I have the utmost respect for those who leave everything behind and move to a new country in search of a better existence. Consequently, I have no tolerance for those who criticize immigrants or immigration in general. If you ever have a chance, listen to an immigrant’s story, and you will see the bravery in her plight.
I am from the US, and my great grandparents on all sides were immigrants and their children (my grandparents) began their first days at school speaking a different language in the classroom than that which they spoke at home. They were all outsiders. Between 1892 and 1924, some 22 million immigrants entered the US via Ellis Island. My great grandparents were among these people.
Americans must remember that we are the offspring of immigrants, and Europeans must reflect upon the fact that they were the 19th and 20th Centuries’ immigrants who fled from poverty, persecution, and war. So, what is the difference today? Is immigration any more pleasant for the displaced, the desperate, or the hopeful? Are immigrants really getting a “free ride” or a better deal than those who emigrated in the past?
If there is any advantage in being an immigrant today, is it that distances are less overwhelming, even if the journey is just as treacherous? Immigrants today can call home and speak to the family they have left behind, and many even live with the hope that the economic or political conditions will one day improve and they may return home.
Back in the early 1910s, my great grandparents arrived in the U.S. at Ellis Island. The day of their arrival would mark a new life, and definitively put an end to the previous one. For example, neither my maternal greatgrandmother, Lina, would ever see her parents, sisters or home country again, nor would my paternal great grandfather, ever see his family (or meet his still-to-be-born syblings). Lina left Switzerland for love, and Domenico left Italy to provide a better life for his wife and children. They all left, speaking nothing of English, and never returned home or ever heard the voices of their family members again.
I live abroad, away from my family. What I could never imagine is not seeing them or speaking to them again, let alone quite frequently. I enjoy living in Spain. Heck, I may stay here forever. But, I need to see my family, country, and town a few times a year. Unlike the past, there are also the new migrants:
Ex-Patriots: There are millions of ex-patriots from developed and industrialized nations who voluntarily relocate abroad as temporary immigrants. “Ex-pats,” unlike immigrants from developing and impoverished nations, tend to work abroad for a few years for the adventure of it and then return back to their home country.They are also usually sent abroad or hired from abroad to work in the receiving country. And many of them are actually doing the exact opposite of what immigrants are doing: they are taking advantage of being highly skilled to enter a lesser-developed country to receive a higher salary than they would in their wealthier country. Generally, ex-pats do not integrate. They stay within their ex-pat community. There is actually a new culture of ex-pats, an international body of people who float from country to country, never really mixing with the locals.
Others: Personally, I do not consider myself an ex-patriot. I was not sent by a company. I just came for a change. And here I am. My great grandparents came to the U.S. from Europe with nothing, and 90 years later, here I am living a short plane ride away from the home towns they could never return to, in a continent that was once too poor or intolerant for what they wanted from life. I am one of those people who simply lives where he chooses to live and that happens to be abroad. Many family emigrated and I have returned.
I often hear people argue that it is time to “close the borders,” whether they say it in the U.S. or in Europe. But, why should borders be limited at all? Shouldn’t all humans have the inherent right to live where they please? The developed nations need people. They need (1) the best and most qualified workers in order to make their companies and economies competitive, and (2) they need lesser qualified people to fill the jobs that others do not wish to do. Furthermore, as long as we protect our internal markets, all that we are doing is perpetuating the poverty abroad and increasing immigration. Finally, it is diversity that makes a nation rich and our lives worthwhile. I wonder how very boring I would have been had I not been the product of different nationalities and cultures. I guess I would probably be happy with nothing more than a couple of croquetas and a slice of cured of ham.
In my neighborhood in Madrid, there are many immigrant families living. Whenever I cross paths with them, I always think of my family who had left everything behind for a new life. And here I am able to choose in which country I wish to live (even though I must admit that the Spanish government did not make it easy on me).