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Columns

My America, Our America, this Independence Day

Saturday 4 July 2015

My America, Our America


Today, July 4th, Independence Day it's worth noting this: the last frontier, the unmentionable racism. The discrimination middle-class, adult immigrants face, here in the enlightened metropolis of the United States. 


I should know, I feel it almost each day ever since I came here to the US, three years ago. 

It’s an inbred racism born of an intrinsic connection to land, and the attendant xenophobia about having to share it with others. Strangers. Aliens, as is the official term for us. What makes this racism especially insiduous and rife is its target: those immigrants who are not rich, nor dirt-poor and/or fleeing war, famine, state prosecution, and other life-threatening extreme situations. 


Who are these people? Well it’s easier to say who we are not:


We are not the uber-rich globalites who make New York unaffordable for everyone else not in their income bracket, whether native or immigrant. These people may not be liked but the multitudes, but they can afford to—and do—rise above the general fray. They are also, rarely, immigrants; merely sojourners who can afford to spend gazillions on luxury real estate which they visit infrequently. 


We are not refugees of war-torn and poverty-stricken lands; workers doing the kind of jobs most Americans don’t deign to (like nail-salon workers, farm laborers, prostitutes) but patronise.


We are not “ex-pats”. The versatile definition of this word has been hotly debated over in recent weeks. By “ex-pats” I mean those middle to upper-middle class professionals who come to the US from generally stable and prosperous countries (e.g. the UK and France) on the wings of their employer—a large and powerful American company (think investment banks, private equity, tech, gene-tech, media) who sponsors them and generally acclimatizes them to the American way of life. 


We are not students either (I call them “ex-pats” in waiting.) We wish we could afford a US college education but we generally lack both the money and the time to do anything but try to survive alone in a foreign land. 


We are not undocumented immigrants. Our entire life’s savings are blown on (largely corrupt) immigration lawyers; on subjecting to the exploitation of landlords who take advantage of our foreigner status; on learning to move past the opaque peremptoriness we often encounter when trying to find a job requiring cultural assimilation; on doing whatever it takes to do things the arduous, legal way.


We are the dreamers without the capital D-that is reserved for the American-born children of undocumented workers. We are adult immigrants. We abandoned our homelands for a dream: the dream of America. It contains the American dream but also transcends it. Most of us are self-employed (writers, actors, artists, journalists etc) and we all know how farcially tragic and generic this condition can be, especially in New York. Yet the pursuit of happiness is an ideal to be found only in the US Constitution. 


As President Obama mentioned yesterday: ”One of the remarkable things about America is that nearly all of our families originally came from someplace else. We’re a nation of immigrants. It’s a source of our strength and something we all can take pride in.”

Not all do. Yet, I did not expect to read a proud declaration of xenophobia, a racist rant against us middle-class immigrants, the lowcase d dreamers, in the mainstream media.

I am referring to “Real New Yorkers Can Say Goodbye to All That” http://www.bloombergview.com/articles/2015-06-01/real-new-yorkers-can-say-goodbye-to-all-that published on BloombergView by Meghan MacArdle. Ms MacArdle now lives in Washington DC, a place where, as she writes, "everyone I know is here because they care about ideas”--a truth I am sure everyone involved in politics will willingly attest to.


Although Federico Garcia Lorca makes the case for saying goodbye to all that (“The first to leave understand in their bones there'll be no paradise or leafless loves; they know they go to the filth of numbers and laws, to artless games, to fruitless sweat.” Poet in New York: A Bilingual Edition), Ms MacArdle still emanates a lot of rage for having had to do exactly that, noting that she was forced to leave New York when her “old life was torn down abruptly to make way for someone else's plans... ultimately because of all those people who flew in on the wings of their childhood dreams.” 


She may have a point. Natives have been bemoaning immigrant influxes since the first homo sapiens left their homeland in Africa and spread to the Middle East then Europe, then the rest of the world. There is a reason evolution and revolution are only one r apart. Adam Gopnik wrote of this in a recent New Yorker piece of his on Anthony Trollope. “The idea of progress is at the heart of his vision: that liberal Victorian faith in perpetual progress in lessening distances, with the understanding that a new proximity of peoples, however welcome, will always be as strange for the encroaching as for the encroached upon.”


Of course not everyone is a progressive (especially on Bloomberg.) Yet no one has the right to express racism, as does Ms MacArdle. In her essay she writes: “We did leave our hometown because of all these aspirational New Yorkers… For us, reading the impassioned essays of the city's adult migrants is a bit like reading the love letters from your father's new 22-year-old bride…If you are still marveling at the fact that you actually get to live in the city of your dreams…You are a tourist who has possibly overstayed your visa…Those people…the joyous immigrants penning paeans to the city…are so besotted by New York that they will cling to its towering walls with bloody fingernails if that's what it takes to stay there.”

Immigrants? Adult migrants? Visas? Tourist visas? So far as I know, moving to New York (or any state from that matter) from another state does not require a visa (yet!) So, according to BloombergView, the problem lies not with with those realizing the all-American myth of coming to the quintessential land of opportunity. It lies with those of us who come here as adult immigrants, from foreign countries, alone, on middle-class visas. With those of us who give all, even our life-blood as Ms MacArdle says, to come here to the US and stay here. We are the problem, in the eyes of this unchronicled, covert racism. 


Down at Battery Park, the Statue of Liberty gleams green hope in the gloam, juxtaposed against the city’s skyline. It carries all our hopes, gods and words; the many filaments of lives from every of the world. It signifies that my America, our America is not so much a mosaic or tapestry like they call it, but a living breathing unity of many different and multiple parts, even if sometimes jarring with one another. We are one.

 


 
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