Macaulay Honors College Seminar 2, IDC 3001H

Author: Alexandra Badescu

Immigrant Sacrifices

On Wednesday, we discussed the daily routine of halal cart workers. From my research so far, I’ve only found that an arduous day of labor awaits halal cart employees. From waking up at 5 or 6 am, to standing on one’s feet for eight hours in all weather conditions, halal cart workers truly have to be resilient and have some degree of passion towards what they are doing. This, in turn, makes me wonder about the general working conditions of immigrants.

More often than not, immigrants face not only longer hours and lower wages, but also a high chance of not working in a field for which they earned an education. Just the other day, I was speaking to one of the workers in my building. He is a handyman who immigrated quite a while ago, whose job is to fix things in the building. He complained about his hard day of manual work, but his eyes immediately lit up when talking about his son. His son is, coincidentally, transferring to Baruch next semester to pursue a finance degree. With excitement, he announced “My son is going to become somebody.”

I think this conversation illustrates the core of the American Dream, the reason why immigrants put up with whatever work conditions they can find: so that the next generation can be in a better place. I’d like to find out more about this as it relates to halal cart workers, but this is a theme that’s resurfaced all semester. I can personally relate to this kind of immigrant sacrifice, as my mom did the same for me when we immigrated—and I am eternally grateful.

Society’s Dilemma

In Monday’s class we discussed the issue of freedom of religion versus freedom of expression in the context of same-sex marriage. This is merely one of the heated debates that has divided people nationwide, so I found it worthwhile to bring up in class. As we moved from an extreme, the clergyman, to a grey area, the baker, the reactions to these situations made an impression on me.

I was surprised to hear that some people believe that a clergyman who refuses to marry a same-sex couple should be forced to do so. While I certainly think that in a business context there should be no prejudice in what customers to attend to, in such a religious setting I feel that there has to be a degree of autonomy. The entire basis of religion is the right to express one’s beliefs and share them with a community of others who believe the same. Therefore, forcing a clergyman to marry two people whose marriage he doesn’t condone would be unethical. Clergymen are supposed to be one of the most devout religious followers, and thus I think they would simply not be able to do something that goes against their religion without a guilty conscience and a poignant anger towards anyone forcing this on them against their will. On the other hand, I can sympathize with the rejection that a same-sex couple must feel in this situation as well. An aspect of one’s character that is so personal and private should not be judged by others. There definitely needs to be more understanding towards same-sex couples so that they too can thrive. I sincerely hope that our society as a whole is moving towards this by figuring out a healthy middle ground.

Reflection on Monday’s Class

One aspect of our discussion from Monday that caught my attention was the notion of stereotypes forming from the first immigrants who arrived in the United States from a particular region. I have never really considered where stereotypes stem from, merely that they have a negative connotation. However, this revelation, that I’ve been oblivious to until now, actually makes a lot of sense.

I could never understand why people so geographically removed from Europe shelf the multinationalism of immigrants from the continent into individual compartments with no relation to each other. It is, however, understandable that people who have not been exposed to these different groups be given the benefit of the doubt. Unfortunately, this often leads to the creation of simply incorrect or offensive stereotypes. To illustrate, consider the ethnic clashes of Europe that extend to modern day. (Although Europe is becoming more diverse, there is still a strong yet passive desire, under the surface, to dominate ethnic or national groups different from one’s own.) One example of this that I’ve seen first-hand is the conflict between Romanians and Hungarians over the region of Transylvania. Historically, some part of this region belonged to Austria-Hungary; however, for most of modern time it has been under Romanian rule. This is perhaps the most ethnically diverse place in the mostly homogenous Romania, yet there are still constant disagreements between which country the region should belong to. Both groups take pride in having cultures that differ from the other, with varieties in language, food, religion, and customs. In reality though, because of so much interaction between the two groups of people, the culture of the region has become very mixed. Nevertheless, those Americans who have actually heard of Transylvania simply associate it with Dracula—a fictional character based on an awful ruler from centuries ago. This is only further driven by immigration to the United States by Romanians east of Transylvania, who exploit this for tourism purposes. Thus, an association is born.

It’d be wrong to blame people for doing this if they have not known any better, as was the case in the 19th century when the stereotypical Irish and German personas emerged. However, in today’s age where information is available at one’s fingertips, I find the divisive stereotypes of Mexicans, Muslims, or Asians highly uncalled for.