Monday, April 22, 2013

Boston Bombing, or Don't Bite the Hand

To live in the United States is a gift.  U.S. citizenship confers great privilege.  The evidence is that people from all over the world still strive to immigrate here. 

I don't acknowledge this with pride;  I did nothing to earn the right to be an American.  In my case, it was an accident of birth.  I did nothing to deserve the fortunate circumstances of being a white, middle class American and enjoying all the advantages of that.  My nationality in no way makes me better than anyone on this planet; it just makes me luckier.

And I don't say this with complacency.  As a country, we are facing huge problems:  democracy is compromised by the disproportionate power held by corporations, for example.  Our leaders' penchant for military adventures ("nation building") has degraded all of us.  We have earned the wrath and contempt of the world.

In fact, America was probably never what we were taught it was.   

And yet the recent Boston bombings by two disaffected youth is not only tragic (for the victims and their families, for the perpetrators and their families), it is god damn infuriating.

Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev had been living in the U.S. for ten years, most of their young lives.  America had taken them in, and had provided them with opportunities, such as a top notch high school education, beyond anything they would have enjoyed in Chechnye, Dagestan, or Russia.  They had friends and family, health and good looks, religious and intellectual freedom here.  And they spat in the face of all these unearned gifts.

Similarly, Roosh's family came to the U.S. as refugees in the late seventies.  Roosh writes that his father had been one of many children born of a fourth wife in a poor, rural village.  This is pure speculation on my part, but I am guessing Roosh's dad had sought upward mobility through a military career under the Shah.  When the Shah's regime fell, the Valizadehs were taken in by the U.S.  Roosh went on to enjoy all the advantages of being a middle-class American, not least of which was an education at a state-supported university.  And now he spits in its face.

I'm in no way anti-immigration.  I've devoted much of my teaching career to helping immigrants assimilate culturally and linguistically.  I've done my share lobbying state legislators to maintain funds for English language and other programs that support immigrants.  And freedom of speech, the freedom to criticize the government or society, is just about my most favorite thing.

I've seen up close how the children of immigrants struggle.  In my trade, we call them the Generation 1.5.  They are dumped into American classrooms with little preparation or support:  sink or swim.  Depending on their parents' educational level, they may find themselves on the threshold of adulthood with huge academic deficits.  They are torn between two worlds: their parents' traditional values and and the values of their modern American peers.  Their parents immigrate -- often at great sacrifice to themselves -- in order to give them the gifts of opportunity and freedom, but with those gifts come cultural loss and great inner conflict.

Immigration is not for wimps. 

I'm just saying, it's the lack of appreciation, the pissing away of the gifts, that jacks my jaw.


  1. People are indeed immigrating to the US. People are also emigrating. Americans love to emphasize everyone who wants to come when they really just want to leave.

    Plenty of people I've met around the word have a list of countries they are trying to move to. The US is rarely first; often, it's not on the list. But if someone in the Philippines, for instance, wants to earn more than $500/mo as a skilled worker, they need to find somewhere else to go in many cases. That someone goes to the first country on their list that will take them does not prove how wonderful America is.

    Go outside of the US and ask people this very question. Dubai, Singapore, Qatar, and occasionally Canada will be the top destinations for many southeast Asians. Hong Kong and South Korea make the list throughout Asia. Australia is well-thought of in China and India, and probably everywhere else, too.

    When you consider seven million Americans live out of the US, and the rest haven't - as a majority - traveled to contradict their notion that the rest of the world is a backwater cesspool, I'd say the notion that everyone wants to flock to the US is about a century stale.

  2. I don't understand what your point is. America isn't every emigrant's top pick?

    Look, I'm the last person to claim America is some kind of utopia, nor am I suggesting that the rest of the world is "a cess pool."

    I spent twenty years as an expat myself. And based on my personal experience, Singapore and Qatar may be interesting places to visit or even work in temporarily, but I wouldn't want to move to either place permanently.

    A lot of Americans work and live outside the U.S. But I'll bet not too many of them are willing to give up their citizenship.

    All I can say is that my ESL classes are always filled with new immigrants. And I sometimes wonder why this continues to be true myself.

  3. OK, I've visited your website so now I have some idea where you're coming from. Not knocking it -- looks interesting! -- but how the hell came you here from there?

    BTW, a lot of my older Chinese and Korean students choose to establish residency here while continuing to run businesses back home because they want their kids to have access to university educations. A lot of my students are here as refugees escaping ethnic or religious persecution.

    Not every who immigrates or emigrates is "a nomadic capitalist."


Thanks for commenting!