Reader Nancy P. says:
The American Dream is inherently easier to achieve for the immigrant with an education subsidized by the former country of residence.
It is profoundly painful to me to see how strong anti-immigrant sentiments are even in highly educated, good, progressive people. Easier, eh? Let me tell about how easy my subsidized life has been. My high school education was non-existent. I went to school with children of party apparatchiks. Grades were bought and sold, there was no teaching to speak of. I’m grievously ignorant about the most basic things and am still filling the lacunae in my knowledge.
My university education in Ukraine is irrelevant because I never used it. I started my BA in Canada in an entirely new field from scratch. Besides, the quality of that education was abysmally poor. I blogged about this at length and don’t want to repeat myself.
N. and I both got into debt, of course. He paid his down by wearing the same clothes for 10 years and never going out to a restaurant or a bar (never, not a single time, not once) during his undergrad studies and the first 4 years of his grad studies. I got into debt because I was taking care of my underage sister. I still haven’t paid it down. I don’t know who it is that subsidized us but they didn’t do a very good job, it seems.
Neither of us gets to speak our own language anywhere except at home. That, of course, makes our lives so much easier. We also have noticeable Russian accents; his is more noticeable than mine. We had to learn everything anew after we emigrated, everything. How to take a bus, how and where to buy food, how, when and where to pay rent, what a checkbook is and how it is used. God, I even had to learn how to use a library. I spent several months freezing to death in my apartment in New Haven because I had no flapping idea that the switch on the wall needed to be turned to turn on the heating. I’d never seen anything like that before, so how was I supposed to know? Roads are different, kitchen sinks are different, bath-tubs, beds, windows, everything is different. And you get to learn all of that as an adult. Oh, that is so easy, let me tell you.
Our last names are Slavic, which guarantees that our job applications end up in the trash can 90% of the time. My sister is a professional job recruiter, so I know this for a fact. What do people think when they see a Slavic name on a resume? A whore and a mail order bride. An alcoholic and a gangster. That’s how it works and that makes the lives of immigrants so much easier.
And, of course, as immigrants, we can’t just go and find a job. We have to wait for years and pay through the nose to get residence permits and work permits. Even a stupid job at MacDonald’s to tide you over is closed for an immigrant without a work permit. And that also simplifies things incredibly for immigrants.
I feel the pain of American people who suffered in the current economic crisis. But anybody who wants to have an opinion about the easy lives of immigrants will be well-served to acquire some basic information about the complete economic collapse that we experienced in Russia and Ukraine in the 1990ies. We had the kind of inflation where my mother would bring home her salary for 3 months, and on the next day, the very next day, you could buy 2 loaves of bread and nothing more with that money because of the inflation.
Yes, there is unemployment in the US today, and that sucks. However, in the FSU countries, everybody became unemployed when the state fell apart. The very country that used to give people those low-paying Soviet jobs was not in existence any more. And everybody had to look for employment and compete in the job market for the very first time in their lives. Scholars with decades of experience, teachers, doctors, engineers had to start traveling to Poland and Turkey to buy cheap rubbish and then sell it at the market-place. And this wasn’t something that happened to 9% of people or 16% of people. It happened to everybody. At once. Do I need to mention that there were no unemployment benefits, food stamps, credit cards, food banks, churches to offer assistance, or anything of the kind?
Yes, my students don’t have an easy time finding jobs while they go to school. When I was an undergrad in Ukraine in 1994-8, however, there was a law in place that forbade students to work. Police officers would drag students out of classrooms for the horrible crime of working. This is the environment in which I had to support myself and an unemployed husband when I was 19, 20, 21, 22.
Nancy P’s father benefited from the GI bill, and that’s great. My grandfather, though, was a veteran of World War II and he died in penury. He couldn’t feed his children, and my mother didn’t get a chance to finish high school because there was simply no money to support a non-working 15-year-old girl.
It’s great that people in the US are organizing, protesting, getting politically active. But why, on God’s green Earth, can’t it be done without making these egregiously hurtful statements about the supposedly easy lives of immigrants?
I wouldn’t say it if I weren’t provoked beyond all patience by this insanely offensive statement I quoted above, but now I will say it: if you were born and raised in the US, you have no place talking about hardship, poverty, and economic instability to a person from an FSU country.
I’m so insulted that, for the first time in 11 months, my blood pressure has gone up.