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Nedda Alammar

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Not Another Immigrant Story

Posted: 07/07/11 11:14 AM ET

In celebration of American Independence Day, I rolled out of bed, cracked open a Skinnygirl margarita, and proceeded to flip through the channels of network television.

I was in the mood for festive. Recipes for the tastiest potato salad, the danger of fireworks, how to make the perfect float. SIGH. I finally stopped on a roundtable discussion on ABC's This Week in News-- the caption at the bottom of the screen read, "A Country of Immigrants." Immigration policy.

Ha, I thought. This should be good. I poured myself another Skinnygirl.

Lately, whenever I hear the word 'immigrant,' I think of a gaggle of little people hopping a fence. Legal or illegal, that's what I think of. And it doesn't help when in such televised discussions as on ABC that morning, the token immigrant says something like, "Yeah, I was glad for television because that's how I learned American." And then the token white guy says something like, "They take advantage of our valuable school system" and then follows up with something that resembles "they should be allowed to be Americans!" Is he talking about black people pre-1964 or catfish? I don't know.

But again, little people hopping a fence in hopes of a better life. It's an image I just can't shake.

That day though, I caught myself in a moment of American gloating. Maybe it was the holiday, maybe it was the Skinnygirl margarita. But I thought, ok, something has to be missing from this conversation. How can I not feel like such an a--hole?

And then it dawned on me. Does anyone ever talk to someone who has immigrated? Does anyone ever ask "Hey, was it worth it? Are you a balanced individual?" Do people ever discuss what immigrants give up by coming here?

I recently walked into a deli and got to talking with an owner, as I normally do when I feel like being high maintenance. In this case, though, I didn't have to be nearly as charming; this particular deli owner was from the Middle East, same as my parents. As he slapped on the extra turkey and happily smeared fat free mayo with olive oil, he told me that he carried a Master's degree in literature and had to have five other businesses just to live comfortably. Upon hearing this, I felt bad. I'm not quite sure that the general public is aware of the amount of highly educated sandwich makers, security guards, and street meat vendors there are out there.

But honestly, I more so felt lucky. My parents did not need to own fourteen businesses to survive. They could continue on as the same neurotic scientists in this country as they were in Iraq. We were lucky. I guess.

But were we? Really? Because if there is one thing I know about any child of an immigrant is that you don't exactly have a better life. Well, you do if you consider Crazy as better. Constantly asking ourselves, 'Is this normal? Is that normal? What's normal? Am I crazy?' And finally deciding Yes, I am indeed Crazy. And then we'll go out and get a lot of degrees and become dependable.

But all the degrees and success won't matter. Because being the child of someone who doesn't really know how it goes only means that you'll never really know how it goes. You think you will. You think you might. But you won't.

Ah, the children...

Although the good news is that you will probably be a better dancer than most Americans. And when you travel overseas, you won't get hassled for being dumb. That's a definite plus. (I realize I am painting a rather bleak portrait of the aftermath of immigrants in this country--I really don't mean to. It's just that I don't know any better. My parents raised me to be negative about pretty much everything. It's in our culture.)

And so as I watched this great debate of our country's immigration policy by people who really have no stake in debating about anything, I have to wonder, perhaps they should have a Skinnygirl margarita. Maybe that would allow them to think clearly.

Because I have to say, as an American, I know enough to know that being an immigrant comes at a great price. But it is a price people are willing to pay. And if people are willing to pay, why not just give them whatever they want? After all, this is America.

Right?


 

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