10.11.2013

My Immigration Story

http://www.dnatestingcentre.com/images/immigration.jpgI've spent a lot of time this month thinking about immigration.  I joined the board of the Welcoming Center for New Pennsylvanians, attended two business events on immigration, and took my daughter to the National Museum of American Jewish History.

Immigration is, of course, both what this country is all about and what this country is simmering on right now.  So there's a lot to think about when you think about immigration: policies, racism, economics, assimilation, language, security, politics, and the list goes on and on.

I'm going to take the easy way out and talk about none of those things.  Instead, some musings about my own immigration story.

I am not myself an immigrant, but am a child of immigrants and so am steeped in immigrant thinking.  Or, let me step back and say, the thinking of immigrants who chose to come here (and were not forced), who were well-educated and came to get even more education, and who were lucky enough to find their way into a booming economic and social area (Silicon Valley) just before it got wildly inexpensive.  In other words, my story is, among immigrants, a pretty privileged and fortunate one, and not one that easily extrapolates to all others'.

Still, I assume I will evoke some head-nodding when I say that for me, the immigrant experience is one of busting your tail to provide for your children, setting an example of working hard and staying out of trouble, and balancing between keeping alive your past traditions while embracing new mores.  I assume that it is not just my sister and me who can remember three-day vacations in which dozens of sandwiches were packed in advance in order to avoid buying food, speaking one language at home and one in the schoolyard, and watching our parents do whatever it took to make sure we had the intellectually and socially richest possible childhoods. 

I realize that some of the values that birthed these behaviors derive from Asian sources rather than just immigrant experiences.  But I would venture to say that immigrants from other shores can recollect similar stories.  It's what unites a group of people with the means, wherewithal, and moxie to leave their home and have a go at what they thought to be a land of opportunity, and not only of opportunity but of fairness, diversity, and freedom.

To be sure, those who are debating immigration policy in our city halls, state capitals, and congressional hallways have a lot of complex and nuanced things to balance, and I am not so naive that there's an easy way forward on this issue.  Still, from where I'm coming from (literally and figuratively), the immigrant experience is something we should hope for more of, for the sake of our nation's economic, social, and cultural future. 
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