‘Jose on a Country of Immigrants’ by Danny Harris

Danny Harris is a DC-based photographer, DJ, and collector of stories. He launched People’s District, a blog that tells a people’s history of DC by sharing the stories and images of its residents. You can follow People’s District on Twitter @PeoplesDistrict, and can read his previous columns here.

“I came to this country from Puebla, Mexico with my family when I was a small child. We lived in Tucson, Arizona and I became a citizen when I was six-years-old. I have seen a lot of this country now that I am 38. I lived in Texas, Connecticut, New York, Baltimore, and have been in Washington for 26 years.

“Politicians in this city come-and-go, and they all make promises about helping the immigrants. We are a country of immigrants, but we go through times when people don’t like us very much. Just look at what is happening in Arizona. Look at the politicians from all over the country who live in my city and want to make like hard for all of the hard working immigrants who live in America.

“Remember, I am an American and can work, but people still see my skin and think that I am not one of you. Do you need me to remind you that we are all immigrants? Look at Obama. His father is from Africa.

“I don’t know, maybe things were better back with Washington and Lincoln because I don’t see much change with Bush and Obama. Our presidents go off and travel to India and China and start wars abroad rather than go to places like Honduras or El Salvador. If people here cared about immigration, they would try and help the people in those countries, so they wouldn’t come live here. Instead, we are a country that collects enemies. We need to change how we live.

“I hope that things will change. If not, I guess I will go back to Mexico.”

80 Comment

  • me

    Or, maybe, politicians could try helping out areas of our own country that are less fortunate rather than going to a foreign country to do so. Just sayin’.

    • Wow. Now there’s an impressive lack of understanding. And in DC, no less.

      • me

        How so? Invest to build up a community such as post-Katrina New Orleans, or send the same amount of money abroad? It seems like a simple choice to me.

        • I have to agree. Not as a substitute to helping other nations, but it does seem like we put the needs of our own country and people well behind those of nations all over the world, most of whom resent/hate us and are only smiling in our faces because we give them billions every year.

          • Silly man. US gives support to nations only when there is a return on investment for the ruling class of this country. Don’t kid youself that the US wants to help those countries. It’s just a way to create profit for … well… not you.

          • Equally silly man. I know this. I never said we had great, altruistic motives. Quite the opposite. We always hand out money when we want return favors:

            allow our oil companies in;
            put down that populist rebellion;
            let us put a military base in your country, etc…

            anyway, we’re on the same page, is my point.

        • Operative word being “simple”.

          Ain’t nothing about this world simple, nor should there be. Isolationism is simple, as in simpleminded.

          But if you need a simple correlation, consider that dollars spent on humanitarian development have twice the peacebuilding effect of those same dollars spent on military action. If we’re spending money to protect ourselves from extremists… why not get more bang for our buck, AND lift people out of poverty at the same time?

          I could go on and on, but really… you will probably have a class on this your freshman year of college. I don’t want to spoil it for you.

          • No way man. The way to make someone NOT want to blow you up is to destroy their friends and neighbors with UAVs and when you call it “collateral damage” they realize they should thank you and not become recruited into a terrorist organization. If you send them food you will give the terrorists all the excuses they need to show examples of how horrible the US is to them.

            That and what about all the poor people working in gun factories in the US? Do you wan’t them all to loose their jobs?

          • Hey. The US does support allies, like Egypt for example. I just saw a photo of a protester holding an empty tear gas canister that said “Made in USA” on it. I can only assume he was grateful.

          • me

            Considering my freshman year of college was over 10 years ago and I’ve since gotten an MA and PhD in International Politics, I think that I don’t need to hear your snark. I didn’t say anything about the budget for war, for nation- or state-building, or anything else outside of our borders. You’re bringing up things that are irrelevant to the conversation regarding financial aid in our country versus another country.

          • An MA and PhD in International Politics? So I’m curious – after getting this degree, what can you actually … do?

          • me

            Teach at a University, research and publish.

          • …and post comments on blogs.

          • me

            Yup. Everyone’s allowed a sick day. So I’m bored, at home, while recovering.

    • Agreed! Lets start by taking the 3 billion a year we send to Israel and invest it in the crumblin US infrastructure instead.

    • +1. Not only that, but it robs underdeveloped nations of their best, brightest and most ambitious –the very people who their country needs to be able improve itself.

      • Gah! Another one who has zero understanding of what “development”. (I stopped paying attention to “Jen”, as s/he is obviously a bored HSer trolling. I mean, no one who made it through Freshman year, much less advanced degrees, could say something as stupid as “politicians could try helping out areas of our own country that are less fortunate rather than going to a foreign country to do so”.)
        Anyway, one of the major goals of development (in which we go to other countries to help their less fortunate) is to keep their best and brightest there, with better education and resources to use in building a better future for their own.
        It could be argued that the U.S. immigration “problem” (those are sarcastiquotes; I don’t think immigration is problem in and of itself) is caused by the insufficient U.S. investment in humanitarian aid and development.

        • me

          Obviously, because no one would give a PhD to a Conservative. *rolls eyes*

          • Is it official now? Is “lack of basic understanding of the most elementary principles of international relations” synonymous with “conservative”? I mean, I knew that was the working definition, but I didn’t know that conservatives themselves were admitting it. Thanks! I learned something!

        • WDC: You do a lot of name calling and asserting of your intelligence. You might try creating a reasonable argument first.

          Going in and ‘doing the work for them’ as you suggest we do for economic development doesn’t do anything except create dependency. That dependency is what allows dictatorships to flourish. Brazil has proven that with an educated, independent electorate that you can stand on your own two feet as a country.

          And C/S America’s problems were around a long time before the US was ever involved, and were exacerbated by plenty of Soviet assassinations. Read YOUR history.

  • As an american of Mexican american background i completely agree. I have never lived anywhere else and was born and raised in the United States and yet i still feel the second glaces from people everywhere i go. I remember going to a gas station in the south when i was in college and they wouldn’t sell me gas.

    In High School I had a “white” friend who I had been friends with since elementary school. When we were sophmores she finally took me to her house. Her parents never wanted her to have “mexican” friends. I will never forget that day.

    I am shocked when I see people treat others badly or say racist comments, because everyone is different, that is america. It seems to be forgotten that we are a country of freedom and acceptance of differences. Although I am native born, I still love my heritage and don’t believe I have to abandon my family’s history to seem “more american”. I love america and it is always my country but i am also proud to be of mexican american descent. Just as those whose family came from Italy, Ireland or other places are proud, I am too.

    I hope that when my kids are teenagers they won’t have to go through the racist problems I have and that one day people won’t have to fear others.

    • Don’t worry. Those people are just ignorant hillbilies.

    • I’m white, but can be mistaken for Hispanic becuase of my Italian features. It’s interesting to see how horribly other white people treat me when they assume I’m not one of them.

      • Just white folks, huh? Odd, because I’ve witnessed plenty of anti-immigrant talk from black people.

        Sad that it’s one thing that can bring (certain) white and black folks together…

      • i’m white. look white. act white. dress white. do white people things. and some white people still treat me like shit too.

  • if things don’t get better I’m moving to Canada. Trust me, I’m gonna do it! Wait, you don’t believe me?

  • @boomcrash, If this country got rid of the illegals once and for all, and worked to keep them out, no one would mistake you for being illegal. Our problem is your problem

    • Or make the legalization process less prohibitive.

    • You know they said the same thing when your grandparents came here from wherever. Why don’t you go back to wherever they came from if you think this way.

      • me

        But do YOU know that my ancestors came here legally? And I do not identify myself as a “______-American”, but simply as an “American”? Telling someone to go back to wherever their ancestors came from is completely missing the point.

        • Ok – Fair is Fair – lets make the legalization process now the same as it was whenever your grandparents came – OK?

          Completely missing the point is the fact that “legally” then was just showing up and signing into a book which is the “legal” way your grandparents came.

          If they came today they would be turned away. Just so you know.

          • There are legal means of immigration, so to say that someone’s grandparent would not be able to come today is inaccurate.
            As Americans tend to take pride in our diversity and in being a nation of immigrants, we also sometimes overlook that there are many people who went through the lengthy process to come to this country legally, and others who, for whatever reason, felt those laws did not apply to them. Unless America decides to place no restrictions on immigration, people who come here without being admitted should not expect to benefit from the same rights as those who immigrated or were fortunate enough to be born here.

          • Don’t forget the people who volunteered to fight and die to create and sustain this country. If you want a path to citizenship through military, that’s fine, but you can’t just show up and get rich. I lost family members fighting to create this country and preserve it. That’s missing cousins, missing uncles and missing grandparents.

        • everyone should just go back to minnesota

        • Do do YOU know that I don’t know your ancestors came here legally?! I might know that!

          BTW, thanks to your ancestors for bringing that smallpox epidemic back in the day. Now that was a “once and for all” type solution.

          • me

            Maybe if they came over that long ago… but they didn’t. My parents came over and didn’t bring over smallpox. Hilarious line, though. And you know? I was born here, so I consider myself an American. But I guess that’s beside the point.

          • Mine came to the Massachusetts Bay Colony, so yes, I do.

    • I assume that you and your ancestors are Native American?

  • pablo .raw

    When I was in like 6th grade (in my country of origin) we had to do some research about different countries and I was assigned the USA and another one. I went to the embassy and got a really nice brochure titled “A Nation of Immigrants”, that among other things explained how this nation is the sum of a diversity of parts. I never thought at the time that one day I was going to be one of those parts.
    Even though my experience has been far different than Jose’s, I feel for him and understand that this is an extremely complex theme. I agree with him that this country, (and other developed countries) should do more to help improve the quality of life of the rest of the world if they want to stop illegal immigration. Keep creating unfair economic and trade rules and agreements, supporting dictators and creating debt for poor countries, and people will keep coming in order to get food for their families.

  • Instead of focusing on the legality of inmigrants we should just focus on people’s contributions to society. That way we could keep all the nice people and get rid of the Jens and the JustSayIts.

  • I’m not clear on what “help” is desired here in terms of politicians “helping the immigrants.” Social services? Anti-discrimination? Path to citizenship? “Help” isn’t very specific.

  • I think every immigrant population would be able to fold into America better if they fucking spoke english. It’s hard to be a community if you can’t understand your neighbor.

    • Well since there is no official language in the US maybe you should fucking learn Spanish. Or everyone should fucking learn Flemish.

    • The vast majority of immigrants do learn English, and they do it faster than early 20th century immigrants did. Virtually all of their children learn English.

      • This is true. There is piles of research that shows this is true. If anything, the native tongue is practically gone by the second generation.

        • +1

          I have reviewed several piles of that research…the only reason people think Latinos *aren’t* picking up English is because they are lumping new immigrants together with 2nd/3rd/5th generation immigrants. As a result the “English language acquisition rate” is watered down for all Latinos b/c there are so many new Latino immigrants each year.

          I would be *shocked* if anyone could reliably demonstrate that even 10% of Latino immigrants don’t want their children to become fluent in English.

          • So the perception is based on the unreasonably large number of latin american immigrants that flow into the country faster than they can be assimilated? Yes, I agree.

      • While English is largely acquired by the second generation due to schooling, just walk down 9th Street or go on any 42 bus – there are tons of people who are not speaking English, and I doubt they are all native-born citizens. Sure, it’s not easy to pick up a second language but many people do not sound like they make much of an effort. Having a common language is a basic component of communicating with neighbors and building a sense of commmunity.

        • If the fact that immigrants speak their native tongue among people of their own nationality bothers you, then it really sounds like the problem is yours, not theirs. There is no reason why they should HAVE to speak English amongst themselves just to make you feel better. I have no problem with encouraging immigrants to learn English as a necessary tool for being able to function and get ahead, and neither do most immigrants, but when you start making English a prerequisite to being considered a part of “the community” that’s where I have a real problem. I think that we are a diverse enough country that if you act with kindness toward your neighbors and work to make your neighborhood a better place, you can be part of “the community” regardless of what language you speak.

          • I agree they have no need to care how I feel at all. But what you describe sounds like a narrow conception of community that I don’t find very appealing. For me being part of a community is about communication – with friends, neighbors, strangers – and language is a big component of that. If someone is not going to communicate in the native language, then I don’t see them as fostering a cohesive community. When I lived abroad I made attempts to speak the local language in public (even when among other Americans, though admittedly they found that strange). My accent may have been poor, but I felt at least I was showing respect for their language and culture.

          • The difference, DCster is that the U.S. has never, and in fact, I would argue, CAN never define itself along cultural (including linguistic) lines. Think about it, just about every other nation in the world defines its national identity through adherence to some set of cultural, racial, or religious norms that all of its people are expected to identify with. For example, it’s hard to think of Spanish identity without thinking of the Spanish language, the Catholic tradition, and quite frankly, fair skin. If you don’t fit all of these molds, then you simply don’t fit the commonly understood meaning of being “Spanish”. American identity, I would argue, is quite different. What unites us is not a common religion, race, or language, but rather a common adherence to the political ideals enshrined in our founding documents; the American Creed, which ensures that regardless of what race or religion you belong to, you will be treated fairly and equally under the law, and you will be free to practice whatever religion or speak whatever language you choose, and it will not make you any less “American.” In a country as diverse as ours, it is the ONLY thing that can be used to define us as a people.

        • Yeah, but they’re kids are 2x as likely to join an immigrant based gang and their alienation from general society, created by their parent’s illegal acts, makes them more anti social.

          • Myths and half-truths. If you’re saying that immigrants are more likely to join an “immigrant-based gang” than are natives, then yeah, sport, I guess that’s true — just as it’s more likely that bird will be able to fly than a whale. But if you look at the rates of criminality amongst immigrant populations compared to the general population, then you will find no correlation between criminality and immigration status. If anything, being an immigrant makes you LESS likely to commit a crime. And as for second generations, it is true that their rates of incarceration do go up, but the reasons for this have much more to do with socioeconomic factors such as poor access to good schools, jobs, and social services than their parents’ immigration status. If anything their parents’ immigrant experience acts as a countering force to the pull of the streets.

    • Really? On average, our society doesn’t even start learning another language until middle or even high school (although bilingual schools seem extremely popular here and other metropolitan areas). Even societies that are “not as developed” as we are, start learning earlier and although they might not be completely fluent, they have a better grasp of a second language than you ever will.

      And anyways it goes both ways. You should learn Spanish and stop acting like you’re entitled just because you were born here.

      • Southerners are entitled to have their stupid accent, new Englanders there’s, and plains state’s there’s.

        What’s stupid and obnoxious is hiring people as the face of your country who can’t speak to your customers.

        • How about hiring professors who can’t speak to their students? I’m pretty good with accents, but I couldn’t understand half my college professors and they couldn’t understand their students. Kinda made the whole teaching thing impossible.

          • I’ve always believed that professors should be hired on the basis of their ability to teach (novel concept, huh?), and if necessary, hire the brilliant people who hate teaching and/or can’t speak English properly to do the research part.

        • saf

          Obnoxious is also complaining about immigrants and language while being unable to use your own language properly.

  • Do you know there are many undocumented people married to American citizens yet they can’t legalize their status. There are many young people who have been in the States for their half if not most of their lives who don’t speak any other language but English, yet can’t legalize their situation. Others have legal documentation but are not legal residents yet and maybe never will be. People think undocumented people just crossed the border yesterday and have nothing to tie then to the country. The truth is many families exist where half are citizens and the other half happen not to be.
    What we need is a better process that does not exclude those who deserve to be legal and have something to offer the country. This should include the ability to reunite and legalize family members more easily.
    Don’t look at them like strangers, they are part of us too. They belong to families too. I completely agree criminals should be blocked, but the good people deserve better.

  • By the way Anonymous I love your answer about Yuppiehell comment, and for the record, I speak English well as do my all immigrant friends. Rather than criticize we could help them to understand and they will learn faster….

    And the fact is, most all children of immigrants are bilinguals. The same cannot be said of children born to US citicents.

    • Yeah, but knowing the language is side theater to the main issue which is people should be able to find work or permanent shelter in this country unless they are authorized to be here. We’re creating immigrant ghettos faster than we can assimilate people culturally and we have huge existing employment problems that don’t get better with uncontrolled immigration.

      Even legal immigrants are going to take a while to learn the language, so let’s not get hung up on that issue.

  • They don’t have kids by themselves; many do from Americans…. What then

  • The guy should count his blessings that he doesn’t live in Fairfax County!

  • Or Anne Arundel county or Calvert County (Redneckland)

  • During last week’s snowstorm I attempted to take a side street after sitting in non-moving traffic for six hours. Unfortunately, the side street was very hilly and I got stuck between two of the hills. I am forever grateful to the guy in a pickup who, speaking not a single word of English, appeared just as I was about to give up and offered to tow me out.

  • I think it’s funny that every discussion comes down to “You love them or you hate them” as if those are the only options.

    You can love them, like them, and still not think it’s proper for them to be here.

  • Jose is one rough-looking 38-year-old.

  • It is not about love them, like them, or what you think about them it’s about rigths

  • Corruption is the problem. US can give all the help/aid it want’s, but the corruption in these countries well prevent them from benefiting from it.

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