The Patriotic Immigrant

…is, often times, much more genuine and personal. From a somewhat old article by Anne Applebaum of the Washington Post:

“I miss my country.”

The taxi had come late. The dispatcher had been rude. The airport was a long drive, I couldn’t afford to miss the plane and, yes, I’m afraid I snapped at the driver. We rode along in silence for a while and then, suddenly, his eyes welled up with tears. “You have no idea how I miss my country,” he said.

He was from Mali — a West African nation no one he knows has heard of. He had a degree from a university there, but came here to study further. He’d run out of money, started driving a taxi, and anyway saw no reason to hurry back. “There’s no point in having an education there. People get good jobs in Mali because they know somebody. No one cares what you study, or if you study at all.” Here at least he had a chance, at least there were possibilities — but the price was high, terribly high: a life lived without the weather, the friends and the food he’d grown up with. A life lived in the cold, a life lived among people who don’t speak your language and never will.

“I don’t want to be a dissident.”

This was another day, another place, a very different person: I was not in a taxi but rather in a Georgetown restaurant — mediocre, Italian, empty — with a visiting Russian friend. She runs a school in Moscow for young Russian politicians, an institution she founded over a decade ago, back when she thought Russia was changing for the better. She didn’t start the school to overthrow the government. She started it to help the government do what it then said it wanted to do: join Western institutions, establish democracy, make ordinary Russians more prosperous and more free.

Now the Russian government has changed, and Russians such as her — Russians who have too many Western friends — have become objects of suspicion. Newly empowered secret policemen hang around her office, harass her staff, inspect her bank accounts. My friend has found herself in a role she never wanted. “I am not a fighter,” she said, eyes watering just a bit. “I only wanted my country to be a better place to live in. That’s all.” On the way out, she tells me, not without pride, that these days you get better risotto in Moscow than in Washington.

“That could have been me.”

Yet another day, and, again, a different place: A standard-issue Washington conference room, narrow and badly lit, with too few chairs and crackly microphones. Two women had just made a presentation about the murders, kidnappings and other crimes committed in the name of the Islamic Republic of Iran. Much of the audience was Iranian, and afterward one of them stood up, a little shakily. She started to speak about friends and the relatives who had been left behind in Iran: Had it not been for this coincidence, for that piece of luck, for a fortuitous decision, she, like they, would have become a statistic.

One by one, other audience members also stood up to echo her words. They wore suits and ties, or skirts and heels. All had Washington jobs: They commute, they go out to lunch, they are not unusual. They also live with the knowledge that if they had stayed in Iran, the country of their birth, they might have been the man on the wrong side of the barricades, or the woman beaten to death for wearing a bathing suit, or some other person whose life story makes people cry.

It’s an odd place, Washington. This is a city rife with real outrages: corrupt congressmen, incompetent officials, dangerous or stupid ideas. As a result, it’s also a city of quarrels and arguments, a place where people endlessly discuss “our broken health-care system” and “our disastrous foreign policy.” Here, the phrase “this town” — as in “I’ve had it with this town’s hypocrisy” or “I’m sick of this town’s attitude” — refers not to streets and buildings but to this metaphorical Washington, with its bitter politics and its angry debates.

And yet Washington is also a very real home, both permanent and temporary, to many people whose sole desire is to live an ordinary life — to study, to work, to talk about what they please — but who cannot do so, whether in Mali, in Russia, in Iran or somewhere else. Every once in a while, and for no particular reason, I try to remember how lucky I am to have been born here, where the possibility of living such an ordinary life is so easily taken for granted.

Let us not forget what a blessing it is to have been born in the United States of America, and try to understand how hard things can be outside this great country of ours. If someone is leaving family, friends, and home behind, to come to a country where they are an outcast, don’t speak the language, and have to survive without much support, you can pretty much guarantee that things are really bad at home, and they are coming here in pursuit of something better.

In this time of intense immigration debate, where we are deciding what direction we are going to take our next immigration laws, try to remember the humanitarian side to this, and don’t let the few (and they are few) bad apples spoil it for the rest.

The great majority of immigrants, like my family and others, are very proud to be Americans.

9 Responses to “The Patriotic Immigrant”

  • I enjoyed this, Al. Good post……I might be debating on television regarding this important matter. The RNHA has a wonderful project and we are working hard on this issue.

    Also…..I took this picture especially for you.

    I want to thank you for your pro-life stance. I don’t know if anyone has thanked you, so I want to thank you becuase you are a male….and there are not very many male perspectives in my opinon.

    I uploaded the pic on my flickr account. Take care and tahnks again.

  • Veritas Regina

    Beautifully written. Thank you for the insight.

  • Let us also remember that many of the freedoms (e.g. freedom of speech & freedom for Blacks to vote) we enjoy have been extracted by “liberals” from an unwilling “conservative” government.

  • Ahhh yes, and let us also not forget that liberals of yesterday are not the same as liberals of today. To take your statement at face value would be like me reminding everyone that it was the Republican party that fought against the extension of slavery, and it was in fact the Democrat party that fought for slavery throughout the United States. While the statement is factual, it doesn’t shed much light on todays Republicans and Democrats, just as your statement doesn’t shed much light on todays ‘liberals’ and ‘conservatives’.

  • just as your statement doesn’t shed much light on todays ‘liberals’ and ‘conservatives’.


    Did I say otherwise?

  • HP, why do you feel the need to apologize for “the bad apples”? No one is apologizing for the dumb-asses who regularly fly Confederate flags or say stupid racist shit at our culture’s expense. Are you afraid you’ll be judged by the actions of those “bad apples”? Guess what, bro, no matter what we do or say, we already are being judged…
    I agree that it is cool for immigrants to be patriotic, but immigrants who become rabid nationalists and those who avidly HATE on new immigrants just becuase they themselves have already had the luxury to have “assimilated”, and, conversely, the children of immigrants who don’t even speak Spanish anymore, know nothing of Mexican history (beyond the trite and the mythological) and still drape themselves in the Mexican flag, betray their ignorance and weakness of principles.
    I am a hard-core nationalist- but I am bi-cultural, meaning I love and live as a “meta”-citizen of TWO countries and their respective cultures equally- Mexico for what it once was- and the U.S. for what it is ON ITS BEST DAY.
    Unlike most Americans, I am able to hold and accept the validity of more than two strong ideas in my brain at once, and I’m not looking for one to vanquish the other.

  • Not apologizing for them, just trying to give the bigger picture. There is a difference between ‘bad immigrants’ and ‘good immigrants’, and people need to keep that in mind, that’s all I was trying to say.

  • I’ve been waiting to see what you had to say about this particular issue. Beautifully written!

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