Illegal immigrant. It’s an emotionally packed phrase.
My entire life I’ve heard derogatory terms for people who cross our borders in the dead of night, or sneak in with less than official papers. Many of them come here to find work and build a life for themselves and their children.
We see them all over the place. Most of the time they blend in because they don’t want to be found. Other times they stand on street corners looking for work. Just drive by the corner of 11th Street and Colorado Avenue if you’re in need of someone to do hard labor that you don’t want to do. Gardening, painting, tiling, demolition — that’s what these men from South and Central America come here to do.
The silent army of illegal men and women who cook for us, clean for us and raise the children of the privileged in Santa Monica and throughout Los Angeles come here not seeking to take advantage of social welfare programs, much as the lunatic fringe of the “Repuglican” Party (yes, I did spell it that way on purpose) would have us believe, but rather to better their lives for themselves and their families.
Immigration, both legal and illegal, has been going on for centuries, and this latest wave of anti-immigration sentiment is really nothing more than an ignorant protectionist attempt to make life easy for those of us who are already here. My grandparents were Italian, Irish and German, much like the grandparents of many of my friends. I assume they were legal, but couldn’t swear to it.
The waves of immigrants our country has seen have varied over the years and truthfully they have always come here seeking to add to our country.
Multi-culturalism is a benefit of immigration and it will be our saving grace, not our downfall. Consider the hallmark of an interesting dinner companion — they are well traveled and have wonderful stories and experiences to share. What makes for a more interesting person, the one who stays forever in the same three blocks they grew up in, or the person who has sought out the world and explored? Who has more to offer in wisdom and insight, the person who found other cultures’ values and examined them, or the person who knows nothing beyond their backyard?
Apply the same logic to our larger society and you will find that the more diversity we have, the more we learn about ourselves. I learned that I love hot and spicy things. But I only learned it from going to restaurants that have Sriracha sauce on the tables. I would never have tried it if I stayed in my little world, but because I live in a cosmopolitan city I get to experience many things that people from other cultures bring here.
We all benefit from the influx of new blood and ideas, and I can’t think of a single time that the current occupants of our continent welcomed the new people with open arms. Perhaps some of the initial settlers got a nice greeting from the Native Americans, but that turned sour quickly.
For an enlightening view of the issues of immigration I recommend a book a friend of mine wrote about his family’s emigration from Mexico to the United States. It’s a historical novel called “The Dark Side Of The Dream” by Alejandro Grattan-Dominguez (thedarksideofthedream.com). The book lays a foundation beginning with the turn of the century, focusing on Mexicans who came to this country in search of work. The book targets a family and their journeys, from just after the U.S. entered WWII and covers 50 years to the rise of the immigrant farm worker strikes in Texas and ends in the San Joaquin Valley with Cesar Chavez making a cameo appearance in the epilogue.
Grattan-Dominguez is a successful screenwriter and director who turned his skills to writing a snappy novel that takes liberties in the interest of keeping a story flowing and fun to read.
It is easy to get caught up in the hype and hysteria that the “Repuglicans” put forth to get the country into a frothy “discussion” on the issue of immigration, but let’s recall that historically most of our families came from somewhere else, and at one point in time we were the immigrants of which we now speak.
David Pisarra is a family law attorney focusing on fathers’ rights and men’s issues in the Santa Monica firm of Pisarra & Grist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (310) 664-9969.