02 July 2010

A Thought on Immigration

Just a thought inspired from a snippet I read this morning. It's "interesting" how people get worried about immigration and "all those people coming into our country to take jobs away from us."

My husband is a UK citizen with a British accent living in the US. For 21 years, I was a US citizen with an American accent living in the UK.

Maybe people were too polite to say so, but no one ever complained to me that I was taking a job away from a native-born British citizen. Quite the opposite. A number of times, people complained to me at length about immigrants and then when I'd point out that I was an immigrant they said "Oh, but I don't mean you!"

In the same way, no one has yet challenged my husband about his immigration status to the US. OK, it's relatively early days, but I bet they don't mean him - that nice white man with a British accent - when they are worried about all those people coming over here and taking our jobs.

However, the ironic thing is that we were and are the people who are coming over here and taking away jobs from the native born. We are not doing the hard-grafting work that most immigrants do because native born sons and daughters don't want to do such hard work.

I'm pretty sure that it helps being white.


tortoise said...

And I'm pretty sure you're right.

Thinking about it though, I wonder also whether, even among white immigrants, some accents are more palatable than others. I'm thinking of the notorious "no blacks, no jews, no irish notices put up by London landlords within living memory, and present-day pockets of antagonism faced by some immigrant Polish communities even today. Is that part of the experience for some white immigrants to the USA today?

PamBG said...

Is that part of the experience for some white immigrants to the USA today?

I don't actually know. I'm hearing a number of Eastern European accents here in Cleveland but this doesn't surprise me in the slightest since I grew up with people whose parents and grandparents were from that part of the world and I'm assuming that there are still probably family connections. I haven't met any of these individuals to ask them whether they experience discrimination.

I do know that where I was in the Midlands (there was a Polish Counsulate there as well as a Polish-speaking Catholic Church), that Polish immigrants often experienced discrimination.

Dan said...

Great observations. Discrimination abounds in our attitudes toward immigration, and in our conversations about reform. Thanks for the post!

Jonathan Robinson said...

Yes it is interesting, but in the colonies I wonder if those not born there are more sympathetic to the indigenous peoples, where i work in NZ the only people who have bothered to learn the indigenous language to any extent are the british born (and accented) members of the faculty. So although we steal jobs, we do add value to institutions by being more sensitised to the issues of colonialism. :-)

Steve Hayes said...

Perhaps there are different classes of immigrants, and some are perceived as more of a threat than others, depending on their numbers, and how closely they stick together. When they live in "ghettos" or "quarters" with others from the same place, they can be perceived as more of a threat. For the way it happens in our country, see my post on the same topic at No bread, no matches, no candles — thanks to xenophobia | Khanya. Another post on the topic, from a similar viwpoint to yours, which you may find interesting is The New Litmus Test | Solomon Hezekiah

Sol said...

As an American living in the UK for the past 10+ years in Herefordshire, where most of the people on our street are from eastern Europe, I have had a similar experience. The man two doors down is always complaining about the foreigners "stealing our jobs and our women". I guess they stole his job, because he hasn't had one since we've lived here, nor has anyone in his house. My British wife thought is was ironic that he was bellyaching to me, when I was a foreigner who had taken one of their women! Of course since I don't have an eastern European accent they don't mean me. (Though to be perfectly honest, I know some British men with eastern Eurpean wives/partners, but no eastern European men with British wives/partners.)

My wife will be an immigrant to Texas later this year, but she will have the same experience as your husband. They will not mind that she is taking anyone else's job, because not only is she not Mexican, but everyone goes on and on about how much they love her accent.

If I can add one more brief ancedote... I became a British citizen in May. At the swearing in ceremony there was a New Zealander, a Thai couple, and me. The Registrar of the County spoke to the Kiwi bloke and me as equals and then to the job-dropping embarrassment of everyone present spoke condescendingly to the Thai couple - local business owners - as if they were children and said he had visited Thailand once and it was "a dirty little country".

PamBG said...

Sol: Ugh! Cringe!

When I became a UK citizen, the process was a lot looser. I only had to get an affidavit witnessed by a solicitor. A local solicitor's firm held walk-in surgeries where, for a small fee (I think it was £20 at the time), one could have small legal matters attended to. The solicitor who witnessed the document for me looked like he was in his mid-to-late 20s and he was so chuffed to be doing it that he waived the fee. That actually felt like a really hospitable welcoming gesture.

I wish you and your wife well as you move to the US. Do be prepared for culture shock! You will have it even if you don't think that you will!

Steve Hayes said...

There is to be a synchroblog on the immigration issue next month. You might like to submit this post, or write another on the topic if you are moved to do so. More info at Notes from underground: Illegal aliens