Thursday, July 10, 2008

Eye-Opener

Today I had a conversation with a woman from Peru, who was quite intelligent and interesting to talk to. Something that she said struck me hard and really made me think.

For a long time, I’ve blamed the horrible economy and the extreme disparity between the rich and poor on three super-powerful entities: pharmaceutical companies, health insurance companies, and oil companies. Health insurance companies don’t go under very often when compared with other industries. They pay out fractions of what they’re billed, they force the insured to pay unreasonable percentages of the bills and force them to jump through sometimes fatal hoops to get the coverage they’re entitled to, and they charge us obscene amounts in premiums. This drives up the cost of benefits for employers, and they pay the employees less as well as forcing them to contribute to the premiums, which is in addition to the medical bills employees end up having to pay. In turn, people are not getting the preventive care they should because they cannot afford it, and when they do get a diagnosis, they can’t afford the treatment. These days, we also have to worry that a diagnosis can actually effect our ability to have future coverage, too. I don’t have to touch on the astronomical costs of medications in the U.S., which are unjustly inflated for Americans. And I know I don’t have to launch into any kind of sermon about how much money the oil companies make for no reason other than because they can charge anything they want, and we’ll pay it. We experience and see this everyday.

So, as I was sitting there, chatting with this Peruvian woman who has recently immigrated to the U.S., she seemed to be trying to figure out the American psyche with the questions she asked me, and with each answer I gave, I was cognizant of the representative role I played the opinion she was forming of whatever group I represented to her. We discussed racism in the country, as well as in our modest little suburb, compared and contrasted it with what we both had experienced living in Chicago, and how difficult it is for immigrants these days to be treated by strangers with any decorum or respect. This led me to ask her a question about an article I read in a forgotten newspaper recently.

What I remembered reading was an article that cited that there is an exodus of native Mexicans returning to Mexico after coming to America for a “better life”. The article subjectively listed first that the economy here has prompted many people to return to the countries they left for similar reasons just a few years or decades earlier, like jobs are no longer abundant and the cost of living is so high. As secondary and tertiary reasons for the unprecedented return to Mexico, were the fears of deportation and the dubious future they have of ever being granted citizenship. We’re not necessarily talking about illegal immigrants here, either. Many legal citizens are going BACK to Mexico for a “better life”, and what reasons they give may or may not be what is being reported. I have my doubts. I’d venture a guess that yes, jobs are scarcer, money doesn’t go as far, and becoming a citizen is a process few will accomplish after paying heaps of money for many years, all the while paying taxes and supporting the U.S. economy. But I would put a lot of emphasis on the overall hatred and hostility that is aimed directly at the Mexican border, and anyone with an Hispanic-sounding name, or tan or olive skin is being accused of being an illegal alien at every turn in this country. Our country is downright despicable in the way we treat anyone we suspect might be Hispanic. Could it be that maybe they’re leaving because we’ve threatened them, treated them horribly, and made them feel unwelcome in every way, in every area, including dragging out the citizenship process for Spanish-speakers that greatly exceeds the length of time it takes for someone to become naturalized from Europe or Asia? My money is on blatant hatred they see on a regular basis, which only exacerbates the economic woes.

I’ve learned very quickly that the American public believes some very different things than the rest of the world. You get together a room full of immigrants from a variety of countries around the world and you ask them who was behind the attacks on 9/11. You’ll be very surprised who everyone blames. I won’t name names because I’ll likely be accused of being a conspiracy theorist or un-American for spreading this hearsay, but let’s just say that after November, the lame duck they blame won’t be as powerful anymore. So, when I brought up this article I read to this very bright Peruvian woman, she started talking about all the different news channels she watches regularly, including all the local ABC, NBC, and CBS affiliates, the national news channels, and the international news channels, which was the groundwork she laid before she answered my question about what she thought of how much truth there was to this article.

That’s when she hit me with something I hadn’t thought about.

She mentioned the hundreds of raids taking place at companies, factories, and various places of business, where everyone on staff is checked for citizenship, and truckloads of illegals are carted off, taken to jail, and after two – three months of jail time, they are released and immediately deported. These raids go on constantly, she assured me. The American news does not report this. However, if she watches the news on Univision or Telemundo, she can see just how many people are being deported all around the country, everyday. It’s sad and frightening, even to people who are citizens or who are going through the process. These are their family members, friends, and neighbors. You never know who is just going to disappear on any given day.

Now, after these raids started becoming common, something else happened at the companies that employed illegals. Um, well, duh – they couldn’t employ illegals anymore. Which meant that they had to hire people legally and pay higher salaries, as well as the appropriate employment taxes. Many businesses have gone under because of this, and the rest have raised what they charge to consumers for their various services or products, and this contributes to the outrageous inflation. So, essentially, what the stupid racists in the U.S. have long thought, that illegals come here and go on Welfare or other government subsidies, draining money out of our pockets via our taxes, well, they’re still stupid racists because they’re absolutely backwards. Our economy thrives with illegals working illegally at places we do business with because employing them keeps prices down. Let’s not even discuss the costs we’re investing in these raids, in the court costs, incarceration, and then shipping people back to their homelands. At some point, you’ve got to step back and take a good, hard look at the costs and the benefits.

I’m not promoting breaking the law, ignoring the proper immigration process, and allowing employers to get away with not paying employment taxes on people who they aren’t supposed to hire. This isn’t even to even mention the moral issues of hiring people for pay lower than minimum wage and denying them benefits and tax rights like Unemployment, Workers Compensation, and everything else that labor laws are set up to ensure. C’mon now, you all should know me better than to think I’d encourage the breaking of numerous laws set up to protect EVERYONE involved. Not happening here, folks. But what this woman brought to my attention was how much of an enormous impact the aggressive deportation of illegals is having on our economy, and for the first time ever, I’m starting to see that maybe I cannot blame all my woes on the three aforementioned super-powers.

Just when I thought she was done making my brain expand, she started talking about China, and the economic powerhouse they are quickly becoming. She asked me how their economy was able to grow so much. I saw where she was going, nodded and conceded that cheap labor does wonders for the economy. She pointed out the pattern in other countries, which are growing and also notorious for their cheap labor. She paused and then continued to add that when people immigrate to the U.S. illegally, they’re not competing with Americans for jobs. Americans won’t do the jobs illegals do, particularly for the money these employers are offering. Illegals do factory work, agricultural work, garbage work, clean-up work, and all the other tasks that we think we’re above. They work their asses off, they don’t complain, and often they have two or three jobs to make ends meet, all hard labor work. But if the government forcefully removes them from these jobs, we have fewer people in the U.S. willing to do this work for such meager earnings, and that’s when many of these companies raise their prices enormously. When that doesn’t solve problems, they take their business and their jobs, uproot, and go to other countries for cheaper labor. And we all hate the fact that so many companies are moving their entire operation or portions of their operation to other countries. This trickling effect is slamming our country right now, and average citizens aren’t even talking about it.

Not on the NBC, CBS, ABC or any of the national news channels do they mention any of this, but my Peruvian acquaintance pointed out that this is what’s being talked about in other countries, being reported on international news networks, and some of the attitude is that we’re getting what we deserve.

Not me, I yell! I’m not one of them!

It’s hard for me to swallow because so often I feel like this entire country has gone mad and I’m alone, standing there with my arms outstretched, demanding to know what the fuck is wrong with my countrymen and am I the only one who is currently ashamed to be part of the human race. I don’t support the war, the current president, conventional wisdom, or the people in this country trying to deny global warming, like the holocaust deniers who refuse to see the facts. I’m not one of them! I don’t support massive deportation and raids on businesses. I also don’t support just turning a blind eye to broken laws. What I do support is the concept of developing a new plan that isn’t so goddamn inhumane, which I have not run across yet. Someone somewhere is smart enough to come up with an idea that actually sounds civilized, right? RIGHT? WHERE ARE YOU? SPEAK UP! Where is our humanity?! Beyond the immigration problems, there can’t be a quick fix for our economy, either. Theorists are foretelling that the economy will miraculously right itself, and many prognosticators even name a specific month when this upturn will occur, while others are doomsday believers who have started building a hut and caching non-perishables. Much faith is being placed in people’s presidential candidate of choice, but I think that’s largely na├»ve. I’m even starting to believe that the next elected president can’t even hope to turn things around in his term, and we haven’t begun to bottom out yet. That’s the pessimist in me talking. But I haven’t built a hut or started storing my canned foods, so don’t lock me up in that padded room just yet.

It’s always eye-opening and thought-provoking to have conversations with people who do not derive all of their opinions about world and national affairs by what the biased American news reports. We are most often sheep, and sometimes we fail to recognize how sheep-like we have become until we run into someone with a view from a different angle. Even if you don’t agree with anything you read in any paragraph of this post, you have to admit that it’s quite interesting to know that people are thinking this about us, and maybe, just maybe, we’re a little too wrapped up in the drama of being Americans to see what being an American means to people who aren’t.

And there are far more people who are not Americans in this world.

4 comments:

librarian nervosa said...

Very thought-provoking and sensitive post on which I'd better not comment.

Cheers from Tasmania

Bri-licious said...

You know, I've contemplated moving to either Mexico or China. That may sound funny, but I have actually contemplated it. I feel like I'm stuck here. Every time I get a raise it disappears. This secret lame duck is a moron and I can't wait for him to leave. I am so angry that have been so helpless these past 8 years while this douche is sitting there screwing up a country that used to be kinda cool. Now I'm just ashamed. It's disgusting what's happened here. But you can thank all your racist Republicans for this. It's their fault too. All those SUV and Hummer-driving assholes who are afraid of people from other countries just because of the fact they're brown. And if I have to hear one more racist comment from my own mom about Hispanics when my Hispanic boyfriend is sitting right there I swear I'm going to go mental!

Anonymous said...

Part of what is to blame is the Regan era NATA/CAFTA bills. It was a complete sell out to the mulitnational lobby. For great news coverage check out www.alternet.org

Rachel said...

On the other side of the spectrum, you have to remember that not only the whites are racist. I have expereinced racism against me for not being Mexican. I work in a highly Mexican populated city in California and most of them are pretty nice, but there are those that cause racism to spread by being rude and racist themselves. Many Mexicans who have come here legally do not appreciate those who come here illegally. They make life difficult for the legal immigrants. And we have to also remember that there are plenty of illegal aliens from Canada, England, Italy, China, Taiwan, etc.
The problem with immigration has almost always been around. The Irish spread like a plague in the 1800's and they were very much racially discriminated against.
The American public needs someone to blame for their problems and currently they are blaming the Mexicans, mostly because of the media.

Oh and because I'm in an Earth Science class, we've been discussing Global Warming. It's all a bunch of hype that the media and the environmentalists want to cause a scare just to get some change. Yes, the earth is warming, but if you look at the real evidence, it's not that bad. Humans just hate change and they don't want to accept the fact that the earth in fact does change. It has a cycle. They keep finding more evidence to support the fact that we can't do anything for the earth. We have our priorties wrong. We need to protect our children, not the earth. She's been around a lot longer than us and if you watch the documentary from the Discover channel "After People" it shows that the earth will be around long after us as well.
Sorry for the novel, hope it was at least interesting!