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Do immigrants work harder than native borns?

January 23rd, 2007 Posted in Books/Magazines, General, Politics, Travel

The Wall street Journal’s Sara Schaefer-Munoz points to a recent Financial Times column on immigration which mentions a private wealth manager who says that foreign-born recruits to his company are more motivated than his own children. This raises another point to the notion of illegal immigration raised by fashion designer Antonio Miro’s recent runway show. The columnist talks about how immigrants do their best to assimilate into their adopted country and work diligently to make a life for their children, all while maintaining their cultural identity. I’ve copied and pasted the article below for convenience. A very good read.

The new model Americans
By Chrystia Freeland, January 20 2007
When I was 10 years old, a group of actors came to our school and posed as would-be immigrants. We children were given the role of immigration officers, with a quota of immigrants we could admit and a list of desirable characteristics in new Canadians. We had to decide who could come to our country – and who couldn’t.

The idea, I guess, was to teach us to identify with would-be immigrants. It worked. Indeed, the actors’ stories were so moving that we children were spurred to political protest. Immigration quotas were wrong, we declared, and we intended to admit the entire group.

In the decade and a half I spent working in a Europe struggling with the basic concept of integrating people from somewhere else, I liked to think of my childhood indoctrination as a symbol of North America’s different attitude to huddled masses, yearning to be free. Now that I’m back, I realise it is not quite so clear-cut. I am reminded of the New World’s own ambivalence whenever I cross the US border, as I did last Saturday at Newark Airport, where I was fingerprinted, photographed, questioned and, at last, reluctantly admitted, by an official who seemed anything but immigrant-friendly.

The same is probably true of the marketing managers at Toys R Us, whose classic new year promotion got fouled up by the country’s confused attitudes towards new Americans. Yuki Lin, born in New York at the stroke of midnight, was initially declared the winner of the $25,000 savings bond the toy chain promised to the US’s first child of the year. You might think that Ms Lin, who like six out of 10 New York infants was born to immigrant parents, made a particularly apt victor. But then someone discovered that her mother was not a legal resident. Toys R Us decided that the little girl was disqualified.

A Chinese-language newspaper reported the story on its website and a Chinese-American corporate lawyer took up Yuki Lin’s cause. By January 7 Toys R Us had relented.

The drama ignited the blogosphere. One popular line of argument was captured by a self-described grandmother of five: “Most Americans realise we all were immigrants at one time in our history, some legal, some illegal.” This is the central fact about the New World and one I have been reminded of as I read Mayflower, the new history bestseller. The Mayflower voyagers are quintessential immigrants: “We think of the Pilgrims as resilient adventurers upheld by unwavering religious faith but they were also human beings in the midst of what was, and continues to be, one of the most difficult emotional challenges a person can face: immigration and exile.” Nathaniel Philbrick, the author, says that roughly 10 per cent of today’s Americans can trace their descent to the Mayflower. But, as his account suggests, it is Yuki Lin’s parents with whom those hardy early settlers might actually have more in common.

Indeed, at least in the view of some Americans, the country’s truest citizens are those who have just arrived. One of the Toys R Us bloggers wrote that over the past five years his “red-neck white trash” neighbours had been replaced. ” . . . 14 houses on my street, not a one of them occupied by native-born Americans”. The result, he said, was that a street that had once been visited by police every day had become peaceful.

“Rowdyruffian’s” anecdotal account is at odds with popular fears about the connection between immigration and crime. But a study of crime in Chicago between 1995 and 2002 by Harvard’s Robert Sampson found that violence among Mexican-Americans was significantly lower than among both non-Hispanic whites and blacks.

You could call this perception that newcomers behave better than the locals “immigrant envy”, and you can find it in fancier circles, too. At a dinner party I recently attended a Manhattan private wealth manager complained that his children lacked the drive and the work ethic he saw in the young, foreign-born recruits to his bank.

Even as they struggle outwardly to assimilate, some immigrants themselves worry about maintaining their outsiders’ edge. That is the fear of Yelena Petrovna, the Russian immigrant mother in Gary Shteyngart’s novel The Russian Debutante’s Handbook, who excoriates her under-performing son for failing to best the “stupid native born”. I suspect my foreign-born parents have had moments of similar concern. As my two daughters – now two generations beyond the immigrant experience – start school, I start to worry, too.

My PTA has invited me to a lecture on how we are “Crazy Busy – Overstretched, Overbooked”. I was tempted to go. But then I came across this quotation, in Mayflower, from the Pilgrim travellers: “We are well weaned from the delicate milk of our mother country and inured to the difficulties of a strange and hard land.” They sounded a lot like my own immigrant grandparents, who were far Crazy Busier than I am but didn’t spend much time complaining about it. Nor, I am prepared to bet, do Yuki Lin’s parents. I might be one of the “stupid native born” but my new year resolution is to try to act as if I’ve just come off the boat.

  • http://myglobalhustle.wordpress.com/ Young Global

    thats real talk man…

  • Ron.

    It’s only natural for new immigrants to work harder. Opportunities are fresh, new and abundant. I’m native born and there is a perception that imigrants are willing to work cheaper, but this is not always true. Immigrants also work smarter for the first and maybe the second generations. Then as the immigrant family’s nucleus begins to break down, immigrants become just as lost and confused as the rest of us.

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