We Americans are famous for finding geographic solutions to all sorts of problems. Trouble at home or college? Road trip! Can’t find a job? Move across the country! Want to add a bit of zing to your retirement? Go abroad! As a travel writer, I love covering (and living) these stories.
I was raised on travel tales, the ones older relatives told about my forebears pulling up stakes and heading off into the unknown: my great-great-grandparents crossing the Atlantic in wooden ships, my great-grandparents heading west to California by covered wagon. Itchy feet seem to be in our DNA; by the time I left for college, I’d lived in seven homes in three states. Today, I’m hard pressed to think of an American family that isn’t scattered across half the continent, if not half the globe.
The Spanish like to call this having a culoinquieto, literally a restless backside, conjuring images of schoolboys squirming in their chairs, longing to be elsewhere on a fine day. But often we are inspired to seek greener pastures not by a sense of adventure but by harsh economic necessity or the need to flee town one step ahead of people who are interested in killing us.
I have no idea of the real circumstances that inspired my Irish, English, and German forebears to brave the dangers of an Atlantic crossing. I suspect the few “facts” that got passed down have been considerably sugar-coated — if not outright fabricated. Did they all arrive with their papers in perfect legal order? I doubt it. But one thing I do know for sure: my ancestors, and those of 98% of all Americans, were immigrants.
Every few generations, some descendants of immigrants forget their roots and decide it's time to keep out the latest wave of foreigners seeking a fresh start in the land of freedom and opportunity.
Today the line between legal and illegal immigrants has been considerably blurred by new legislation. Although currently blocked, one recent executive order allowed legal residents to be refused re-admittance to the US because of their country of origin and religion. Yikes! That's not suppose to happen in America! Another executive order allows US residents who hold green cards (the ones that make them permanent residents on the way to becoming US citizens) to be deported simply on the strength of an immigration officer alleging that they “pose a risk to public safety”; they don’t even need to be charged with a crime, let alone convicted of one. Where is the due process in that? It's almost as if the government is starting to redefine all immigrants as illegal. Except their own forebears, of course.
It’s not easy to be an immigrant these days. But then, it’s always been a rough road, testing the limits of each newcomer's courage, strength, and endurance. Perhaps the struggle itself helped these transplants find the grit and determination to flourish on US soil.
Today, 244 million people — 3.3% of the entire human population — have left their motherland to live in another country. Some 41 million of them have found their way to America, and no doubt lots more will do so in the future. And this is good news. Because as it turns out, far from being a drain on the economy, immigrants are good for our bottom line.
"Immigrants take our jobs. They don't pay taxes. They're a drain on the economy. They make America less ... American. You've probably heard all these arguments," writes the Atlantic. "Indeed, they've been heard for a century or two, as successive waves of immigrants to this nation of immigrants have first been vilified, then grudgingly tolerated, and ultimately venerated for their contributions. This time, too, there is ample evidence that immigrants are creating businesses and revitalizing the U.S. work force."
“Economic analysis finds little support for the view that inflows of foreign labor have reduced jobs or Americans’ wages,” concurs a Penn Wharton report. “The economic effects of immigration are mostly positive for natives and for the overall economy.”
Immigrants don't make America less American; they are America.
Here are just a few ways immigrants and their families have contributed to the common good.
What do we owe to immigrants and their families? Only everything we've accomplished in the last 241 years. And it's no different today. Just ask anybody in the tech industry or California's agricultural Central Valley or the health care industry or New York City where they'd be without foreign-born workers. And now it's payback time. As actor Kevin Spacey puts it, "If you're lucky enough to do well, it's your responsibility to send the elevator back down."
YOU MIGHT ALSO ENJOY
2/17/2017 06:16:40 pm
2/18/2017 07:43:04 am
Thanks, Kathi. Writing this blog is one of the ways I make sense out of some of the loony things that are happening these days. Glad you liked it!
2/17/2017 06:24:11 pm
As someone who grew up in NYC, I;ve always known immigrants, actually many immigrants over the years. As a child and a young adult I met and socialized with people from all over the world. What I heard then and experienced then, was those immigrants loved America and were glad, sometimes extremely grateful to be here. As I grew older, I met more and more immigrants who expressed dislike, contempt and even hatred of America. I always asked why they lived here and they always answered the same way, to make money. Often they would tell me they left their wives and children in their home countries because they didn't want them to become contaminated by the American culture, one with no sense of morality. I have also been subjected to a fair number of racist remarks from those immigrants. It infuriates me. As I live in a very big and sophisticated city I also meet extremely well educated people who seem to like it here, like the opportunities for higher education and business. But what stands out in my mind is the immigrant who tells me he hates it here and speaks extremely negatively about ethnic groups he hates.
2/17/2017 07:17:54 pm
Yes, I experienced that also. As an expat living in Germany, I see it here even more. The very scariest part is that some immigrants want to change their new country to suit their own (unacceptable to us) sense of morality.
2/18/2017 07:59:55 am
Democracy is a messy business. It means our society includes plenty of people who are greedy, bigoted, and prepared to take advantage of opportunities and other people in ways we find unacceptable. And it's frustrating when some of those unpleasant people are immigrants. But what is the alternative? A closed society in which people are only admitted if their attitudes are in lockstep with government-mandated guidelines? That seems even more distasteful. Don't get me wrong; when I hear people badmouthing a country that has given them a warm welcome and so much more, I get pretty upset, too. But I don't believe they represent all immigrants, just as I don't believe that the locally born bigoted jerks I know are the true heart and voice of my country.
2/17/2017 06:48:33 pm
Well said! My many times great grandparents were Huguenots fleeing religious persecution. My great-great grandmother and her family traveled from the East Coast to the West (the men by the Oregon Trail and the women by ship around South America). I still have a trunk that came on that ship with my ancestors. I, too, was raised on those "travel" stories. My own grandparents moved around following the harvest or whatever method of making money there was. My own itchy feet led me to six years in London, and hopefully further afield in the near future. Immigrants aren't destroying America, they ARE America.
2/18/2017 08:06:10 am
How lucky you are to have that trunk and those family stories, Shéa! Knowing all the struggles and dangers it took for our forebears to move to America really puts things in perspective. It reminds us that "we, the people" may come from everywhere, but we share a common determination to seek a better life and work to build the kind of country we can be proud to call our own.
2/18/2017 01:26:07 am
2/18/2017 08:06:58 am
Thanks, Jackie! Glad you liked it. This one was from the heart.
2/18/2017 10:00:36 am
I believe there are really great people and total jerks in every group anywhere in the world. I personally hope that the world does not associate me with Dylan Roof, the white supremacist who shot 9 people to death while they were praying in a CHURCH ....Terrorism by Muslims makes up 1/3 of 1% of all murders in the US. But 11,000 American souls were lost through gun homicides. I am proud of you Karen, for reminding us of our own roots and of base hypocrisy and weakness dressed up as nationalism and self preservation.
2/19/2017 12:25:10 pm
Thank you, Emily, for your perspective on this tough subject. Right now, when all too many are presenting hyperbole, symbolic thinking, and "alternative facts," it's helpful to hold on to the hard data and real numbers that help us understand what is objectively true.
2/18/2017 09:39:42 pm
Just great, Karen. Everyone should read this.
2/19/2017 12:30:18 pm
Thanks, Tobey. Feel free to share it. Writing about the craziness is my way of attempting to make sense of what's happening, maybe even finding a way to do something about it.
2/19/2017 12:07:23 am
Galway was a long time ago for my immigrant grandfather, who immigrated TWICE in the 1870s, once with a brother who decided to return because of health problems. After taking him back to Ireland, he came back, settling in Northern California where he worked for the SPRR. We live in every part of the state now.
2/19/2017 12:32:53 pm
Gracias, Brian! So good to hear from you, and I'm very glad you liked the piece. I can't believe your grandfather came across twice, on what was a fairly dangerous journey in those days! Clearly the Berminghams are a very hardy bunch!
2/19/2017 06:34:19 am
Magnificent article Karen. All countries need their immigrants; I believe multiculturalism is beneficial to us all. My ancestors came by ship to Australia from England, Scotland and Wales in the 1800's. They and so many like them are what has made this country, and others so great.
2/19/2017 12:39:11 pm
Yes, if anyone understands the benefits of multiculturalism and the contributions if immigrants it would be you folks in Australia, Sandy. Like us, you've had the good fortune to belong to country where diversity builds strength. Thanks for sharing that perspective!
Leave a Reply.
Winner of the 2023 Firebird Book Award for Travel
#1 Amazon Bestseller in Tourist Destinations, Travel Tips, Gastronomy Essays, and Senior Travel
This blog is a promotion-free zone.
As my regular readers know, I never get free or discounted goods or services for mentioning anything on this blog (or anywhere else). I only write about things that interest me and that I believe might prove useful for you all to know about. Whew! I wanted to clear that up before we went any further. Thanks for listening.
TO I'm an American travel writer based in Seville, Spain.
Wanderlust has taken me to more than 60 countries. Every week I provide travel tips and adventure stories to inspire your journeys and let you have more fun — and better food — on the road
Don't miss out!
SIGN UP HERE
to be notified when I publish new posts.