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Daniel Cubias

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Should Americans Adopt the Immigrant Mindset?

Posted: 11/10/09 12:31 AM ET

I've spent some time in the corporate world, and as such, I despise phrases like "paradigm shift" or "new dynamic." Still, it's clear that something new is forming within the American psyche.

As result of the cataclysm we jokingly call our economy, Americans are moving less than they have in decades. It's been almost half a century since so few of us changed addresses. Just over one percent of the population moved to a new state, which as the New York Times points out, "suggests that Americans were unable or unwilling to follow any job opportunities that may have existed around the country, as they have in the past. And the lack of movement... could have an impact on the economy, reducing the economic activity generated by moves."

I've done my part by selling my house, packing up, and road-tripping two thousand miles. Granted, my previous employer's decision to downsize me made this choice easier (thanks for the catalyst, guys!). However, it was clear to my wife and me that that we needed to shake things up. So we moved.

2009-11-10-coveredwagons.jpg

This was the sixth major move of my life. Counting all the minor moves within cities, I'm probably well past twenty zip codes. Looking at it another way, my wife and I have been together for eighteen years, and we figure we've spent about three of those getting ready for, or recovering from, a move. And let me tell you, living among boxes and making appointments to get cable hooked up never loses its exotic luster.

So why do I do it?

Perhaps, among the restlessness and need for change, there is a more basic reason. I think it might have something to do with my family's recent history as immigrants. There's a willingness to strike out and explore that many people who are fifth or sixth generation don't seem to have.

I'm not saying this is either good or bad. It's just a different mindset.

For example, when I graduated from college in the Midwest, I moved to New York City. Many of my friends were aghast that I would just pack up and leave without a job, bound for such a huge and insane place.

But I knew that my mother had also moved to New York City in her twenties. The difference was that she arrived fresh from her small Latin American village, understood very little English, and was on her own in a bizarre new land. In contrast, I was a natural-born citizen, fluent in the ways of the culture, with a fresh college degree and the companionship of my girlfriend (now wife). I correctly saw it as a no big deal in comparison.

This attitude permeates my family. My cousin recently moved to Hawaii. She did it because she wanted to live there, which is a good enough reason in my family.

In a few years, you'll have to ask my cousin and me whether our respective moves were good ideas or not. But we're both optimistic.

Many Americans are not similarly upbeat, of course, or they lack the resources to hit the road. Still, many of us who could move - and in some cases, should move - are staying put. According to the Times, this shows that "the U.S. population, often thought of as the most mobile in the developed world, seems to have been stopped dead in its tracks due a confluence of constraints posed by a tough economic spell."

So is adopting the immigrant spirit one way to perk up our economy?

Well, the financial meltdown has caused immigration to drop to its lowest point in a decade. Still, immigrants (by their very nature) are more willing to ditch their old life and tackle the newest challenge, and they will be the first ones to do it again when the economy picks up.

Meanwhile, we may be exiting the period of history when Americans had the luxury of saying, "This is where I grew up, and this is where my family is, so I'm not budging." That will no longer be the intrinsic justification it once was.

And isn't it true that, even if we never move, our hometowns are inevitably changing in front of us, proving once more that we live in not only a place but a time?

Well, I'd love to discuss that with you, but I can't right now. You wouldn't believe how many boxes I have to unpack yet.