Always empathy, sometimes sympathy
Wednesday morning I was driving to work listening to National Public Radio, when a story came on about Chinese immigrants who are working in the restaurants in this country. The story discussed specifically employment agencies in New York that specialize in placing Chinese workers in oriental restaurants throughout the east coast and midwest.
The reporter pointed out toward the end of the story that over 50 percent of the workers that are dispatched to these eating establishments are not here legally and that most only last in the restaurants a couple of months, particularly outside the enclaves of established China towns in big cities, before they return. She said they can only take the long hours of work and fraternizing with the same people they work with for so long. She also pointed out it is hard for these people to assimilate into the American mainstream, because of these work conditions and the fact that they know so little English.
After painting a somewhat bleak, work laden picture for these peoples plight she said, "Think about this the next time you are sipping your hot and sour soup."
What? Am I supposed to feel guilty? Am I supposed to have an epithany and start to work to free Chinese immigrants from having to work hard?
I know that I can't personally relate to their plight. First I was born here and had all the advantages of being raised in a stable home with very good parents. I can't imagine myself moving to China and trying to start over by working in a McDonalds. But I have no driving reason to do that. I have a lot of empathy for people who come to this country and try to start a new life; I can't imagine how hard it is. But to be made to feel guilty about the fact they can't get the best jobs right away or that they have to work their way up the American ladder?
What I can relate with is the idea of being an immigrant. My mother was one. She came to the United States in 1927 with her family of 12 brothers and sisters, a mom and a dad, and with hardly a word of English between them. When they passed through Ellis Island they did it legally. When they landed off a cross country train in Salt Lake City everyone that could immediately got to work, went to work. My mother took her sixth grade Dutch education and threw it to the wind, because she would never see a school again until she joined the PTA when my older sisters were entering the education system. Most of the family, from my grandfather to my youngest uncles, worked at the Royal Bakery. My mother did that until she married my dad in 1939.
Today people talk about how bad immigrants have it. But many of them are coming here for jobs, not because they really want to be Americans. My mother's family came just before the Great Depression hit. Talk about a hard time. There was no government welfare, only charity and church handouts. There were no programs for medical care. There were no benefits. There was no one fighting for the rights of immigrants; everyone was fighting just to survive the deepest economic crisis that ever hit this country.
Now immigrants protest in our streets, something they could never get away with in many of their own countries.
I am not denying that we need the work force that they provide us. I am glad they are there and I am glad they can make a lot more money to send home to help the people in their countries.
I think immigration is a good thing. Immigrants are what made this country great. Most of us come from some kind of immigrant background. I don't think we should shut the door just because we got ours. But on the other hand, just because we were lucky enough to be born here and have the rights and privileges that go along with that happenstance, we shouldn't be made to feel guilty about it.
Again, I have empathy for those who are trying to make a life here. I'm sure it is not easy. They have a price to pay to do it and that is to become part of our society; one that values diversity.