IMMIGRANTS: BUILDING DREAMS, BUILDING CITIES
By Debbie Almocera
I met this charming older lady during one of my trips down south, and she made what would have been an utterly boring flight into a very pleasant experience. She immigrated with her husband to the US in the mid 60’s, and immediately found jobs at a factory. Both were raised Chinese-Filipino. She never did learn to speak English fluently, and it was fascinating to listen to her talk using 3 different languages in one sentence. She talks in what she calls “broken English”. She beamed with pride as she talked about her job at a factory for over 4 decades where she was named “employee of the year” twice, despite her language “handicap”. She told me both her sons completed College, one a doctor, the other a businessman.
A recent interview with New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg by MSNBC caught my attention, as it appears to shed light on the status of immigration in this country . Not only was the interview highly insightful and informative, it was also a validation of my own perspective as an immigrant. During the interview, Bloomberg expressed frustration over the lack of attention that this issue is generating from both the Obama and Romney campaigns, as he believes that immigration is a vital component in this country’s efforts to revive the economy. As Bloomberg said, immigrants are twice more likely to start a business and hire workers than native-born Americans, especially in major cities in the US. For Bloomberg, “immigration reform is the key to rescuing the economy”.
Being one, I know a lot of immigrants. None of us started our journey into this vast land of opportunity by heading straight to the beach and getting a suntan. Immigrants come to this country with the determination and readiness to work hard, succeed, and exceed expectations, knowing only too well the obstacles they have to overcome. The starting point for any immigrant’s efforts to “make it” in this country is mired with uncertainty and self-doubt, and it is not uncommon for immigrants to continue to feel “subordinate” despite their success in their respective fields.
According to an article published by the New York Times in June of this year, Asian immigrants have become the fastest growing immigrant group in the United States. In fact, Asians have now surpassed Hispanic immigrants. However, sheer number in terms of population is hardly an indication of progress. It is the fact that 49% of Asians 25 years old and older, hold a college degree, compared to 28% of all people in that age range in the United States. Furthermore, according to a survey done by the Pew Research Center , the average annual income of Asian American households is $66,000, compared to the $49,800, among the general population. Asian Indians appear to take the lead in income and education among Asians. Indians, Japanese and Filipinos have the lowest poverty rates than the general US population. Asians appear to have higher incomes due to their education levels.
How do Bloomberg’s words and the recent data on immigration impact an immigrant’s psyche? Perhaps the idea of having the potential to save a struggling economy is far too ambitious and grandiose, and probably not first on the list of any Asian subgroup’s agenda. However, they certainly validate the effort of a people who risked everything and stepped foot in this country with nothing more than sheer determination and hope. Finally, it feels good to be recognized as a driving force in the economy, perhaps not only in the US but in fact, the world.
As Asians, we take pride in knowing that we are hardworking, determined and resolute people, and yes, we value education. It seems unfortunate that we didn’t get to establish ourselves in our own country of origin. But the fact that we managed to find our niche in the globe, albeit abandoning what is safe and familiar, gives a new meaning to the word “global citizens”.
Whether we believe in the views of Bloomberg or not, it remains a fact that this country was built by immigrants. The foundations of its early economy was started by businesses and industries built by immigrants. I have a feeling it will continue to be that way.
Debbie Almocera is a licensed therapist working in the behavioral medicine department of one of the largest hospitals in St. Louis, Missouri. For her, there has not been a more fulfilling and rewarding career than the one she has now. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org