Macaulay Honors College Seminar 2, IDC 3001H

Category: Week 3

Comment on Discussion about Immigration

****So there was something interesting said in the discussion on Wednesday: The idea that initially German and Irish and Italian immigrants to America were seen as some kind of ‘other’ but in time after generations and decades, they became part of the larger ‘white’ society. Why haven’t African-Americans grown to be considered white? How long will it take for Hispanics, Asians, or Muslims to be considered white? First, let’s assume that being considered white is a good thing after all being white gives you privilege, it gives you acceptance.

This might seem like a dumb question but consider looking into what ‘white’ really means in America. It means privilege. It means acceptance. Being white is still very much tied to the idea of being American. Yet if the term was stretched a little in the 19th century to include those groups of Germans and Irish, who were at the time seen as undesirable, why hasn’t that happened with other immigrant groups?

I don’t think this is a race issue. I mean it is to an extent but I feel like the privileged in America need people to be superior to. In the old wave of immigration, the scapegoats were Jewish and Irish immigrants. They were seen as dirty, job-stealing, pagans. In the newer wave of immigration, the scapegoats were Chinese, Puerto Rican, and other Hispanic immigrants. They were seen as dirty, job-stealing, pagans. And today our scapegoats are Muslims, in particular, Syrian refugees. They are seen as dirty, job-stealing, pagans. I have hope that progress will be made in America in the next few decades or so that one day Asians, Hispanics, and African-Americans will be given the same privilege and acceptance as white Americans. However, the scapegoats of the next decades, as we are seeing today with our president, will probably be the Muslim-American population. I have faith that America is moving towards being a more accepting country as shown by history despite whoever is in the White House.

****Note: Sorry I thought I posted this on Friday but I accidentally saved it as a draft. I’m posting it now.

Immigrants Around the Table

As a Jew, I spend my Friday nights with family sitting around the dinner table observing the Sabbath. Last night, my family was among one of the many invited to a family friend’s house to share this dinner together. Usually during Shabbat dinner, we talk about our past, tell stories of how we overcame hardships and how we got to where we are now.  There was a man sitting at the table who started talking about his “typical immigrant story.” His parents were immigrants from Poland who came here and began  working in the textile industry. Eventually after years of experience, the father decided to manufacture his own clothing and opened up a business. From this extremely bold and risky move, he provided the means of his four kids receiving the highest level of education. Three/four sons became doctors who went to only the most prestigious medical schools while the fourth son went to law school. My family had an awe-inspiring story as well although their coming here was by different means. My family came here as refugees from Uzbekistan. They brought their respective relatives along by chain migration. Over 10 people lived in one little apartment, a typical image one associates with immigration. My father and mother worked many different jobs to sustain the household. My grandmother, who was a doctor back in Uzbekistan, became a home-attend. My grandfather who was an engineer became a taxi driver.  After years of schooling, they dropped it all and took whatever job they were offered for any amount of money in order to put some food on the table.  We, as descendants of immigrants, very much undermine the bravery and selflessness of our parents and grandparents.  Just imagining dropping everything we ever worked for, moving to a completely different country and diving into the unknown; not knowing the language, the culture, or if a better life is even guaranteed is a scary thought and something that I assume most of us would never think of doing. After reflections like these, we realize how blessed we are to have such a strong backbone and how grateful we should be for everything that was invested in order to get US in the place that we are now.

Authentic Food?

In class, we discussed authentic Chinese food as compared to the American- styled Chinese food. Growing up in an immigrant family from China, I’ve experienced both sides. I’ve grown up eating General Tso’s Chicken, Sweet ’n’ Sour Chicken, Egg Rolls, and the famous fortune cookies, but I’ve also eating the real deal. To me, good food is good food and it doesn’t matter much if it’s labeled as “authentic” or not. However, I think there is nothing inauthentic about American-Chinese dishes. I think a lot of these restaurant were created by Chinese people for the Chinese people. During the 1840s Gold Rush in California, many Chinese immigrants began to flood the country but they had no or extremely limited access to traditional Chinese ingredients. Because of this lack in ingredients, it was impossible to recreate the exact same dish. So these Chinese immigrants used what they could find in their homes to create these new dishes, including chop sued, one of the first Chinese dishes invented in the United States.

During this time, white Americans wanted almost nothing to do with the social and culinary customs of Chinese immigrants. Chop sued and many of the other American-Chinese basics that we know today weren’t created to satisfy the the palates of white Americans but rather the cravings of real Chinese people.

According to CNN, it wasn’t until after World War II in 1945 that mainstream Americans began eating and appreciating Chinese food in large numbers. By this time, the American-Chinese menu was already well established.

It’s not a question that American Chinese food is not the same as authentic Chinese food, but you can’t call it inauthentic either.

“The Proposal” and its Relevance to Immigration Laws

Our brief discussion in class on Wednesday about the abuse of the immigration system reminded me of one of my personal favorite movies, which some of you may know as it was pretty popular when it came out. It’s called “The Proposal” and it stars famous actors Sandra Bullock and Ryan Reynolds. The premise of the movie, for those who don’t know, is as follows: Margaret Tate, played by Sandra Bullock, is an executive editor at a book publishing company in New York City, who is only in the United States on a work visa, because she is natively from Canada. However, when she finds out that she is at risk of being deported due to a violation of said visa, she forces her assistant, Andrew Paxton (Ryan Reynolds), to marry her in order to keep her in the country, even though the two both hate each other. Of course, because this is how modern-day film always works, the pair end of actually falling in love with each other and actually wanting to get married, but that’s besides the point.

The real question here is not about their gradual transition from hate to love, but it is about whether or not their actions were ethical. We know that their actions are illegal, because marrying someone solely to keep them from being deported is considered fraud in the eyes of the U.S. justice system, but should this be the case? In my opinion, I believe that as long as the illegal party has grounds to be here and is not infringing on society in a negative way, then there’s nothing wrong with this concept. However, I am well aware that there are obviously people who think otherwise, and I’m curious to know what the rest of you think on this matter. Should Margaret be allowed to stay in the U.S.? Should Andrew be sent to prison for fraud? Are there other ways that this matter can be solved, in both Andrew and Margaret’s case and in similar cases in real life? Let me know your thoughts.

Drastic Immigration Change

I think that the discussion on Wednesday was especially interesting and even more powerful now given the political climate in recent news. With a new administration in charge of America, perhaps the most extreme actions have been made against immigration and dealing with undocumented immigrants. Living in a city that is historically and widely known as the first stop destination for immigrants has allowed me to witness the drastic change in immigration policy first hand. Even in my friend’s own neighborhood of Jackson Heights, the crackdown on undocumented citizens has been something I have never had to experience or witness until now. It is scary to think that right on the train stop that I get off to visit my friend, there are agents waiting to detain someone they suspect of living in America illegally. There have also been barrage of posts by my friends on social media to spread the word on how to protect loved ones from falling victim to the new administration’s executive order.  

So when we discussed the situation about immigration in class today it was eye opening on how drastically immigration has become in America compared to the days of our parents or from our ancestors before. Even from the small clip from the Godfather, the whole process of immigration seemed so streamlined and easy. They even changed names of new immigrants coming in to either shortened versions or more American sounding names all together. This was consistent with my parents when they immigrated to New York decades ago. They were given an option to now pick or make an American name for themselves as they started their new lives. 

Immigration has now become such a difficult and restrictive process that some even resort to the extreme of marrying a citizen only for the purpose of gaining citizenship. One can only wonder how much more today’s immigration policy will demand given a new era of American government. It is especially concerning because it seems as if more changes in our immigration policy has happened in the last decade at a more rapid pace than in the last century.

21st Century Immigrants

In class, we discussed how today’s immigrants differed significantly from old immigrants who came mainly from eastern Europe and Italy in the early 1900s.  But what was an interesting topic regarding a small minority of today’s immigrants is that they will do anything to get a green card for the United States.  Some are so desperate that they resort to conducting marriage fraud.  This topic was particularly interesting because I have heard stories about this fake marriage arrangement between people in China, usually women, and American men.  There was even a news scandal a few years back when a Chinese father and daughter ran a business in California arranging these marriages and charging exorbitant amounts of money on the Chinese and promising to pay a fee to the American.  It’s fascinating to see how people are able to turn anything into a business and take advantage of people’s complex situations.  I see how these businesses can benefit both parties in a marriage, with one person getting the green card he/she wants and the other person getting paid.  But, understanding how the whole process works and from the discussion in class, these supposedly married couples have to go through rigorous investigation and interviews to prove that their marriage is legitimate.  But is it really worth it on the part of the American to go through with all this just to get some money that could be attained through other means?  It especially wouldn’t be worth it if they’re caught by the government.  The consequences seem to weigh much heavier than the gains the American would have achieved if they are able to successfully prove their marriage.  In some instances, the marriage between an American man and Chinese women is legitimate and so the American would try to sponsor the wife into getting a green card.  However, others might question the women’s true intentions in marrying the American.  Nevertheless, marriage fraud still happens today with people trying to enter the US from various countries around the world.

Something else we mentioned in class with regards to today’s immigrants in comparison to old immigrants is that today’s immigrants are more educated and wealthy than their counterparts a hundred years ago.  This can be attributed to a phenomenon called the “brain drain” which was mentioned in Foner’s From Ellis Island to JFK: New York’s Two Great Waves of Immigration.  There are people in other countries, usually in countries that are not as democratic or well off as our nation, who have college degrees or are skilled in some way, but don’t have jobs that match their intellect.  Whether their countries lack these opportunities or whether it’s due to their political or economic structure, they aren’t able to thrive there so they come to the United States knowing they’d be able to find the jobs that fit their education and skills.  I know that some people welcome these kinds of immigrants while some are hostile to them, and for understandable reasons.  Some appreciate the work they do and the contributions they make to our nation.  Others believe that they are taking away the potential jobs from native born Americans.  Either way, I find it fascinating how no matter what country they come from they all face this similar situation and most of them come to America looking for these opportunities.  It just further supports how America is a land of opportunities and freedom.