United States. But the 1990 immigration legislation that Kennedy was a big player in, as far as I remember – did at least extend immigration to countries that had not received the benefits of the 1965 change. e.g. that is why there are now far larger numbers of Bangladeshis in the United States than there were in the 1980s. I had heard that the thrust of Kennedy’s motivation in supporting this was to allow more immigrants from Ireland to come over, but that was simply a comment someone who was around and participated as an activits during the debate made to me – I don’t know if its true. There were also other amnesties and immigration bills beside the 1965 one, but I don’t know what Kennedy’s role was except in the 2005/6 debate – where you could really see the flaws in putting forward liberal legislation in the conservative meatgrinding machine that was Congress – it’s hard for me to believe that Kennedy couldn’t have seen that coming and still participated in the legislative process. But he still was one of the good ones in that debate, even though he participated in it, probably knowing that it would end badly if a bill were passed.
In any case, while I appreciate the populist sensibility and the attempt to undermine the cult of hero worship, I think the message is a bit off – as with Michael Jackson, in death, you can attempt to appreciate the good and the bad of the person, and there were some good intentions with Ted Kennedy, and he is not responsible for having been born into the station that he was born in though he is responsible for staying there.
I’m jumping in the middle of this thread, but I wanted to point this out since I also heard someone at work mentioning how ‘old Joseph Kennedy came over from Ireland and had it tough and etc and look at him, became a millionaire, and etc and his sons and daughters, why, they’re practically angels.’ Come on. Joseph P. Kennedy Sr. went to Boston Latin and Harvard. As indeed did his older cousins. In the America of the 1900s, that was privilege by any standard.
Joseph P Kennedy
There’s no need to conflate the prejudice that the Irish of the Potato Famine (1840s) may have faced, with Joseph P Kennedy. It is important to make this point so you can see the ‘Ambassador to the Court of St James’ in context. Second class citizens indeed. Manju, you’re the last person I’d have expected to fall for the hagiographer’s baloney.
From context, it looks that the author meant that the Irish were second-class citizens in the UK, i.e. not that Joe Kennedy led a marginalized childhood in the US. It is for this reason that the appointment of an American ambassador of Irish origin is significant.
though I was a Kennedy-bot during the 60s, I never did take to Ted much. He seemed really dumb and I wondered how Americans could think he’d be a good president, whoever his family was. Nevertheless, now that he’s RIP, there’s another view of Chappaquiddick..hold on, lemme finish Manju. I know there’s a built-in phobia about “conspiracy theories’, even when they pan out, but it’s quite possible Ted was not exactly guilty of what he was accused, or , even more strangely, accused himself. Read the following for its who dunnit appeal, if nothing else.
From the present vantage point, it’s hard to realize how seriously the Kennedy “dynasty” was taken by certain of their non-admirers. Since most desis came here post-60s, it seems hard to believe. People actually speculated about all 3 brothers eventually occupying the Oval Office, and they all had a lot of kids….it sounds weird now, but the anti-Kennedy faction, including archenemy E. Howard Hunt (also associated with Dallas Grassy Knoll sightings), amounted to a kind of phalange of the Republican party. Not only were popular politicians feared during the Vietnam era of the 60s and early 70s, but even pop stars. I once leafed through a 3 inch thick file on John Lennon at the National Bureau of Immigration. Nixon was obssessed with keeping tabs on that guy. Even the Maharishi Yogi was under investigation when he toured the U.S. in the late 60s. Anybody even tangentially associated with the “hippie” revolution, could be a suspect. Even if Ted was not guilty of leaving his passenger to die, even if he knew nothing about it, wtf did he lie? Stupid? Scared? Confused? Whatever, he was not presidential material. You’d think he would have wanted to clear his name of homicide though. Politics and politicians are really, really strange. 50 years from now, nobody will believe Bobby Jindal’s story.
Just because Sandy Weil didn’t experience the holocaust doesn’t mean he didn’t face anit-semitism. Indeed he did, after being told partnership at drexel was out of the question, he, like old Joe, started his own bank. Privilege/oppression isn’t an either/or proposition. the poorest person in america is still largely more privileged than the most Cubans, north Koreans or indeed Indians…by mere virtue of accident of birth.
so joe’s oppression was more along the line of sandy’s. and, yeah, he did some horrible things with his power, setting up a business competitor on false charges of rape and engaging in voter fraud on behalf of his son, for example.
perhaps my original comment was too hagiographic. both ted and joe were despicable human beings on many levels. perhaps they’d be common criminals if they weren’t born into privilege…but that doesn’t mean they didn’t do great things tin their respective fields. if you kick all the sinners out nothing gets done. that’s the Faustian bargain liberals made with ted and i guess i make with joe. “I have no tidy conclusion. It is what it is,” as Melissa McEwan said.
Reading the above flowery posts implies that in this context Ted “Where are my pants” Kennedy escaping criminal prosecution for Mary Jo’s death was an acceptable sacrifice to the liberals because of the supposed good that Kennedy did in the years following the incident. Maybe somebody should ask her family if they feel that way too.
Laura Bush killed a guy. What was his name? Who knows?
If this is your logic, then surely you also believe that Clinton’s Monica-gate was a higher crime than Bush’s killing of hundreds of thousand’s of Iraqi and American lives ?
The death of Mary Jo should definitely not be forgotten, but Sen. Kennedy’s work for upliftment of the ‘little’ people and setting high standards for American life (min wage, to leave during child) should never be forgotten either: the legislations he promoted are the practices that other developing countries are trying to adopt. If you are so against the policies that Teddy Kennedy put forward, you should boycott min. wage for yourself, and expect to lose your (if you are a woman) or your spouse’s job when you have a baby. If you are a South Asian settled in US and fomenting those above words, then you might even consider protesting Ted Kennedy’s work (which you so seem to detest here) by moving away to some other country, because without the legislation he passed, you wouldn’t be able to settle in US, unless you were from N. Europe.
Laura Bush killed a guy. What was his name? Who knows?
A quick google search reveals that it was Michael Douglas. Reading further proves that it was a true accident (she wasn’t drunk), and there was no deliberate attempt on Mrs. Bush’s (nee Welch) part to try and evade prosecution or hide from police.
Thanks for playing, we’ve got some nice door prizes for you…….
If you are a South Asian settled in US and fomenting those above words, then you might even consider protesting Ted Kennedy’s work (which you so seem to detest here) by moving away to some other country, because without the legislation he passed, you wouldn’t be able to settle in US, unless you were from N. Europe.
It’s bit ingenuous to say this. You assume that no other liberal congressperson would have carried out TK’s actions. Clearly there were co-sponsors on the bill, and dozens of other congresspeople had to help it pass.
I am grateful for what he’s done, but that doesn’t mean he’s not a scumbag.
Oh wait. Didn’t this dude kill a lady or let a lady drown (and not let the authorities know about it after a few days)? If any of us did that, we’d be in jail. Oh yea, I forgot, he was on the side of the Soviets during the 80’s. Sorry, I’m not giving this guy respect…I’ll give JImmy Carter respect the day he passes (even though I don’t agree with him on what he did).