Tuesday, July 04, 2006

They're Not Here To Be Our Friends, Michael

The worst job I ever had was at a temp agency. I interviewed people and found them work. This agency was not a good place. They aspired to fill clerical positions. In the meantime, the dregs of society would pass by my desk. Drunks would stumble off the bus and into our waiting room, cursing us out for not finding them jobs. There were the child molesters, the itinerants, the addicts, and the lazy. And then there were the immigrants. If I send a Hispanic or Filipino immigrant to a job, they showed up everyday, on time, and worked the whole day. If I sent a run-of-the-mill-American, there was no guarantee they’d get there, that they wouldn’t be late, or take off at lunch never to be heard from again.

Time after time, the only workers I could depend on were the immigrants. They wanted to be here so badly they would take any job, at any time, and work their fingers to the bone (sometimes literally.) I remember one man who had been a banker in his native Peru. A banker. What did he do here? He worked loading and unloading cardboard boxes at an industrial plant. This country is so amazing that people would work the most difficult of manual labors to be here. We need those people. We need people who are so driven, with the extraordinary desire to make a better life for their children; they are possessed of the entrepreneurial spirit that will benefit all of us. We all have that in common; our ancestors took great risk to their fortunes and their literal selves to make it here.

When my mom came to this country, after the 1965 Immigration Act that did away with the racially based immigration quotas, she did not speak a word of English. She was sponsored by a family in Phoenix that she had met in Uruguay. She came to live with them and discovered that she was not being ‘sponsored’ as much as being kept as a type of indentured servant. Her story of exploitation is not uncommon. After a few months she escaped that situation and made it to Salt Lake. She spent a year working and learning English. My mom was highly educated before she came here, having attended University and law classes. She learned English by watching I Love Lucy and The Andy Griffith Show (they spoke slowly enough to understand.) After that year she was accepted into BYU and continued with her education. She has earned advanced degrees and is now a Professor.

Don’t listen to the hype—this past generation of immigrants has learned English faster than the past 100 years of immigrants. This notion that people come here and don’t bother learning English presupposes a couple arguments: one that they are skilled enough in their primary language that the acquisition of English would be simple; two, people just don’t want to learn English. Both of those assumptions are incorrect. 90% of surveyed immigrants insist that English is “necessary and crucial” to succeeding in the U.S. The previous assumption is more difficult. Some immigrants are not even literate in their primary language, making the learning of English all that more difficult. Imagine trying to learn a second language when you didn’t know how to read and write English or were functioning on only a primary school education. You see the problem.

The other nonsense I hear is that people just don’t melt in like they used to. Again, this generation of immigrants has integrated into American life faster than any other. It used to be that it would take two, sometimes three, generations for people to learn English and start intermarrying. First generation Americans these days are regarded in the same way as people whose ancestors have been here longer. Did you know that the average African American’s ancestors have been in the U.S. longer than the average Caucasian’s? There are so many perceptions and polemics, that it's hard to see the bigger picture.

Fewer Americans major in the sciences and mathematics. Our scientific research and mathematical fields have been saved by granting student visas and green cards to foreigners. Since 9/11, student visas and green cards have decreased, both in the granting and in application. Our government agencies are more reluctant to disperse visas and green cards, even to industries and specialties (like bio-medical or electrical engineering) that are desperately in need of more bodies. As foreign students decide where to go to school, and they hear about the level of hostility to immigrants in this country, they don’t want to come here. This is disastrous. Yes, we invented the A and H bombs, but much of that work was done by immigrant refugees from Germany. If our native-born children wish to avoid the hard sciences, let’s make sure we’re opening the door and welcoming those immigrants that will help us fill the gap.

We need guest worker programs and better visas. We need more green cards granted. We need people who are willing to come to this country and work to make it a better place. We need immigrants.

So to any of you who have forgotten what it’s like each time we have a wave of immigration that people think is responsible for all that’s wrong with the country, let me remind you of something:

The Chicago Post: "The Irish fill our prisons, our poor houses...Scratch a convict or a pauper, and the chances are that you tickle the skin of an Irish Catholic. Putting them on a boat and sending them home would end crime in this country."

Sound familiar? We hear the same nonsense bandied about with each wave of immigration. they bemoan a melting pot that never was. The reality is that the new people eventually integrate, they inter-marry, they join our faiths and our chambers of commerce. Don’t let the blowhards tell you differently: we all become Americans.

On this day, Independence Day, I am proud to be a child of immigrants. I am proud to support the rights of people who want to make a better life for themselves and their children—it can only better all of our lives.


Emily said...

This essay would have earned me an A in my Political Science 110 class. Instead, I had Aaron Winn write a persuasive essay on immigration for me, and I got an A-.

(It may have been the only time in my 16 year student career that I cheated on an assignment, as in really cheated. But probably I did it because I am a lazy American and was taking my opportunities for granted.)

You are a good writer, and a smart chica. And I agree with you on this wholeheartedly.

Emily said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Kiki said...

I think I just fell in love with you, Carina. That was an excellent essay! It's a shame that most Americans label an entire race/culture because of the bad things a few people do. The world would be a much happier place if we were to meet people like your mom or the people you placed in jobs and thought, "I remember this one girl, JoQ, who was such a hard worker, and she is now a prominent professor. These [immigrants] are amazing and bring so much richness to our country." I wish we could all do that.

BowlerGirl said...

This issue has been thrown into stark relief for me during the last few months. Hubby works with numerous immigrants, some legal...others not so much so. The not-so-much-so group is not for lack of trying, they are dying to be legal citizens. I have come to learn that the backbone of our country is run on immigrant labor. It sickens me that there is so little regard for all that they do.

There will always be the problems of immigration; illegals, those few who do not wish to learn the language and others that take advantage of the system. However, when the majority are here to work hard, to support family, and to be an American it infuriates me that there is not more care and leniency.

This is the home of the free and the brave...not the land of "let's pick only the cool kids to join the game." I thought that we had learned in grade school to be kind and inclusive to all.

tiff-fay-fay said...

I think a lot of our problem begins with ourselves and our level of pride. I think it's great to watch anyone try to better themselves. I think it's what we need to put into teaching our children. If we're lacking a generation that isn't interested in pursuing sciences, it rides on us as parents to show them how "cool" science really is and what creativity lies there just as much as it does to teach them about the arts.

I think a lot of the problems that we willingly see "immigrants" helping to resolve is part of the larger picture. (OK so typically I don't really get involved in these discussions but ...) I believe that if a man from Peru comes in with education and work experience in banking then he should feel comfortable in applying for positions with banking -- even entry level if there are differences he wants to learn. I don't want him to feel that he is only good enough to start out at what the society considers "drudge work". That in itself is part of the cyclical problem. We need to assume responsibility for teaching our children that immigrant does not mean ignorant, but also that "jobs" are not for certain "types" of people, they are a means to a end whether that is building a career, building a retirement fund, or simply generating a source of income to provide for your family.

ok I could go on discussing the business aspect of why people hire immigrant laborers and why we're all slightly responsible for the ongoing demise of the relations between our immigrant heritage and our current society, but i'm sure you're all socially much more aware than I am to already see those particular points.

My point: teach your kids and make an impact where you can. Based on your circle of influence that could mean a make a big splash; for others, might not be that big, but it'll make a difference.

AzĂșcar said...

In the case of the Peruvian Banker, he lacked the English skills to get a job in a bank. He was trying to learn the language while not working. I wish I knew where he was today.

It's totally a pride thing. I know that I would not want to pick strawberries for $4.00/hr (or $3, $2...) but I do love to pay $2.99 for a box.

more caffeine, please said...

Wonderful essay. And is your mother from Uruguay? That is where 18 served his mission.

fijiangirl said...

I love this essay! My issue is the immigrants who come to this country illegally! I agree with the fact that our government needs to change their policies on who they let into our borders; tightening them to keep out terrorists is not the answer. It only creates more immigrants who can’t be employed legally. As you stated our country was founded on immigrants, hell unless you have Native American ancestry we all are descendents of immigrants. Being married to a first generation immigrant from I feel a deeper appreciation for what is takes to come to this country and make it here! However, my husband came here legally and always followed the immigration laws. Now because of others and their callous disregard for the laws of this country my husband's family will never be allowed to even visit this America. We have been told by immigration that they would never qualify for a simple visitor's visa because the "threat of over staying the time of their visa and living in this country permanently" is too high. This is because people who were in the same situation as my in-laws immigrated to this country illegally. Their actions are affecting those who would honestly follow our countries policies and laws regarding immigration. Open the borders and allow people to enjoy the wonderful opportunities our country has to offer. Come make a better life for yourself and your family but please do it LEGALLY so others are not punished from your actions.

righteous mama said...

Carina for President!

This is me said...

Hey, wait a second! I'M Irish!!

Good post. If we got rid of all the immigrants who would do all of our manual labor? Not all of us lazy Americans, that's for sure. I grew up on the Texas/Mexico border and 90% of my hometown is Hispanic. I know quite well that the problem isn't necessarily immigrants. I do have a problem with the illegals, though. I say, if they can come legally, bring them on.

Rachel said...


The Scooter Lounge said...

The argument that people just need to come legally is fatally flawed. Under current immigration law it is next to impossible for most latin-americans to immigrate to the United States. The closer to the border you live, the harder.

People don't risk their lives to come here illegally on a whim. Would you? Unless you are a student who has passed the TOEFL and has vastly more capital than the average Latino, or are an educated specialist in a technical field, or are wealthy enough in your own country to really have no need to seek for better here, forget coming. Americans don't want you here. In fact, our self-appointed paramilitary border patrol which has appropriated for itself the once noble title of "minutemen" will shoot and kill you. No one will even know you were here when you are buried two feet deep on a Texas ranch.

Think about it. The reason the border with Canada is so easy to cross is that up north people aren't starving to death hoping one day to afford a ten by ten cinderblock building to squat in. (Hopefully with indoor plumbing.)

this is getting long. I better just write my own post.

April said...

You're very eloquent. I loved this post. Well said.

AzĂșcar said...

Dave, you and are are together on this one.

Kiki said...

No one rocks the faux-hawk harder! I love that picture.