Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Travel Tuesday: On Immigrants

Yesterday, my friend, Colin Ray posted the following on his FB page:

shares a Batha, Riyadh moment.
I find myself waiting for the tire alignment on the Subaru. I got a whole set of bushings, and now need to have wheels aligned. (Did you see how I did that, just casually mentioning "bushings" as if I have always known what they are? See also "aligned".)
My favorite felafel place has been shuttered, apparently for failing a health-sanitation inspection. This seems to happen a lot to my favorite places.
So I had to walk a bit further, to the foul (no, not "fool"!) place. Another customer in line struck up a conversation with me, albeit with difficulty since my Arabic is even more non-existent than his English. He asked where I was from - "Ameriki."
I could not at first even understand the food choices. He helped me order. Then I went to pay, but the place did not have change for a SAR 50. (About $15.). My fellow customer - his name was Sultan; he is Saudi, from the south, near to Yemen - insisted on paying for my dinner.
People sometimes ask why I feel so strongly about immigration issues. Part of it is probably because I (and most of my friends and colleagues) buy into the free-market idea of the benefit of mobile labor.
But the primary reason, I am sure, is that I have been an immigrant almost all my life. And this positive interaction typifies what I experience. At birth in the UK, I was granted UK citizenship, although my parents were just American students/visitors at the time. From 6 to 18 in Nigeria, I was generally shown overwhelming hospitality. Cameroon. Netherlands. Japan. Saudi Arabia. The same. (Yes. There are sometimes bad experiences. Life is like that.)
So . . . that is basically why I bristle at suggestions of targeting or blaming immigrants. I want them to have what I have experienced.

I loved Colin's comment and thoughts about being an immigrant. It was so powerful that I wanted to share my own thoughts and experiences.

I am not nor have I ever been an immigrant. But I have been an outsider and an expat in three different countries.

I know what it is like to:

  • not understand a word of the language being spoken around you.
  • not understand the rules and bureaucracy of  the country in which I reside.
  • not understand the cultural norms and unwritten rules for conduct.
  • have someone speak super slowly to me like I am stupid.
  • be criticized for being a foreigner.
  • struggle and grapple with a language that is not my native tongue.
  • worry if I will be a target of harassment or violence because of my nationality.
  • feel isolated and alone because I am an outsider.
  • experience and learn about a new country and culture.
  • visit a country in the middle of turmoil and revolution.
  • eat new and different food.
  • make friends from my new country.
  • be the recipient of kindness when my ignorance of the custom and cultures was obvious.
  • be generously taught and instructed in new customs.
  • be the recipient of gracious hospitality as a foreigner.
  • talk religion with people from a very different religious tradition than mine.
  • make friends with people from different countries and religions.
  • discuss politics across borders.
  • have a baby in a foreign country.
  • go without a car in a foreign country.
  • learn how to use public transportation like a boss in a different country.
  • invited friends from different countries and cultures to my home and share a meal together.

Life as an immigrant isn't easy. It doesn't come with a free ride or doors opening automatically for you. It can be incredibly isolating and lonely. It means overwhelmingly difficult work. It means swallowing pride and doing humble jobs.

I have friends who were highly trained and skilled workers in their home countries who immigrated to the United States for better opportunities for their children. Now they work at daycare centers, cleaning house, moving, mowing lawns, scrubbing dishes at restaurants, etc.

I am really concerned with the rhetoric about immigrants that I hear from my fellow American citizens. The words from our president elect about immigrants are deeply distressing and alarming. With the exception of Native Americans, every single American citizen is a product of immigration. They came to the U.S. for the same reasons immigrants coming to the States today, for opportunities, safety, religious freedom, and for a dream of a better life.

Our immigration system does not function well. The laws are complicated and confusing. Immigrating legally requires money, access to lawyers, and extreme patience. I want to see immigration reform to make it easier for people to get work visas so they can work legally and pay taxes. Improved immigration laws would also likely reduce the human traffickers that prey on the vulnerable and feed into sex slavery, slavery on big farms, and abuse in other industries.

I think that immigrants in the United States need to follow our laws (even when they conflict with their religious or personal beliefs), learn English, and pay taxes.

I think we in the U.S. need to deport immigrants who have committed crimes in their home countries or on American soil, provide English courses for free, crack down on employers who knowingly employ illegal immigrants, crack down on organizations that traffic immigrants.

Most of all, I want Americans to stop being so darn nationalistic. Immigrants bring vibrancy, energy, and new ideas to our country. Extend hospitality and friendship to immigrants. I think doing so makes us a better, stronger nation.

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