As most of you know, my culture of origin is an emigrant culture. For centuries now Portuguese have emigrated for all sorts of reasons: because of high birth rate (not extant now), because of lack of opportunity, because the country is barely big enough to swing a cat without getting a passport, because the North is hilly and rocky, because the south is flat, semi-arid and cultivated for centuries on the system of huge farms and absentee landlords, because like most Latin nations Portugal defaults to top-down control and crony capitalism, no matter what the system calls itself, and throttles economic innovation in its cradle.
Portuguese have emigrated legally and illegally, by all means from forming their own empire and colonizing it (an habit acquired from having been a colony for everyone from Arabs, to Greeks and Romans to Germanic tribes and Carthaginians) to “jumping to France” which was the common form of emigration when I was a kid (Note it involved jumping not one but two borders illegally, much like central American immigrants coming to the US from Mexico.) If there’s something like being more predisposed to emigration than your average human (who is by nature a colonist, else we’d all still be in Africa) or your average earth creature (ditto, or we’d all still be under the sea) then perhaps Portuguese have the genes. Or perhaps just the history.
My own family tends to lose half its kids to emigration every generation, something my parents apparently thought they were immune from by having only two. (I will note my aunts and uncles who had only one seem to have managed to keep that kid in Portugal. Perhaps there’s something to that, or perhaps they got lucky.) Two of my dad’s siblings, his next-oldest brother and his younger sister emigrated, he to Brazil and she to Venezuela. In his case it was one of those “the village was too hot to hold him” (Aka girl trouble.) In her case, she married young to a young man and it was a case of Venezuela at the time being a good market for unskilled laborers.
For various reasons I’m not sure how our relatives in Brazil do. My uncle had an only son, and he was never close to the family in Portugal. Our relatives in Venezuela, after a shaky beginning, seem to have become, in the second generation, much what my family tends to become: mostly doctors or engineers, with the occasional lawyer or … no, wait, I’m the only writer.
In my paternal grandfather’s generation, half the sons emigrated to Brazil. My grandfather, himself, was an emigrant, of sorts. He lived in Brazil, Venezuela and (I think longest) South Africa, working as a carpenter in all three places, and returning home as often as he could to see grandma who refused to go anywhere, being attached to her parents’ house and the plot of land in which she was born by some sort of atavistic feeling. Curiously, though he never learned to write in it, my Grandfather not only learned fluent English, but loved it. He waited impatiently for the grandkids to learn English in school so he could talk to us in the language he loved. (Maybe there is some atavistic preference there too.)
I am also an immigrant — into the US. I am a legal immigrant. I will confess right up front I do not know under what status my relatives emigrated to various countries. I’m going to presume that due to the fact a lot of them involved sea voyages, at a time when airplane travel was not yet common, there was a visa of some sort. Whether a work of visitor visa, I’m not informed.
Most of the emigration I heard about, in the village, most of the emigration practiced by men in the village (almost always men) was illegal. France and Germany desperately needed help rebuilding after WWII and well into my childhood, but both being European nations formed on a blood-and-soil base (and why the heck would it be wrong for them to be so, just because we’re formed on different principles? WHO declared that it was wrong? Even if the blood part is largely illusory?) they tried to guard their borders. They weren’t particularly successful.
Most of the Portuguese emigrating in my childhood were the poorest of the poor and often illiterate. Our neighbors who “jumped over” were probably the cream of the crop, since most people in the village were poor as job, but were at least literate. Knowing the areas and the class most Portuguese immigrants came from, I understand (if not excuse, since two generations later it’s kind of hard to sniff out) the low esteem in which most Frenchmen hold those of Portuguese ancestry. (While traveling long-distance, particularly at night, in public transport in those lands, as a student, I pretended to be French in Germany and German in France. A sort of generic face, and a mutant accent helped.)
Having established I do have the bonafides to talk about immigration, or at least having established I’ve looked at it from both sides now, and probably from angles people here haven’t thought about much, let’s examine the beast.
People emigrate for all sorts of reasons. In this case, we’re talking of leaving the place you were born, with no particular destination in sight. The “I’ve got to get out of this place, if it’s the last thing that I’ll ever do.”
You could say every immigrant was first an emigrant.
In my case it was a form of restlessness, a feeling that I wasn’t at home and didn’t belong. There could be several causes for this, but not being doctor Fraud, I’ll just say even before I could speak/read in English I read translations of stories set in England and America. If America hadn’t existed, I’d probably have immigrated to Great Britain.
Who the heck knows. The second part of it, immigration — how you pick a particular case — happens for all the same variety of reasons that people marry.
In my case, it was a double love-match, my having fallen in love with my husband and the country. (And, unfortunately for my MIL’s fantasies of my having married for citizenship, when I chose to throw it all over and marry Dan, I had the paperwork completed and a job offer/grant to finish my doctorate at a prestigious Eastern University. Yep, I did dodge a bullet. I just didn’t want to force Dan to move across the country, and it all worked out for the best.) I wanted to come here, I wanted to be an American, I wanted my kids to grow up Americans.
I’ve mentioned how, even with the best intentions in the world, acculturation is very painful. It can be done, but I can’t imagine anyone doing it without sheer necessity either driven by their own internal love of the new country, or by social pressure. It is harder when there’s a language barrier involved. Even for people like me, who also fall mad-in-love with the language and are already more than passable in it when they immigrate. (To want to make a living in your adopted language is completely insane. I’m not alone in that, but it’s a small enough club we can conclusively say I’m broken.)
There are other, psychological costs to immigration that grow with acculturation and the rate thereof. I’m running into one of those costs head on as my parents age. I didn’t mind leaving. I feel more at home here. But there is a load of guilty and a load of worry that comes with having aging parents across the sea. It’s similar to but not exactly the same as having them across the country (for a while there, January 16, Dan and I thought we’d be flying out at the same time in opposite directions for health crisis with our fathers.) because you also leave the culture behind. Going back is much like going to a foreign land, one that has disconcerting bits of things that you remember from childhood. Fewer as time goes on and things change. I can now get lost in the village, which is no longer a village but a stack-a-prol suburb of Porto. And no one remembers me, including people I grew up with. It’s very lowering to find out how forgettable one is, to be aware of how quickly one’s place in the world would disappear when one leaves or dies.
But “falling in love” purely as such must be as rare a form of choosing to immigrate as it is of marriage. Hush now. Yes, I know it’s a polite fiction that you marry for love. And in our society at least it is frowned upon to marry for money or other considerations. However, I remember my friends’ pairing off, and “love” only works if very broadly defined to “He’s kind of hot, and look, there are all these other reasons.” Yeah, I married for love. I immigrated for love, too. We’ve already agreed I’m broken.
People get married for all sorts of reasons, mostly, honestly, it seemed to me “He asked, and I wanted to get married.” Some of my friends thought no one would ask ever again. And some of them analyzed what was on offer and decided they could do with it.
Thirty years later, looking at all those marriages (most of them in haste because we were in our early twenties and getting married was the THE MOST important thing in the world) the ones that survived are not necessarily the ones I’d expect to, but the ones in which each partner had something the other needed. “Mutually beneficial.”They might not have been mad in love, but they were compatible, and one had the property, the other the management skills, for instance. Or a profoundly introverted man married a woman who was outgoing enough to be his face to the world. Or a woman who wanted only to be a home maker married a good provider.
The ones that were the result of mad-in-love with nothing compatible/useful about the alliance tend not to last.
Even though I married for love, what has kept us together, for instance, is that we’re pretty close to the same type of person — bookish, over-thinking, creative — and where we’re not we’re complementary. I like the hands-on, often physical labor to run a household on shoe string, and Dan likes the fussy, record keeping, maddening (to me) part of keeping our finances and taxes in order. He plans, I … well, I don’t usually execute his plans but run in where angels fear to tread, and escape only because he has a plan for that too. Without me he’d never have written (Yes, second book, yes, but you know, the last two years were h*ll for EVERYONE in this family) and without him I’d never have published or perhaps written much but poetry.
Immigration, to a particular country is like marriage. People do it for all sorts of reasons. But as with a marriage, there are two parts involved, not just one, and like a marriage, there must be something more to it than “mad in love.”
Here I’ll point out that other than being a halfway decent mother and wife, I’m not at all sure what I contribute to the US. I know my teachers in Portugal were varying shades of annoyed/upset that I emigrated, as they expected me to be an ornament to Portuguese letters (I doubt it. I loved SF/F too much) but Portugal is a small pond. I’m not sure here I do much more than get lost in the noise. However, I do at the very least support myself, which is the basis for deciding whether someone is “contributing” to society, since money is the sincerest form of appreciation.
Immigration is like a marriage, because in essence it is a marriage. It is an individual throwing in his/her fate with a people. It is a “and marry our fortunes together” it is a “Wherever thou goest I shall go.” Your throwing your genetic inheritance in with those people. You’re submerging yourself in a sea of them.
There is, at least in Portugal a tendency for emigrants to move to a new country and try to keep their kids from intermarrying/staying there. One of the things we often heard from visiting relatives from other countries was “We have to return before he/she/they start dating.” Nine times out of ten, it didn’t work. In fact, I knew only one case in which it worked, which was a neighbor whose daughter seems to have been kept more or less under house arrest in South Africa, so that when they returned and she attended college with me, she was much older but completely drawers at socializing or dating. She did eventually marry a Portuguese man and she lives in the village, but let me tell you, few parents would go to the extent of abusing their kids just to make sure they “return” to their place of origin.
So, immigration means melding your destiny and that of the people you join.
Now, as above, some immigrants don’t want that/aren’t aware of that. These are mostly economic immigrants, and they’re often buoyed by the fond idea that they’ll return to their place of origin, with the kids, as soon as the kids hit puberty. This is more likely/perhaps only likely for countries you can drive/walk to. There’s something about crossing the ocean that makes that more difficult and Irish and Italians eventually stopped keeping track of whether their kids married in the community.
At any rate, some Mexican immigrants might intend to go back, and some might even do it. And some of the kids of those might come back too after being dragged back to a “home” that was never theirs. Keep that mind.
On the other hand many people getting married don’t intend to have it be forever.
Why do I keep bringing marriage up? Because marriage is the best metaphor for immigration, and because, unlike in immigration, no one doubts that BOTH PARTS TO THE MARRIAGE have a say in it. Or that when one part doesn’t have a say in it, it is wrong.
There was one of my professors who would dearly have loved to marry me (I got sick of proposals) but that didn’t give him the right to marry me, no matter how great he thought he was for me, or even how great his need for me as a wife. Everyone agrees that had I been forced to marry him it would be very bad, right? Okay, then.
America is an entity, constituted by our founding documents and joined by customs and a common genetic and economic destiny. Legislative, too, but that’s something else. Wherever we came from, our genes are likely to intermingle since we all live here. Our economic contributions can make at least a small difference to the nation’s economy. As self-governing citizens, we have also a small say in how this nation changes, one that makes absolutely no sense, unless we think our children and grandchildren, world without end, will be bound by it.
Which brings us to the Superbowl ad, with the mother and daughter trying to come to the US only to be stopped by a giant wall. Let’s leave alone the fact that it’s a pernicious lie, that the mother and daughter would have been subjected to rape and worse and likely to die on the way here, and let’s go with the idea that the mother really wants to come here. She wants a better future for her daughter. Great.
Americans are sentimental about this. Most of us, personally or second generation, were either saved or enriched (not just materially) by the opportunity to come here. So when we see something like that, particularly the little girl with the flag, we go “aw” and react with “bring them in.” Which is the reaction the ad wanted.
But our land is very rich in relation to the world. Even our poor are rich. We are a city on the hill, a brilliant magnet for the suffering and poor in the world. Given a choice people will want to come here for all sorts of reasons, some of them stupid and “sold” by movies and TV and some sane and sound.
Do I need to tell you we can’t take the world in? Nor would it make any sense to?
Oh, sure, in sheer land area, we probably could. Someone estimated at the density of say NYC, we could all live in one state, and leave the rest as a natural park. Yes, the entire population of the world.
But humans are not eggs, except in the fevered imaginations of statists. We’re not featureless objects of a certain shape, that can be stacked in convenient crates. We could make a “supercity of the world” but the war would probably destroy it. What war? Really? You think all those cultures could live together, side by side, within easy driving distance with no friction? Wow.
I can tell you me and my female friends would be arming up and heading over the sharia neighborhoods to free us some women, or at least the girls who weren’t fully indoctrinated yet.
Which means that the idea that the US could open its doors to everyone, and host everyone, unassimilated, is nonsense. It doesn’t work that way. Not unless you guys really want your kids to grow up in the Balkans, with continuous ethnic war. In which case, please move there and leave us alone. Oh, sure , you might think it makes a super-state necessary, and you might love that idea, but it never works long term, and also, no, we don’t want our every action regulated, thank you so much.
So immigration is a marriage. And each immigrant should be evaluated for what he can contribute to the nation, as much as for what the nation can do for him. Believe it or not (having held work visas to Germany, in a futile effort to get good at the language, I’ve seen my share of these forms, as did my friends who were au-pairs in various countries and whom I often had to help fill those forms) every other country does this. At a very minimum, you have to fill forms indicating you won’t be a burden to people here, that you won’t be on public assistance, that you have no criminal record. And your statements are then evaluated. For countries with a tighter immigration policy, or if you’re an European seeking to immigrate to the US, you have to prove you’re exceptional in some way: grades, IQ, work experience, or whatever.
Yes, sure, refugees in IMMEDIATE FEAR FOR THEIR LIVES are given entry, at least if the fear is justified however tenuously. But not vast hordes of them, not all of them. Certainly not all of them are ENTITLED to get in.
The way Jewish refugees were treated in the US was a crying shame, the fact they were sent back to Germany to die was a disgrace. That was a case of immediate danger. But most of them, while destitute, were not without skills, as the ones who made it in have proven, and could probably have made it in anyway, without ethnic discrimination, because at the time what America needed was unskilled and semi-skilled labor.
Now? Now it isn’t. And arguably now, given the cheaper and easier travel, it is easier for us to setup refugee areas near the places they’re fleeing from, and do what we need to so they can go back home safely.
Does this mean we shouldn’t take any of them? Oh, h*ll no. For some it is impossible to go back, ever, and if we think they can be brought in and assimilate and be productive citizens, we should take them in.
The problem is if we DON’T think they can assimilate or be productive, ever. Do we still HAVE to bring them in? Why? Do you want your children to have to support these people’s descendants forever, or to be bound by their children’s block-vote? Why? (And please, yeah, sure, Americans will discriminate unfairly sometimes, but in these cases we’re more like to discriminate against Europeans, because generations of Americans have been taught to be REALLY aware of their biases towards everyone else. Speaking of, what do you do with European refugees as the continent is riven by war and strife, as it bids fair to be? I’m passionately interested in the answer. And no, mine isn’t “let them all in” even there. Do you want to be bound by Europeans’ block-vote for the stuff that ruined their lands? Why? As we’ve all learned from Californian emigration, some people aren’t good at putting legislative cause and lived effect together. Make that most people and keep that in mind.)
I fully agree we shouldn’t discriminate on the basis or race, religion or country of origin. That means, btw, it should be no harder for an European than for a Saudi-Arabian to make it in. Or a Mexican. Or vice-versa. And if you think that’s true, you haven’t looked at our immigration policies.
But after that, there should be some discrimination. Or some bargaining if you prefer. It’s where the marriage contract comes into being. Even if the person has no intention of having kids or having his/her kids stay here, there is a good chance of that. And we must make sure that this person brings in at least enough to support his/her kids, be it money or skills or ability, or determination. And enough to raise his/her kids to be Americans.
Right now the US is really full-up on low-specialization low-skill people. We have our own home-grown batch, and to keep them on welfare so foreigners can work is ridiculous. (Except it’s an economic distortion created by high minimum wages and the fact illegals evade that law too. But we won’t go into that.) It’s also pernicious as it’s been shown that generations grown on welfare never develop the sills needed to thrive in a free society.
So each immigrant, regardless of color, appearance or origin should be examined by the light of “what do you bring us.” And absolutely, “high IQ” should count, even if the person is illiterate, provided they want to integrate and learn. As should people who want to learn or improve, and can prove this. But “Can support self and is willing to undertake the painful process of assimilation and acculturation” is a basic choice item. Why would we marry someone who doesn’t want us? Why would we marry someone who just wants to have us support them their whole lives?
Yes, some accommodation should be made for husbands and wives and minor children, or dependent elders, but that’s it. To extend it further than that is insane, particularly with an effectively open-border policy in a world where the barriers to entry that used to be insurmountably expensive/difficult have fallen due to fast and relatively cheap travel?
I know I’m speaking heresy to many, because the US has viewed itself as the ultimate place of refuge for everyone. And there’s a reason for that. But seriously, the world is about to head into a great turmoil, partly seeded by the wishful-thinking reality-ignoring policies of the previous administration. And we’re not in the late nineteenth century world of having to cross the ocean in a steam boat at extreme cost. We are in a world where everywhere is a few hours away. Do you want all the trouble in the world here? right next to you? In your neighborhood?
Some control needs to exerted. The US is not the virgin in a mountain fastness, whom only the men who really love will attempt to conquer. Planes and the democratization of plane travel means she’s the woman in a big city whom every guy can “marry” on purpose, by accident or because it seemed a good idea at the time, and even if they don’t really like her and mean to destroy her.
What are we going to do about that? I don’t propose closing the door/declaring a policy of eternal celibacy. But I do propose to ask “What do they bring to the marriage?”
It is the right of everyone who is already an American and whose futures will essentially be “married” to those of the new immigrants to ask “how will your contribution or lack thereof affect my descendants/the descendants of the people I care about?”
This is neither racism, nor discrimination, but self-preservation. Anyone who says otherwise is trying to push you into a forced marriage.