As someone who’s technically, after 21 years in the U.S., an immigrant, I’ve long known that thousands of people living here and born elsewhere are smart as hell: lawyers, doctors, pharmacists, entrepreneurs, professors and then people like me who only have a bachelor’s degree but are still doing fine, making our mark professionally, contributing skills to our communities.
We’re not all bedraggled day laborers with six kids!
Yet if you listen to (God help you) conservative talk shows and focus only on what the mass media show us are “typical” immigrants, we’re an undifferentiated mass of low-wage workers forced by useless foreign degrees or poor language skills, whether legally or not, into doing the nastiest of jobs, whether slitting cow’s throats in midwestern abbatoirs or delivering Chinese food in Manhattan for $2/hour.
From that depressing inaccurate snapshot, it’s a quick, simple, racist progression to conflate immigrant with poor/struggling/uneducated/send ‘em back!
Now the Census is revealing a sharp spike in immigrants with doctorates, reports The New York Times:
For the first time, fully 1 in 10 adults had an education beyond a bachelor’s degree. Among adults in their late 20s, 35 percent of women and 27 percent of men had a bachelor’s degree, an eight percentage point gender gap, compared with three percentage points in 1999.
Many immigrants don’t fit the tidy — and politically useful — working-class stereotype, such as the professional Haitians, like doctors and nurses living in the U.S., who rushed back to help their countrymen, profiled here by the Times.
This is a sensitive topic for me for two reasons — it’s ignorant and it’s rude. I’d say simply racist, but there are plenty of pale-skinned immigrants underestimated along with those whose skin contains more melanin.
The U.S. was built by, and continues to thrive thanks to, the skills, ideas, drive and creativity of millions of educated, ambitious workers who choose to come and stay here, not merely those whose lowest hourly wage in the U.S. equals a day’s — or week’s — wage in their homeland. I interviewed such a man yesterday for my book, the funny, forthright, passionate CEO of Reflexis, an IT company working with retail giants like Staples; he and most of his management team are from India.
My partner, who is of Hispanic origin but an American citizen, born and raised here, has been the object of such casual racism it has shocked me to my roots. One sunny fall afternoon, wearing clean, quality casual clothing, he was looking up at the fall foliage on our building’s property, admiring the colors and said “What a view!”
A resident of our co-op, assuming he must, of course, be a day laborer who worked on the building’s brick re-pointing, responded: “You guys did a great job!”
My sweetie, which is his blessedly gentle nature, said nothing to correct this insulting assumption. The man has a Pulitzer.
People with dark skin, an accent and/or a foreign passport aren’t always struggling to climb the social and professional ladder, no matter how comforting that belief.
Some are seriously kicking ass.