by Will Rappaport
Immigration in the United States has imprinted a unique mark on American society. Since the founding of America, people have arrived, escaping from persecution, poverty, famine, and were here to embark on new lives. Irish immigrants fled from hatred and persecution in the United Kingdom. There was a dislike for the acquaintance between Catholics and Protestants. In the U.K. and the U.S. Irish immigrants were secluded from jobs and seen as an inferior group of people. Chinese immigrants went through a similar path as well. The Chinese first came as basic workers and helped build the railroad. As generations grew, the Chinese began opening up their own businesses and shied away from the unskilled jobs. Americans saw this as a threat to business and started distasteful campaigns against the Chinese. Also, the U.S. government began limiting the number of immigrants that could come from China. According to the online History Chanel, “It has been estimated that close to 40 percent of all current U.S. citizens can trace at least one of their ancestors to Ellis Island” (Ellis Island website). But as years have gone by and the world is a more fearful place to live in, entrance to America has become more selective. The attacks at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School and Columbine High School, and September 11 are just a few incidents that have made America tighten its security in almost every aspect of life. Metal detectors now appear at events that are supposed to be family friendly such as sporting events and museums. Overall, America has closed its doors to the outside world; some think for good. The result has been a long and difficult path to citizenship, which has led to an increase in people entering the United States illegally.
“Americans have tended to generalize about immigrants without distinguishing among them and have focused on the economic costs and benefits of immigration, ignoring its social and cultural consequences” (2; Huntington). Scholars such as Richard Fry and Samuel Huntington have already predicted that the Hispanic population will exceed the American population in the United States by 2050.
Nonetheless, although studies show that the Hispanic population will be the majority racial/ethnic group within a few decades, assimilation into America culture has been difficult. During the early 20th century, immigrants came from mostly Central and Eastern Europe and were welcomed to the United States. Jews, for example, bought into American Materialism during the early 20th century and began to mix the new world with their old world.
Immigration was needed because of the demand from industrialization and world dominance that the United States was on the path towards. There were thousands of jobs that required little skill in the United States and were seen as strong, efficient work for a human being. Free business came along with this, which opened the eyes of many immigrants because they could open up their own shops and compete with neighbors on equal levels.
Today, immigration brings with it a negative connotation. From terrorism to overpopulation, leaders across the world are turning away future potential citizens in order to keep their countries safe from catastrophic attacks, drug smuggling, violence, and other events that may lead to large numbers of casualties. People live in fear of their neighbors. Racial and ethnic stereotypes have taken over lives and put ideas in people’s heads before integrating themselves. Latinos fall into this category. They are seen as a poor and uneducated people, here to steal jobs from hard working American citizens. But many of these jobs are jobs that Americans refuse to take such as fast food, janitor, etc. Without Latinos, the United States economy would not be close to the capacity it functions at now. An example of this is big food companies. Large food corporations such as Perdue chicken hire undocumented workers to do the dirty work for their company like plucking chickens and so on. Large corporations such as this one target these workers because they have full power over them. The worker has no say in salary or conditions because they need the money and are fearful of losing their job and/or getting deported. President Barack Obama has been working for lighter regulations on immigration and people that are already living in the United States. Since his swearing in, the Hispanic Community has grown very fond of him. He addressed the issue of immigration in his last State of the Union. “Immigration reform will grow our economy and shrink our deficits by almost 1 trillion dollars in the next two decades. When people come here to fulfill their dreams, to study, invent, contribute to our culture, they make our country a more attractive place for businesses to locate and create jobs for everybody.” President Obama stands by the idea that immigration is an essential piece to the American economy. Giving undocumented workers hope to developing creativity and imagination in this new land will, hopefully, reduce deficits and help strengthen the U.S. economy.
Undocumented Hispanic adolescents have a more Americanized experience than compared to undocumented Hispanic adults. Upon arrival, these children are enrolled in the public school system and are able to participate and learn equally with American-born students. However, statistics illustrate that Hispanic students are struggling in the U.S. education system and are in need of help to guide them toward the right path. There was a case in a fourth grade classroom where “teachers praised and encouraged Mexican-American children less often, as compared to their Anglo classmates” (20; Alva) The primary problem they have run into is the language barrier. First generation students, for the most part, speak very little English, if any at all. Upon entering a classroom, these students are heading down a path to failure. If they cannot understand what the teacher is saying, how can someone expect them to understand the material?
High school dropout has become a major problem in the Latino community. “Latino youth in the U.S. are more likely to have dropped out of school than other youths” (10; Fry). A contributing factor to this is the amount of attention is paid to a Hispanic American student compared to an Anglo student. Showing this at a young age makes the child feel unaccounted for and left out. There are also other factors such as praising cultures. At home, Latino youths are caught between American culture and Hispanic culture. This can often lead to conflict and stress within a young person. Which set of norms is correct? The family must decide which path to go down for children while still maintaining their past with them. There are also signs of stress in the classroom. A recent study by Yamamoto and Brynes “reported that Hispanic fourth, fifth, and sixth graders report a markedly higher incidence of school-related stressors as compared to majority group students” (21; Alva). The pressure to do well on these kids is much higher than the majority of other students because there is more put on these kid’s backs. Coming as a first generation immigrant, you are given the opportunity to educate yourself and provide for a better future than your parents. With this in mind, Hispanic students feel more stressed because they feel as if they need to do well in because that’s what their parents are pushing for. Being poor is one thing. Having the opportunity to escape poverty, there is no room for error.
Immigration brings change. Change is what propels society forward. Without change, humanity would not be able to achieve many of its feats that it has overcome. Change can be scary, but is a part of life. Only a small percentage of the population immigrates to make the world a worse off place. It is unfortunate that all people must live by the regulations made for, on the grand scheme of things, almost no one on earth. The United States has and is increasing in the number of undocumented peoples. These people contribute to the domestic economy and push for a better life for themselves. For undocumented teenagers, education is the birthplace of intellect and creativity and is offered to all by the United States government. Discrimination cannot exist here. A piece of paper shouldn’t determine whether one can stay or must go; there is more to look at in a person.
Univision is a Spanish American television station that is aimed at Hispanics in the U.S. and Puerto Rico. They recorded the feelings of a typical Hispanic living in the United States. I’d like to leave you with this and hopefully you can see past differences that may exist between a citizen and a non-citizen. Giving an individual the opportunity to become a better person is one that must be offered. Educational equity for children ties straight into the economy. Instead of discriminating based on intimidation, society must use what is present, the school system, to progress fast as a nation. The future of the United States may be fearful, but it is not changing.
This is titled A New American Reality. “Without me, America would not grow as fast or be as strong. Without me, playgrounds in Texas, New York, Florida, California would be half empty. If I were a country, I’d be the second largest Spanish-Speaking country in the world. You see me everyday, but do you know who I am? I am 1 out of every 6 people in the U.S. I am 1 out of 4 babies born each year. I am 50 million strong and growing by more than 1 million people a year! I will account for 95% of the teen population growth through 2020. Who am I? I am not the melting pot. I am the new American Reality. I live at the intersection of two cultures. I take from each what I choose. I am futbol and football. I am reggaetton and rock n roll. I am tamales and cheeseburgers. I move easily between two worlds because I speak Spanish and I speak English. Y a veces, I speak both. Bilingualism is a plus, not a minus. My duality is my reality. It makes me more interesting and more interested in everything I love. I love this country. I love my community. I love the music that is making you dance. I watch TV and am addicted to novellas. I live the world cup and I don’t miss the super bowl. I am living the American Dream. I am the new American Family. I am the 15th largest consumer economy in the world. I am the opportunity you’ve been missing. But it’s not too late, now that you know me. You can see me every day. Now talk to me… Hablame. Unleash my passions. Unleash your growth. Speak my language, speak my culture. I am here.”
Alva, S. A. (1991). Academic invulnerability among Mexican-American students: The importance of protective resources and appraisals. Hispanic Journal of Behavioral Sciences, 13(1), 18-34.
Chanel, H. (n.d.). Ellis Island. History Chanel.
Fry, R. (2003). Hispanic Youth Dropping Out of US Schools: Measuring the Challenge.
Huntington, S. P. (2004). The hispanic challenge. Foreign policy, 141(2), 30-45.