Immigration in america: lives altered
In its definition in the dictionary, immigration is a process where a person moves from one country to another for permanent residence. In the United States of America, the population is composed of millions of people where part of it consists of individuals who are not native residents of the country. There are many Latinos, Asians and Europeans currently living in America, each of them with their own reasons. Immigration in the American experience is no longer new because it can be said that modern America is the result of the early settlers who came from Europe. Even before the United States of America was unified as a nation, some people from Europe were already moving to America across the ocean through ships. In short, immigration led to the transformation of native America into a land where natives and immigrants lived.
Immigration continued to be a part of American society tens of years after the American Constitution formally declared the land into the United States of America. Hundreds of Jews immigrated to America at the time of the Holocaust in Germany which increased the number of immigrants to the nation (Lipstadt, 1990). Today, many people from around the world still migrate to the United States and permanently live there after applying for citizenship. In some cases, people immigrate to the country illegally by sneaking through national borders such as the U.S.-Mexico border or by hiding in America and refusing to go home after the period of stay allowed by the government to visitors has ended. With the growing number of immigrants in the country, the lives of people in America are altered which, in effect, changes the society as a whole.
Both legal and illegal immigration changes the lives of people living in America. Immigrants introduce new cultures into the current American society which results to people absorbing these new cultures and mixing them with their own culture in everyday life. On the other hand, immigrants can also absorb the American culture once they begin to live in the country. In a manner of speaking, one result is that American society becomes more homogenous as it becomes more heterogeneous. Some legal immigrants have become famous in America in their respective fields. Also, some legal immigrants are known to have occupied positions in government offices. By occupying key positions in American society, legal immigrants are able to influence the public perception towards their fellow immigrants. Mass media’s portrayals of immigrants and the process of immigration contribute to the changes in the lives of people and in American society. The same effect can also be caused by contemporary American popular culture.
Immigrants introduce their own cultures into the body of cultures in American society. For example, immigrants from China expose their Chinese culture towards the American population which leads to a new level of awareness on the part of the American public. With Chinese immigration reaching hundreds or thousands across the country, it is not surprising if Americans take notice of the behaviors and lifestyles of Chinese immigrants. These behaviors and lifestyles are usually different from the typical behaviors and lifestyles of people living in America. Eventually, the curiosity of Americans will lead them to try to get to know more about such new cultures until they become familiar with them. There comes a point when Americans do not only take notice of the new cultures brought by the immigrants but also adapt the new behaviors and lifestyles they bring with them. One interesting proof is that some Americans are now Buddhists even though Buddhism is not originally from America. The same is true for other Americans who try to look like people from Asia, for example, by imitating the way they dress.
On the other hand, immigrants can also absorb the American culture after they have lived in the country for several years. The constant exposure of immigrants to American lifestyle and culture while living in the country is a major factor in reshaping their cultural identity. The transformation in their cultural identity can be seen in their attempt to dress, talk and behave like most ordinary Americans. Since legal immigrants are recognized by American laws, immigrants and those whose citizenship has become American are expected to follow the rules of the country. In doing so, the public behavior of these immigrants tend to be aligned with the dictates of American laws which makes it easier for them to absorb the cultural values of America.
Some immigrants are able to occupy certain positions in popular non-government institutions such as private corporations and other organizations. Their membership in these institutions gives them the space to influence those around them such as their fellow workers. Other well-known social positions can also include being the owner of a popular local restaurant or clothing shop which features commodities that are native to the immigrant-owner, and being a famous volunteer in communities where the residents are mostly Americans. In effect, their interaction with other Americans in the office setting can influence the perceptions, behaviors and attitudes of such Americans to a certain point. The more they interact constantly with Americans around them, the more these immigrants become capable of influencing the behaviors of Americans. Taken on a larger scale, immigrants with certain positions in some institutions can change the way Americans think about them and the way Americans live in the presence of the immigrants.
Immigrants occupying positions in government offices on a state-level can easily influence the way people in America live. For example, a city legislator who is an immigrant can create local policies that uphold the rights of immigrants against abuse and discrimination. Such policies, when enacted, legally force the Americans to act accordingly by treating immigrants as no less than their equal when it comes to human rights. A state legislator who is an immigrant can also become an instrument in altering the lives of people living in America. For example, a state legislator can suggest the legislation of laws that will recognize the right of immigrants to create their own businesses within the state depending on the approval of the federal institution handling applications for putting up a business within the territory of the state. In effect, immigrants stand on equal footing with other Americans when it comes to conducting business in the country. People living in America may avoid business discrimination based on the status of the owner as to whether he is an immigrant or a native resident of the state.
Mass media’s portrayal of immigrants and immigration in modern society can also alter the lives of people in America. Newspapers and magazines may publish stories about the unhappy experiences of immigrants in the United States. Television and radio broadcast can also deliver to the public more information about the condition of immigrants in modern-day America. In some cases, television shows portray immigrants as working class people who want a better life in America. Sometimes, immigrants are portrayed as people getting into trouble with the law. With most Americans watching television shows and reading newspapers containing information or opinion about immigrants, it is likely that Americans will have their own perception towards immigrants largely influenced by mass media. Their perception towards immigrants and immigration in general eventually influence the ways they interact with immigrants in their communities.
Mass media’s portrayals of immigrants and immigration make them a part of American popular culture. In the show The Simpsons, for example, the character of Apu Nahasapeemapetilon—the store clerk of Kwik-E-Mart convenience store—is shown as hardworking and not doing any activity other than tending to his store. Interestingly, he has a Ph. D. in computer science and was an illegal immigrant at the start, but he eventually managed to get a U.S. citizen status. In some American television shows, Asian characters with Chinese roles are typically shown as having martial arts skills and firm in their cultural practices. In Hollywood movies, Chinese actors and actresses are usually shown having good martial arts skills in scenes where they fight either the hero or the villain of the movie. These examples show that mass media has popularized immigrant culture which create what are called “stereotypes”. Americans who regularly view such movies and television shows tend to accept cultural stereotypes and use them to view immigrants. For example, a person fond of watching Hollywood films which feature Chinese actors who have good martial arts skills may see most of Chinese immigrants in his community as having the same skills. Or a person may view immigrants from India as preferring any job in America even though they have good educational background.
Illegal immigration also alters the lives of people in America just like legal immigration does. Illegal immigrants in the workforce can become a competition for legal immigrants and Americans in job openings. Criminal activities involving illegal immigrants are also a major cause of concern for people in America because these activities can put threat to their lives in the community (Espenshade, 1995). As a result, some people living in America have negative perceptions to immigrant communities in general. A more disturbing consequence is the possibility of conflict between immigrants and natural American citizens due to misunderstanding of cultural differences.
Illegal immigrants in the workforce can become a competition for legal immigrants and Americans in job openings. They can also compete in terms of putting up businesses in local communities. Since illegal immigrants are not allowed by American laws to stay in the country, it also means that they have no right to become part of the American workforce. The American workforce is only meant for those immigrants and American residents who are recognized by the law as U.S. citizens or as foreigners with legal working permits. In fact, the federal government continues to track down illegal immigrants who are working in local American businesses (Cave, 2008). One reason is that illegal immigrants often lack the skills and knowledge needed in the work environment; their presence in the workforce can accelerate the decline in the quality of skills of those who work in America (Cooper, 2008).
Illegal immigrants also become involved in criminal activities. Since they are not recognized by American laws, they tend to make illegal transactions and other forms of work that are prohibited by law. In some cases, illegal immigrants have been arrested by law enforcers for possession or sale of prohibited drugs. For people living in America, criminal activities involving illegal immigrants is a big concern because such activities threaten the peace in their local communities. Parents fear for their children because of fear that they may become targets of these illegal immigrants who are involved in criminal activities. While law enforcers may continue to track down illegal immigrants, doing so still does not change the views of Americans towards immigrants in general. On the contrary, media coverage of the illegal activities of illegal immigrants and the continued police pursuit of these immigrants only worsen the fear and negative attitude of Americans towards immigrants. In consequence, the living conditions for people in America and the American society are altered.
It is not surprising if people living in America develop negative perceptions towards immigrant communities. The presence of illegal immigrants involved in criminal activities as well as the rise in the number of legal immigrants and their communities can negatively shape the views of Americans towards them. Some Americans may see immigrants as threats to the working environment while some others may see immigrants as threats to life and property. These negative impressions of people living in America towards immigrants can become causes of conflict in cultural relations between immigrants and American residents. The conflict can be worse in the case of illegal immigrants and people living in America because illegal immigrants who refuse to return to their countries may be reported by American residents to government authorities. Refusing to go and hiding away from authorities, illegal immigrants may do harmful or threatening things to American residents in order to prevent them from doing any action that can lead to their arrest or deportation. Hatred between immigrants and Americans often becomes the result of cultural differences and misunderstandings.
Some Americans may have developed a sense of hatred for immigrants who, in a way, are taking away their jobs and changing their society. Perhaps some Americans want to preserve their society that is not largely occupied by people coming from different parts of the world. Perhaps they want to keep their society from being a basket of mixed cultures, eventually turning into a country where there is no genuine and single American culture but only a society of mixed cultures (Ellis & Wright, 1998). But that is the interesting part of it—some critics argue that America’s history of immigration and its current cultural mixes are its sources of strength, which is also why America became a superpower in global economics (Durkin, 1998). If America prefers to keep immigrants from living in the country, who will operate thousands of machines in factories located across the country? Where will America find the thousands or millions of people who are needed in filling the small jobs? Where will America find the thousands or millions of people who contribute to the growth of the country in so many different ways? The consequences of preventing immigrants from coming into America are as negative as some people may think, and yet the consequences of the growing number of immigrants in America today are also becoming more and more negative. However, there are also positive consequences of having immigrants contribute to the American workforce and to American society as a whole. At any rate, the problem of immigration has been changing the lives of people living in America from the past until today.
Cave, D. (2008). States Take New Tack on Illegal Immigration Retrieved March 17, 2009, from http://www.nytimes.com/2008/06/09/us/09panhandle.html
Cooper, R. N. (2008). Economic, Social, and Environmental; The Accelerating Decline in America’s High-Skilled Workforce: Implications for Immigration Policy. Foreign Affairs, 87(3), 142.
Durkin, J. T. (1998). Immigration, Assimilation and Growth. Journal of Population Economics, 11(2), 273-291.
Ellis, M., & Wright, R. (1998). The Balkanization Metaphor in the Analysis of U.S. Immigration. Annals of the Association of American Geographers, 88(4), 686-698.
Espenshade, T. J. (1995). Unauthorized Immigration to the United States. Annual Review of Sociology, 21, 195-216.
Kemnitz, A. (2003). Immigration, Unemployment and Pensions. The Scandinavian Journal of Economics, 105(1), 31-47.
Lipstadt, D. E. (1990). America and the Holocaust. Modern Judaism, 10(3), 283-296.