Note about the photo: 1968 – The woman in the hat is my mother on the day she flew to America for the first time. Two of my sisters, one of my brothers, my paternal grandmother and a slew of cousins are also in the photo. My mom describes that day as ‘bittersweet’ and as one of the saddest and hardest days of her life. She says her heart was broken into a million pieces because she was leaving her babies behind but she also felt ‘lucky and grateful’ for the opportunity to give her children a chance to live in the country where “the streets are paved in gold and anything is possible.” All of the family members with whom I discussed this photo, including my mom and sister, report vivid memories of that day and all say that the photo only shows a fraction of the people who were actually there and who had gone to the airport to wish my mom well and to say goodbye. 2019 update – My parents return to Trinidad every year to celebrate Carnival with their family and friends. This year at ages 88 and 89 they made the journey as always but with one slight variation: They traveled first class 😉
Fallacy #1: “Immigrants are lazy”
This topic does not even deserve to be refuted however my defensive soldiers cannot resist. Firstly, I don’t believe that there is such a thing as lazy people – period. I believe there are only those who are uninspired. That being said, I believe that if one could qualify and quantify such a trait in percentages, it would be statistically improbable that the percentage of uninspired immigrants would be greater than that of uninspired natural-born citizens.
Immigrants’ actions speak for themselves. When have you ever known someone to be so “uninspired/lazy” that they uprooted themselves and/or their families and moved to another country? As someone who travels extensively, I can tell you that traveling great distances is not something that an uninspired person would or could do. It takes a lot of inspiration and courage to leave behind everything that one knows and loves and head into the unknown.
Fallacy #2 (or 1A): “Immigrants are living the high-life off of my taxes”
I always find this fallacy to be a clear indication of the ignorance level of the utterers for they obviously have no idea about the inner workings of governments and/or how their taxes are being spent. I believe both to be valid issues for concern however they are expending their energy in the wrong direction if they ever hope to get to the bottom of it. Alas, it’s always easier to blame someone else than it is to get to the root of an issue and/or ask ourselves how we may have contributed to the problem we perceive.
I do not believe that any government in the history of time has ever been altruistic; if they were then they would have “charitable organization” status and not “government” status. Governments do not have emotions or feelings and do not operate from a place of compassion, kindness, guilt or regret. If run properly, they are run like successful businesses: They provide the greatest “good” to the largest number of people in the most cost-effective manner possible while causing the least amount of harm. But let’s face it: How many governments actually run “properly?”
When we hear about countries giving asylum to refugees or loosening immigration laws and such we need to trust and believe that there is some other shit in play behind the scenes that we as lowly citizens have not been privy to i.e. quid pro quo, backroom handshakes, exchanging labor forces for strategic military bases or alliances; exchanges for weapons, drugs, oil, land, natural resources, etc. Many citizens waste their energy being angry with immigrants while the real villains – unscrupulous politicians (for the record, I’m not saying they are all unscrupulous or villainous) – play Monopoly with their hard-earned tax dollars.
In a perfect world, tax dollars are supposed to be spent on programs that benefit all citizens. And if governments were run like good businesses there would be plenty of tax dollars to successfully achieve that goal however we do not live in a perfect world. The underlying pain that is expressed by Fallacy #2/1A is: “I am not receiving benefits commensurate with the tax dollars I am contributing.”
That statement is never truer than when uttered in the United States where its tax-paying citizens receive very little in return for their contributions compared to other countries. Given that the US is a representative democracy then the fault lies with the very citizens who have the right to vote and elect their representatives. Those who are disillusioned and blaming immigrants for the discrepancy are not making the right demands/asking the bigger questions of their representatives.
The mismanagement of government funds has little to nothing to do with most immigrants, legal or illegal, because immigrants don’t actually qualify for most government programs. (Nor do they usually ask for government assistance because most legal immigrants need to be sponsored and therefore the sponsoring individual or company accepts financial responsibility for them; and most illegal ones avoid government offices like the plague lest they be found out and deported).
Additionally, the notion that anyone can live “the high life” on welfare in the US is ludicrous. As someone who has traveled extensively to both wealthy countries and emerging-market nations I can say that in my humble opinion, America is one of the worst places in the world for poor folks. Nobody in their right mind has ever emigrated to America in the hopes of being poor or living off of America’s social programs because everyone knows that America’s social programs are, comparatively speaking, some of the worst in the world.
EVERYTHING in the US costs more than most other places including in countries that are equally as developed as the US. I have theories on why that is however I enjoy my globe-trotting-freedom far too much to expound my theories here on the interwebs. For the record, I don’t believe it’s a conspiracy; I believe it has more to do with basic economic principles such as “pricing based on what the market will bear;” Americans’ super-high tolerance for bullshit; and the laxity of our lobbying laws which encourage a corporatocratic government rather than a democratic one, etc.
Additionally, the climate in most of the US is not fantastic so housing, heating, cooling and clothing bills alone make it a less-than-hospitable place to do more with less. Between the shitty weather and the restrictive housing laws and building codes, living simply and cheaply is almost an impossibility in the US.
Many of the countries that immigrants come from are vacation destinations for Americans; the weather is great all-year-round and they are typically rich in natural resources. Free food still grows out of the ground in many countries and is readily available. Don’t believe me – ask any of your European friends where they buy their mushrooms. Allow me to spare you the humiliation: They will give you that patronizing look – you know the one; the one that says “oh my God, Americans are sooo dumb” – then ask why in the world you would ever buy mushrooms since they are free?
I have been on foraging expeditions in Switzerland (talk about a wealthy country with a direct democracy and an unbelievable quality of life!) and have been cherry-picking in a forest in Italy. I have seen ripe, uneaten mangoes line the sides of roads in Thailand; breadfruit, starfruit, plum and citrus trees growing out of city streets in Trinidad; and coconuts readily available in all of the tropical countries I’ve visited. I have seen local fisherman and families standing side-by-side catching their dinners on every island and coast I have ever been to and presumably without fishing licenses; and I have watched men hunt rabbits and game birds in Portugal for their dinners…I could go on but, as usual, I have digressed.
My point is that America is one of the hardest countries in the world to be poor in so it’s absurd to think that anyone would emigrate there with the intention of staying poor or living off of America’s substandard social programs. If you’re not happy about your tax dollars being wasted then ask your local, state and federal representatives for a breakdown as is your right as a tax-payer, their boss and signer of their paychecks. If a breakdown is not promptly furnished, then it’s time to start asking the bigger questions and perhaps throwing tea into the Boston Harbor again.
Fallacy #3: “Immigrants are taking our jobs”
I can’t believe that people are still saying this shit 40+ years after the poet Jimmy Santiago Baca rebuked its absurdity in his poem “So the Mexicans are taking jobs from Americans.” This statement is ridiculous on many levels but from my personal philosophical perspective, there is no such thing as missed opportunities because that which is for us always come to us. That being said, I know that not everyone subscribes to my esoteric philosophies but this fallacy can be dissected in a myriad of ways.
The notion of shortage, especially as it relates to the job market and any other market for that matter, is a capitalist machination of the human animal’s survival-instinct of fear. In other words, the economic principles of supply and demand/shortage and competition can be applied wherever capitalism is concerned because it serves its purpose. Capitalism is based on currency and currency is based on the idea of shortage at a particular point in time (which, by the way, is usually not the present moment but a predicted point in the future) which in turn drives everything from food/housing prices to wages to inflation rates, etc.
Additionally, the belief that someone else “took my job” is the product of a victimized mind-state with no bearing in reality. If we are over-qualified or under-qualified for a position then that position was never ours to begin with; and if we are perfectly qualified but the job went to someone else then the job was still never ours. Assuming that the proclaimers of Fallacy #3 ever make it to the job application and interview process, getting passed over for a job can provide an invaluable opportunity to receive feedback on how we present ourselves to the world which can be a great starting point for self-exploration – if we are open to it.
Fallacy #4 (or 3A): “Immigrants are unqualified/under-qualified”
There are a plethora of non-paper traits/soft-skills that employers seek that never actually make it into job descriptions. These characteristics are so intangible that employers and hiring managers may not have even consciously considered them themselves but they recognize them when they see them.
Are we pessimistic, Debbie-Downers? Are we negative, Nervous Nellies or Paranoid Petes? Probably so if we believe that an immigrant or anyone else for that matter has the ability to “take our job.” If we don’t wow an employer in an interview then chances are that they’re not going to waste the energy bringing us on board. The interviewing and hiring process can be arduous and expensive. Most employers would prefer to leave a position open rather than hiring the wrong person so many Debbie Downers, Nervous Nellies and Paranoid Petes find themselves unemployed.
Where natural-born citizens often look down their noses at certain jobs, immigrants see opportunity. It could be text-book projection – because they believe they will have opportunities in their new countries, they perceive any and all job prospects as opportunities.
Immigrants’ perception of opportunity could also be the result of the open-mindedness and willingness to learn that humility brings with it when one is in a completely new environment or situation. Or it could be the opposite and they are super-confident that they cannot fail because they have already seen and survived some shit. Or maybe it’s because just making it to a new country had been their life-long dream so whatever they do from that point forward is icing on the cake even if it’s a urinal cake and they’re scrubbing toilets. Or perhaps their new hourly minimum wage is what they used to make in a day in their home countries.
Whatever the reason for the perspective, I cannot tell you how many immigrants I have met in my life who are grateful to be in their adopted countries performing jobs for which they are technically over-qualified and that natural-born citizens view as “menial.” I have met more taxi-driving doctors than I can count as well as college-educated street sweepers and Uber-driving engineers, restaurateurs and skilled craftsmen just to name a few.
What I can tell you is that many of the immigrants that I have met share some of the most impressive soft skills that one can possess: humility, earnestness; a desire to learn and grow; and a sense of gratitude. Hiring managers are often far more motivated to hire people with fewer qualifications and more of the aforementioned soft-skills over an entitled person with all of the “right” résumé credentials because those soft-skills cannot be taught; they can only be gained through real-life experience.
One of the most important soft skills employers seek is adaptability which also happens to be one of the premises of Darwin’s Theory of Evolution. Traveling to another country fosters this ability; in fact, it requires it as anyone who has traveled to a country outside of their own can tell you. The ability to adapt makes the difference between sinking and swimming. Hiring managers want people who can be flexible and adapt to situations because who the hell knows what will happen in the course of a workday?
And now a personal story: By the early 1960’s, my parents were responsible for feeding, clothing and sheltering five children, my paternal grandmother and, on occasion, various extended family members and friends. In 1968, my mother, like thousands of other West Indians at that time, entered a lottery.
To my family’s overwhelming joy, my mother won the lottery! The lottery prize that my family was so ecstatic about was not billions or millions of dollars in the Powerball. It was not a brand new car or a boat or a house or a vacation. It was not even a year’s supply of wine or steaks.
My mother’s lottery prize was the opportunity to be a domestic worker – a maid – in Central fucking Pennsylvania. My parents happily and excitedly moved to the US, sight-unseen, in 1968 to claim their lottery prize!
Just ponder that for a moment – if one cannot imagine oneself having immense gratitude for such an opportunity then one can never hope to understand an immigrant’s mindset and therefore will never understand how it is that an immigrant could excel academically or on the job. One can also never hope to understand the debt of gratitude carried by second generation immigrants nor the work ethic and ambition that drives us to achieve and succeed.
This lack of understanding brings me to my next point which is perhaps even more troubling than the self-victimized mind-state that leads some to blame their shitty jobs or unemployment status on immigrants. There is often a superiority-complex subtext that underlies fallacious statements #3 and #4 and others like it i.e. bastardized interpretations of affirmative action laws. Those who use these statements believe themselves to be so superior that they cannot fathom a world where an immigrant, a minority or a woman could legitimately be more-desired or better-qualified for a position than they are.
They use these types of statements to protect themselves from the hard work of looking in reality’s mirror and accepting personal accountability for the ignorant, entitled little pieces of shit they are. (If you read my last post, “Locked-up Abroad”, then you know the gloves are off and I no longer feel the burden of being love, light and compassion so if you’re offended – good, because I’m talking to you).
Fallacy #5: “All immigrants are criminals but my forefathers were settlers”
Again, this double-scoop of ignorshit does not deserve to be discussed however my rant-happy defensive soldier has showed up today so she is not going to let this one slide either. I LOVE the American propaganda machine to no end and the fact that it has only one setting: Spin Cycle. It has the ability to effectively wash brains so efficiently that it has no need for any other settings.
I encourage replacing the word “settler” with “immigrant” every chance one gets especially when engaged in conversation with those claiming lineage to the original colonists. If your forefathers came to The Americas on The Mayflower, The Niña, The Pinta, The Santa Maria or any other similar battleship (yes, I said battleship) then there is a high probability that your forefathers were also outcasts, criminals, rapists, reprobates, murderers, sexual deviants, gypsies, tramps and thieves so therefore I understand your perception that all immigrants are criminals; you got that shit honestly.
The English, French, Spanish and Portuguese regularly sent their convicted criminals to The America’s. European rulers threatened and sentenced criminals and those suspected of wrong-doing with banishment to the colonies with no hope of ever returning. Those who were given the choice elected to work and live in penal settlements in the New World rather than the alternative of serving long prison sentences or perhaps even death.
Immigrants on the other hand, make a conscious decision often deliberated over years or a lifetime to move to another country. In some cases, it does mean never being allowed to return to their home country however it is a conscious choice made of free will. This is not to say that they are necessarily leaving their home countries under idyllic circumstances but that they recognize their agency and exercise it.
Stupid Statement #6: “Go back to wherever you came from”
Poor grammar aside, I personally love this one and would happily spend the rest of my days embroidering it on sovereign Native American tribal/state flags if given the opportunity and if such a thing exists. The equally idiotic follow-on question is usually: “If their country is so great why did they leave in the first place?”
America is second to none and the best in the world – in marketing. America is good at it because it believes its own hype which any good sales and marketing person will tell you is paramount to being successful and closing deals.
We have presented America to the world as the land of opportunity – which it is. We have presented America as a utopia of sorts where anything is possible if you just work hard – and it is. The Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island, the site of so many immigrants’ entrance into the US, literally says: “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
We often and repeatedly use rhetoric such as “melting pot” and “diversity” when referring to our nation. We celebrate and promote our rags to riches stories. We build big houses, design big cars and do everything grandiosely.
We sold the Capitalist Dream as the American Dream to the dissatisfied, disenfranchised and ambitious masses of the world with our constant, incessant self-promotion. We seemingly answered the unknowable question of: “Is the grass greener on other side?” with a resounding “Hell yeah it is and it’s fucking amazing!” And then we scratch our heads and wonder why people from around the world are literally, in some cases, dying to get here.
Immigrants are “better Americans” than most natural-born Americans because they choose America and in many cases they sacrifice, fight and work to be there. Any adult, American or otherwise, knows that the things in life that we work for bring us far more satisfaction than that which is handed to us.
We cherish and protect the things that we earn because we never forget the blood, sweat and tears that we expended to achieve them and we take great pride in the fruits of our efforts. Immigrants sell the American Dream better than its natural-born citizens because unlike natural-born citizens, they actually have a point of comparison and have worked to attain their American status.
If we look at it from a basic business perspective: Immigrants symbolize closed deals/customers who bought in because of the brilliant American Dream Marketing Campaign. Every successful business person understands that your best customer is your current customer because the most difficult and most expensive part of sales and marketing is getting new business.
It is significantly cheaper and easier to keep your current customers happy than it is to win new business because if your current customers are happy then they will be repeat customers. Additionally, happy customers refer you to their friends which is basically free money because you didn’t have to spend any additional money or time getting the additional business; basically, a happy customer is a member of your sales team who pays you to work for you.
If every immigrant/green-card holder/naturalized American citizen and their descendants “went back to wherever they came from” then the American Dream would die and the business of America would literally go bankrupt/belly-up; consider the 2017 Brookings Institute report which showed that almost half of the Fortune 500 companies in the US were founded by immigrants and/or their children. Additionally, with all the immigrants and their offspring gone then the US would have roughly 5 million Native American inhabitants vs the 300+ million inhabitants it currently has.
The Beginning of the end…of an era
From the perspective of a natural-born, 1.5-generation American who has spent most of the past four years outside of the United States, I believe the 2016 presidential election marked the end of an era and the beginning of a new one: a period of disillusionment. For the past 200+ years, people around the world looked to America as a beacon of hope, democracy and infinite possibilities.
American TV, movies and professional sports brought the world visions of vast wealth, huge mansions, pearly white teeth; sexy, fast, muscle cars and sexy, fast, muscle men and women. American TV and movies inspired people around the world to want more, dream big and to speak American.
I get a lot of funny questions as I travel. One that I hear repeatedly is: Are all Americans rich? My response to that question is: Yes, but they don’t know it – although most Americans would respond to that question with a ‘no’ because even rich Americans don’t feel rich.
That’s the blessing and the curse of America: more is always possible and just around the corner which means there is rarely a sense of satisfaction or gratitude which are necessary traits for contentment and peace of mind. It also explains how the Republican Party continues to thrive despite cutting the very social programs that the majority of their voting base relies upon; those poor folks identify with wealthy folks because they believe that any day now their ship will come in and they too will be wealthy.
I am also asked questions that are not funny and that I don’t know how to answer: How did Donald Trump become President? Why are guns still legal when babies are being killed en masse in their classrooms? Do Americans really not have health care? Does university really cost hundreds of thousands of dollars? Why don’t Americans travel? Is it true that only 35% of Americans have passports? Do American prisons really make profits?
People of all ages who had never been to America used to tell me how much they wanted to see it and especially the famous places like New York, LA, Miami, Vegas and the National Parks, etc. Now it seems that it’s mostly only young folks who still express a burning desire to go but now they caveat it with ‘not while Trump is in office’ or ‘I would like to visit but I wouldn’t want to live there.’
From those who have visited, I have heard incredible stories from travelers who have seen more of the US than I ever have. However I have also heard repeated horror stories of xenophobia which began from the moment they stepped off the plane and into the immigration lines where they waited for hours upon hours to be treated like shit by immigration officials to people making fun of their accents and not making any attempt to understand or help them.
The eyes of the world are still on the US but instead of gazing starry-eyed at us like love-struck teenagers they now watch every step with what can only be called hopeful trepidation. The gig is up, the veil has been removed and everyone now knows how the sausage is made. The democracy that once filled citizens of the world with hope is now giving them a huge reality check which has them conducting in-depth dream analyses of both the American Dream and their own dreams and asking themselves if they are still one in the same.
 Borrowed from Cher’s 1971 hit “Gypsies, Tramps and Thieves”
 When I travel around the world people always tell me that it is very easy for them to understand my English and when I ask them if they watched American TV shows and movies they always respond in the affirmative. You would not believe how many people around the world can “rap” the theme song to Fresh Prince of Bel-Air…
 I myself have been subjected to ridiculous profiling from immigration officers upon arrival in my home country and I have a global entry pass which means I have passed background checks, etc. which is supposed to allow me easy entry back home. In fact, come to think of it, the US is the only immigration checkpoint where I have ever been treated suspiciously and less than courteously.