Life Is So Much Easier When You Are an Immigrant

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.

The Best Condom Ad Campaign Ever

This is from an ad campaign by Durex:

I think it’s brilliant. N. and I have been laughing all day long. I have no use for the product any more but if I did, I’d switch to this brand immediately, just to support the marketing people who have such a great sense of humor.

I found the ad here and there are two more equally great ones on that site from the same campaign. The entire blog is well worth checking out.

Snuff Sites

Reader el asked me to comment on the following article about people who visit snuff sites:

Some men get erotic thrills from seeing nude young women shot, stabbed, pierced by spears and arrows, or killed in a variety of other ways. And a remarkably large Internet industry has arisen to serve this craving.

All I can say is that the desire to analyze people’s sexual fantasies without being qualified as a psychoanalyst is evidence of wanting to convince the internal censor that one’s own sexuality is “good” and acceptable.

While people engage in consensual activities with other adults, why should any one care how they get off? And if you do care, please remember that, no matter how tame and mainstream your sexual fantasies are, there is a possibility that somebody might find them freaky and scary. Policing people’s fantasies and trying to assign meaning to them is a sign of one’s profound discomfort with one’s own sexuality and the attendant feelings of guilt. Such feelings get assuaged momentarily by pointing an accusatory finger at others, “Look, those folks are really messed up! Let’s concentrate on excoriating them in hopes of convincing ourselves that our sexuality is not as threatening as we perceive it to be.”

I remember how once I was eating my lunch at the office I then shared with several other people. “Wow, you must really love oral sex!” a colleague exclaimed very loudly. Of course, I almost choked on my food.

“Where on Earth did that come from?” I asked.

“Well, you always have either a cucumber or a banana in your lunch bag**,” she announced happily.

Writers of articles like the one quoted above remind me of this colleague.


** Hypertensives love cucumbers because cucumbers are watery and refreshing. They also allow us to wash excessive sodium out of our bodies. As for bananas, I’m not a huge fan. They were simply the cheapest fruit available at that time and I was skint.

Disappointed by Reuters

What is it with journalists who write about other countries without even trying to ascertain the most basic facts? I thought that Reuters was a respectable news agency until I read this:

Pushed to the margins since Putin came to power 12 years ago, some of the prime minister’s fiercest foes are urging Russians to reject the political system he has put in place by spoiling their ballots in Sunday’s State Duma vote. . .

“The question is what people who understand this is a farce should do.”

Their answer: Nakh-Nakh, a bespectacled pig with an orange scarf, a blue beret and a double-entendre of a name that to Russians evokes both the Three Little Pigs and an obscenity which, put more politely, means ‘Go away!’. In a series of animated clips posted on the Internet, the pink-cheeked pig casts his vote, angrily marking the box for each party with an X and adding a big black X across the entire ballot before slipping it through the slot.

This was written by somebody who does not know anything about Russia’s electoral system. Spoiling the ballots actually guarantees that Putin’s party gets the majority in the parliament. The system is set up in a way that hands over votes to the ruling party for every spoiled ballot. Can anybody now make a wild guess as to who is behind this whole “spoil the ballot” campaign?

Many people in Russia are completely ignorant about how their electoral system works and, in spite of the tireless work of dissidents and progressive bloggers, are still buying into the idea that spoiling the ballot will prevent Putin’s party from remaining in power. Here is an example from the same article:

Semyon Zon-Zam, a chamber orchestra director in Moscow, wore an armband at the protest outside the Central Election Commission, said he would be one of [the people who will spoil the ballots].

“The political system is dragging my country into the abyss,” said Zon-Zam, 73. “To vote for any party on the ballot would be to support the a Kremlin project.”

One can understand that a 73-years-old artist who spent the greatest part of his life in the Soviet Union might find it hard to understand how the electoral system works. But shouldn’t a journalists writing for Reuters be more careful with both his facts and his grammar?