I am an immigrant. My parents and I sailed to the United States “in steerage” on a leaky bucket that sank in 1961. My father had $35.00 in his pocket, and no knowledge of English. Both of my parents had escaped invasions, occupations, massacres, world war, and ethnic cleansing, and sought to build a new life in “the land of plenty”. And they did. And so did I.
Our first home was a tenement in the slums of DC. We shared a bathroom down the hall with several other families, and the building itself with a palmist whose clients often set up their own begging shops on the cracked sidewalk in front of our door. My mother moonlit as a seamstress and my father worked several manual jobs to put himself through school and earn a degree that opened the gates to a professional career. I got my first job—babysitting neighbor children--at age 11, started a lawnmowing business at 15, and paid for my medical education with a military scholarship. Like so many who come to the US from around the world, we were ambitious, driven, and hard-working, and we were grateful to America for providing us with a ladder to climb to reach our goal of middle class comfort and security.
I see the same ambition, drive, and, yes, desperation, in the immigrants who cross our borders today seeking safety and a better life. I do wish our country had the resources to provide for a middle class existence for all of them—and, for that matter, for the entire global community. But I worry that we do not, and that the US has become a leaky bucket—with more and more of us crowding in steerage, hoping that we’ll stay afloat.
I am torn and conflicted, and feel guilty about my fears. Restrict immigration and you create a sub-class of human serfs whose access to the economic “ladder” has been blocked. Open the doors and the global needs overwhelm our capacity to bail out water. Aiming for compassion, I would opt for the middle road of amnesty for undocumented immigrants and their families, and a moderate immigration policy that keeps an eye on the “water level” of our economy so that we don’t all sink.
I do have a concern, however, that makes me afraid I’ll lose my “liberal cred”. I live in a diverse city—filled with immigrants from Asia, the Middle East, Europe, Africa, Oceania and the Pacific Islands, from the world. Most came with only their dreams, and, like my parents, are building a life in their new country. But only select nationalities are given “a step up the ladder”, through enhanced programs and opportunities, selective recruiting, or policies lumped under “affirmative action”. One can certainly understand the goal of reparative interventions for the descendants of slaves who were dragged to the US from Africa against their will, or for Native Americans whose lands were invaded and occupied by English, French, Spanish, and US military forces. But, as an immigrant myself, I am challenged to support preferential opportunities for Latino immigrants who chose to come to the US, as my own family and so many others did. My parents fled war, famine, and persecution—as did some “Hispanic” immigrants to the US. But other Latinos came to America to better their lives, especially economically—an understandable reason, of course, but not one that, in my opinion, trumps the circumstances that led other ethnic immigrants to our doors. Armenians and Eastern European victims of Soviet oppression, Middle East refugees, Asian war survivors—do they not equally deserve “affirmative action” to help climb the ladder?
Yes, I realize that Latinos make up a large and dynamic constituency group to which politicians from both parties actively cater. But, as I vehemently oppose any institutionalized discrimination (against ethnicities, races, sexual orientation, gender, etc,…), I am uncomfortable with institutionalized preferential treatment that uses those criteria to identify candidates. Instead, I would like to see a “blind” socialism, i.e one that looks only at economic factors and/or disabilities in reaching out with a helping hand. A Laotian or Afghani immigrant youth with no economic resources is more deserving of assistance and “a leg up” than a middle-class Latino youth whose parents hail from beautiful Guadalajara.
Yes, I feel guilty for saying the above. But I think it needs to be said. Because I have another comment to add. I am not cheering that President Obama has nominated the first Hispanic woman to the Supreme Court. A judge whose decisions tend to skew Republican and who was appointed to Federal Court by the Pater Familias of the Bush Crime Family is not what I believe the already too conservative Supreme Court needs. We need a justice who is publicly in favor or the right to choose, and who supports and defends the liberal and socialist tatters still remaining in our country, the tenets that made our country a destination sought by immigrants from around the world.
I want to be able to express my disappointment in this selection, even as I understand the “chess game” being played by our centrist administration in opting for a “triple-barreled” choice of a woman, a Latina, and a Bush appointee. Without being considered a racist—or rather, an ethnicist. I would prefer to see a human nominee whose values and politics will promote compassionate socialism, and the rebuilding of the country that had been the shining beacon inviting and welcoming millions of immigrants to our shores.