Friday, May 05, 2006

The Return Home, Entry #3

It's interesting to watch all the immigration stuff going on in the U.S. at the moment. Having been gone for so long, I can view the goings on with a fresh perspective. Or maybe a fresher perspective. OK, certainly a new perspective -- you're the judge about whether it's fresh or not.

When I arrived to LAX, at the immigration counters, I was intrigued by the array of nationalities and races working there. I smiled inside, thinking 'This is the Unites Sates. This. The variety of people'. This is something I love about the United States. This is something, in my opinion, that really makes us different -- and unique -- as far as the rest of the world goes. This is our appeal. This is our greatest attribute.

We don't have a corner on democracy. There are plenty of democratic countries in the world (and more to come if we have our way). We don't have a corner on the marketplace -- sure we're the biggest consumers of everything in the world (OK, that's unique), but look how we import so many things with stickers that read 'made in China' on the bottom...

What I'm saying is that of all the things America IS or DOES, our population is what makes us stand apart from the crowd. After traveling in countries where there is no such diversity, or if there is diversity it's very minimal, I am asounted to see the mix we have here, especially in SF. I guess I was used to it before leaving home and so it was invisible.

I did miss it while traveling. In restaurants, on the bus, on the street, looking out at a sea of all black hair was a disconcerting experience. Everyone was the same. It's like eating plain oatmeal instead of the kind with brown sugar, raisins, honey, and bananas in it. What they say is true, "Variety is the spice of life." This comes from William Cowper's poem, “The Task” (1785): “Variety is the very spice of life, That gives it all its flavor.”

Obviously, we was onto something. No one's ever heard of William Cowper. He's not exactly a household name, but everyone knows the line from his poem.

So. America: you're beautiful because of the many faces in your crowds. Another perk: the menu. In India, I ate Indian food. I love Indian food, but after a few months, I missed the variety of choices I had back home. I'll eat Italian one night, Indian the next, Mexican after that... maybe a little Spanish or French here and there. Because of our country's diversity, our taste buds get to travel the planet whenever they like.

Variety IS the spice of life.

Now, I write this from San Francisco, a place known for its diversity. I know that in Ohio, where I grew up, things are much different. Or maybe just more subtle. Maybe you don't have the numbers of Asian or Mexican communities we have... But you do have Germans, Irish, Polish people (and lots of jokes to go with them). They look the same, so perhaps are not thought of as 'foreingers' like many other immigrants. In fact, Asian Americans I know get upset when people look at them and say, "Wow, you speak such good English." Their reply, "Well, I was born and raised in Illinois so maybe that has something to do with it, you idiot."

I have to admit, when I was IN Asia, I was always taken aback when I heard an Asian person speak with a perfect American accent. It never surprised me before traveling. I never even thought about it. But on the road, when everyone with a similar appearance is speaking a foreingn language, it started to surprise me. And I was surprised that I was surprised.

In China, I saw a group of Chinese Americans being led on a tour through the streets of Lijiang. Their Chinese guide was speaking to them in English. They are Chinese but don't speak Chinese. This was always surprising to the people of China. They didn't understand why the Chinese Americans didn't understand them.

But back to the subject...

Here we have this immigration thing going on. It's complex because people are marching for immigrant rights and people are also marching for illegal immigrant rights. To me, these are two separate issues... now they are all tangled up in each other and complicating things.

I can't think of any country that welcomes illegal immigrants. From recent experience in Thailand, they are constantly checking ID cards at roadblocks, looking for people (workers) from Myanmar, Laos, and Cambodia. I heard from Dutch, French, English, and Spanish travelers about the problems in their own countries to do with immigrants & integration, legal or not.

If I secretly moved to Thailand and then got into trouble, I would have no rights as a foreign national in Thailand illegally. So, do the illegal immigrants in America have rights? I'll leave that one open.

My opinion on the matter: separate the issues -- keep our many faces -- make my taste buds happy


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