November 14, 2016
At the 2016 Democratic National Convention, Mr. Khizr Khan, who became a United States citizen after emigrating from Pakistan in 1980 and whose son, Capt. Humayun Khan, was killed in Iraq, made a sensation when he asked Mr. Trump the following: “Let me ask you: Have you even read the United States Constitution? I will gladly lend you my copy,” …. while pulling a miniature version of the country’s founding document from his coat pocket “(NY Times).
The question to Donald Trump was a wise one regarding the Constitution. But being from New York and given all his disparagement of immigrants I wondered whether Trump had ever read the famous quote on the plaque by the Statue of Liberty which has become synonymous with the welcoming arms of America along with the assumption of respect, freedom and justice. The famous quote is as follows:
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.”
Statue of Liberty
The quote comes from a sonnet by Emma Lazarus written in 1883 and entitled “New Colussus” “which she wrote for a fundraiser auction to raise money for the pedestal upon which the Statue of Liberty now sits” (Statue). Here is the entire sonnet:
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
I am an immigrant as well and have lived in and been citizens of three of the major former British white settler colonies – that being Canada, the United States and Australia and I have also lived in Singapore that was part of the British empire.
Given all this experience and observations, I want to shift the paradigm here. I want to shift the paradigm here. Most assumptions are that migrants come to the US to benefit themselves. Now that might be true in many instances yet it is often because the United States policies have destroyed or destabilized their home country which has made life excessively difficult for them.
However, there is another side to this story as well. Migrants benefit the US culture and economy in countless ways. In other words, we benefit from migrants who invariably offer skills, cultural advancements, diversity and especially new and exciting markets. As I write in my article below, we shoot ourselves in the foot if we do not acknowledge these benefits with people from other countries who join the cultural melting pot that is America. I demonstrate these benefits from my experiences in Australia and the United States.
Immigration in Australia
After World War II Australia began to rapidly increase its immigrant population. It’s growing industries needed laborers. So, Australia appealed to European laborers and many were paid for their relocation. Italians, Yugoslavs, Turks, Portuguese, Scots, Greeks, Serbians, Croatians and others “officially” made their way into the coal mines, steel mills and other Australian laboring jobs. While I was in Australia in the late 60’s and early 70’s these migrants were transforming Australian culture. In the later decades of the 20th century we began to see more Asians coming into Australia as well.
I was in Australia in the 1960s. Because of the migrants, Australia was experiencing an excitement and experimentation with newly discovered Italian and Greek herbs and spices, new sauces, and all kinds of pasta. An interest in an abundance and variety of wines was taking hold. Eating fresh salads was introduced along with a vast array of different vegetables, peppers and fruits. New Italian restaurants in downtown Melbourne were the talk of the town. The Women’s Weekly was filled with recipes introducing herbs and spices never before thought of by Australian women. Anyone not familiar with typical English or Australian cuisine needs to realize that this was an incredible departure from the diet of fish & chips, beer, lamb chops & mint sauce, potatoes, pumpkin and meat pies. New markets and industries evolved. It was transformative. And these are but a few examples! In addition, you might ask, ‘did this variety of new foods make many Australians more healthy’? I would think so.
Immigration in the United States
While America has always had its waves of migrants from all over the world, in the past few decades we have seen considerably more migrants from South and Central America, Africa and from southeast Asia. It has been invariably beneficial for the American society. A similar transformation to what I witnessed in Australia has taken place in the southern United States and opportunities are opening up across the region. The South and Central Americans, Asian and African communities in the southeast are providing enormous opportunities and markets for tens of thousands. People in the southeast are now eating and cooking in ways they would never dreamed of just 20 years ago.
On the market and production side, both black and white, as well as small to large, farmers in the south had been finding labor a major problem, and our neighbors from across the border have been helping considerably to resolve this. Both black and white farmers in the U.S. began learning Spanish to help not only to converse with laborers, and to access new markets that are increasingly available. Goat, for example, is eaten by South and Central Americans, Africans and Asians. The meat goat market has expanded exponentially in the Southeast U.S. Farmers in Texas are growing corn to meet the taco and other demands for local Mexican consumer markets. Fresh herbs are being grown by women and male farmers in the region to appeal to all these new and growing additions to the southern palate. Farmers are now growing snow peas for Chinese restaurants, varieties of chili peppers and other new vegetables to access the expanding migrant population and the increasingly interested breadth of American consumers. All of these are exciting new and productive markets. And again, these are but a few examples.
What is encouraging about the US is that there is always resistance and organizing against intolerance when its ugly head is raised and we are now witnessing the resurgence of another wave of resistance and organizing. I know this will continue as it always does in America and often with significant progress.
As mentioned, many of the migrants also left their countries because of war or other destabilization, often because of the United States military or economic aggressive policies or other regional conflicts. Many Mexican workers have been victimized by the unfair trade agreements and huge U.S. subsidized crops such as corn being dumped on the Mexican market and forcing farmers off the land through no fault of their own… and then America wants to punish and malign them? Not fair or just!!!
I have heard from some that Trump has already solved the problem of immigration. With his comments and that of others why would anyone want to come to the country is the question and that maybe the wall is necessary to keep Americans in to stop them
from despoiling other countries. The selfish disdain expressed toward the present wave of Mexican and other South American migrants and those from the Middle East to the U.S. by Trump and others in the United States is not only immoral, it’s not practical for a stable and healthy country.
Trump and others also want to use religion as a criteria for discrimination? Did they forget that among the first Europeans to the American shores were those seeking relief from religious intolerance in Europe? And now America represents one of religious intolerant sentiments? One would hope not in the long term.
Above, I made reference primarily to the food industry regarding immigration but I do need to mention also that the breadth of ideas, language, religion, music, literature, science, medicine that we learn from other cultures and migrants is also immense.
Rather than exploring ways of embracing migrants, Trump, as mentioned, talks about building walls, and passing draconian laws to punish and isolate our migrant communities. Why not build a wall across the Canadian border? Some Canadians would likely appreciate that under the circumstances in order to keep Americans out. On Tuesday night, November 8, when Trump won the election, the Canadian Immigration website had to shut down because of the flood of requests from Americans wanting to move to Canada.
Emma Lazarus’ sonnet “New Colussus” written in 1883 has resonated significantly and many in the world have assumed this welcoming heritage. It is still a worthy and important goal.
But with Donald Trump’s choice as his chief strategist being the”Alt-right” Briebart media entity, Steve Bannon, one would wonder where this is going. It is a concern to say the least.
Nevertheless, it might be a good idea for you, Mr. Trump, to finally read, if you have not done so, or re-read the quote on the plaque by the Statue of liberty in your own home state and city. It’s meaningful message of generosity and compassion has resonated across the world. And no one needs to lend the quote to you. It’s right there in your own city where thousands of migrants have thankfully entered the United States of America!