Jul 22, 2011

An Immigrant's Tale

"Now batting for Italy, MIII....IKE PI-A-ZZA!" blared over the public address system at Cracker Jack Stadium, March 7, 2006 of the World Baseball Classic. If you do not know what that is, look it up here. Briefly, it is a wholly-owned enterprise of MLB, but for the whole world. Yup, the same MLB that is a legal monopoly, one with an antitrust exemption that is repeatedly confirmed by the judicial branch.

So, if the irony of a natural-born American, representing a different sovereign nation in a sport organized by a walking mockery of the free-enterprise system does not grab you, you are either unfamiliar with what an irony is, don't care about baseball, or a patriotic Tea Party Republican whose depth on the nuances of immigration issues can often be summed up by the slogan "illegal is illegal" or the slightly longer bromide: "What don't you understand about the word illegal?"

Or perhaps, I erred in positing the trilemma, and you'll correct me.

Make no mistake, I am all for less illegal immigration, but I am also for more legal immigration. For now, I'll discuss the perspective of one such legal immigrant: Me. (It is always about me.)

Unemployment teeters at some 9.2% today. Underemployment is at least twice that. Yeah, things are bad. But I personally remember a worse time, soon after I first arrived in 1982 for graduate studies in Florida, on an assistantship, legally. The tuition was free, and the stipend barely covered my expenses. Unemployment soon peaked at 10.2%.

Had I displaced an American? Not according to my department head, who professed difficulties attracting Americans to graduate studies in a private institution, and willing to teach or assist at those wages. Or the INS, who reviewed my background before granting me a visa. I could work at the college, but not, for example, at McDonald's.

The longer I stayed, the more attracted I was to the country, and after a series of immigration procedures, I became a naturalized citizen in December 1994. The journey was long, but not arduous, aided largely by my skills and education. Each step of the way, my employer and I had to convince the government that I was not displacing an American.

"Why does someone have to call himself an African-American, or an Arab-American?" is a question I sometimes get asked at parties. It is a good question, which I honestly cannot answer, even if I can venture a good guess. I call myself an American, and therein lies another irony: when I do that, I sometimes get asked, "No, I meant where are you from, originally?" Often by the same folks who ask the first question. As an aside, I am yet to witness anyone raise an eyebrow if someone were to similarly call himself an Irish-American, or an Italian-American.

As Aside # 2, Darrell Issa calls himself an Arab-American less often these days. Something to do with this, I presume.

My command of the English language is demonstrably adequate, and it is accompanied by a strong accent. I have a vast vocabulary, which I pronounce as wocabulary. Hey, English wasn't my first language, and I learnt it in my formative years. The accent won! This amuses some people to no end, but after a longish conversation on a variety of cultural issues, invariably a "compliment" is offered: "Your English is pretty good!"

"So is yours", I respond, and it produces the quizzical discomfort which they quickly dismiss somewhat uneasily.

To be clear, that pales in comparison to the other acts to which I have been subjected. Like a cashier consistently throwing back my change instead of risking touching my hand, parents instructing their kids to spit when they see, well, melanin-rich bipeds like me, several choice epithets, threats, etc. I learned to ignore such incidents, for they are very few and far between. I have suffered similar or worse unpleasantries in the country of my origin too, so it is nothing unique. Just unpleasant, that's all. Even today, far more Americans suffer a worse fate.

I contribute to society, pay my taxes, consume beer, and am fortunate enough to have started a small company which hires other Americans. Life's good, even if the times are hard. I feel that I have followed, just a little, in the footsteps of Nikola Tesla. Without Tesla, an immigrant, the US could well be following someone else's lead in the industrialized revolution of the 20th century.

So what I am to do when I find that we have some massive problems facing us today, but the conversation has been hijacked by some grotesque disinformation? I find it useful to engage in discussion, offer my opinion, correct someone's misconceptions, correct my own, study, debate, vote ... participate. That is the duty of every citizen, isn't it?

Only as long as it remains rational. My mailbox is a litany of propaganda and chain-mail rhetoric masquerading to be "information" I apparently need to know. I disagree, which is why I let the trash bin take it hostage, and never negotiate. It is neither a discussion nor even the start of one.

It is hard to discuss issues with people who say "Why don't you go back to where you came from?" when they find your views objectionable. That is simply demanding for the conversation to end, albeit impolitely. Imagine if Tesla had gone back when Edison told him that he won't be paid what he was promised because he did not understand "American humor".

I remain hopeful though that some day, when we hear "Starting at pitcher for Iran, Yu Daa...rwish Jr.", we will perhaps express the same collective indifference we just offered to Mike Piazza's at-bat. For that to happen, we, as a nation should engage in rational dialog. It is increasingly more difficult, but it seldom hurts to try.

Should there be some interest, I'd like to discuss the powder-keg that "Illegal is illegal" has become, next. Let me know in the comments.

After all, to analyze a tautology, we need to analyze a tautology.

No comments: