In recent years, the debate over immigration in the United States has been epic. There are few places in the heavily populated regions of this country where you don’t run into foreign-born people working at jobs. We see people in all lower-paid areas of the service industry who are ‘not from around here’ and yet they work at those jobs every single day.
No, they’re not just like us U.S.-born citizens. They have a different language and culture and they earn substantially less money than we do (https://www.bls.gov/news.release/forbrn.nr0.htm). They work hard in spite of this and they work every single day just like we do. The aforementioned report from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics tells us that the jobless rate in 2015 was actually .5 percent lower for foreign-born people than it was for U.S.-born people.
I emigrated to the Dominican Republic in 1982 from the U.S. I went there to see the world from a different point of view and to see what it was like to live somewhere else. It was a learning experience to state the understated.
I found out what it was like to survive in a completely different culture, to not speak the local language and to see how local citizens acted. I worked hard to learn Spanish and soon became fairly fluent. Those first months were frightening, especially when I learned that I wasn’t ‘from around those parts.’ People treated me differently. I didn’t make a lot of friends at first. I learned about nationality, about survival in a foreign country, about the very different view from outside the United States and about culture. I learned a whole lot about who I was (a citizen of the United States) and I learned to respect those who found themselves in a foreign place.
For the most part I was welcomed. I am from the Latino world’s view of heaven on earth, the home of the American Dream and the two car garage. I was seen as rich, even when I found myself unemployed and nearly penniless. There is, by the way, no unemployment net in the Dominican Republic. You either survive and pay the rent or you find yourself on the street. It is frightening for someone like me. Latinos (and I am sure, many others), just live with the risk. Eventually, by the way, I came back to the United States because I could not live in a country that had electricity 5 to 10 hours a day and expected its citizens to buy generators to make up the difference.
People who come to the United States are looking for work. They are looking for opportunity. Legally or illegally many people work to get here and work to stay here, to take the most menial jobs if that is what they have to do. In the Dominican Republic, I met a lot of Haitians who had gone to the Dominican Republic the very same way, in order to find a slightly better opportunity. They worked as maids for barely survivable wages because Haiti is even worse economically than the Dominican Republic. There are simply no jobs in Haiti. Conditions are horrible. Haitians are hated, though, and still they go.
The U.S. citizenry has a long history of treating its immigrants poorly and yet, without that supply of new people, we would not have anyone working in the jobs that we think ourselves too good to perform. Eventually, those very same people have families, children who become acclimated to our culture and who become assimilated. Those children become doctors and executives and pillars of our communities. In short, they become like us. Then it is their turn to be U.S.-born and to take better jobs, and treat the new arrivals exactly as we have treated those children’s parents.
I think of immigrants as heroes. I was once in a similar position. I know just how hard it is to go to another place, not speak the language and to eventually receive the sideways, sarcastic comments directed toward the new arrival. Immigrants work, they celebrate their culture and they grow families that become Americans in every sense of the word.
A week ago, we were informed that the United States would have ‘A Day Without an Immigrant’. I told my staff, the majority of whom are Hispanic and Asian, that I would not penalize them for taking the day off. All but 2 of the 20 or so folks that work at my company came to work that day. I thanked them. I continue to thank them. They are the heroes to me. Regardless of the social pressures exerted on them, they said that working that day was more important. Why? First, yes, they need the money. Second, they see themselves as a team, a group of individuals who work together to make a company grow and prosper.
Their logic was that this whole thing is a non-issue to them. They live here. They work. Who, after all, would they be showing and what would they be proving? That they had power? They know that. I tell them all, every chance I get, that they have that power. I can’t replace our staff. That makes them valuable and important both as individuals and as a group.
The people who make up the fabric of our country are important individuals who are respectable, who work for a living and live for something that they probably could not have in another place. There is a good reason for people to want to move to the United States. I know that immigration won’t stop for any reason at all, regardless of who is doing what to whom. And I know that the people who come here to make a better life for themselves earn the right to be heroes an awful lot of the time.