In his speech on immigration this afternoon, Senator Marco Rubio said,
“We focus so much on how immigrants could change America that we forget that America has always changed immigrants even more.”
While his statement may or may not be testable, Sen. Rubio raises a valid point: the United States of America undoubtedly changes its immigrants, for better or for worse. As much as fellow cynics and I like to decry the woes of this “Land of Opportunity,” some of these changes are indeed praiseworthy.
Speaking from my own context as a first-generation Asian immigrant, I ascribe the opening of my personality (from timid to adventurous) to growing up in America, where independence and healthy risk-taking are encouraged (as opposed to social conformity and prudence). In my mom I see greater appreciation of White American culture and deeper analysis of her own culture, leading to a fuller understanding of both cultures. For my family as well as for many immigrants families that I know, America has indeed provided more opportunities for learning, playing, working and enjoying than our home countries.
As much as I agree with the gist of Sen. Rubio’s speech (which I do recommend watching), I am cautious in accepting his optimism about America: “We are still the hope of the world … The miracle of America is still alive.” Upon hearing these words, my heart twists in a mixture of pride and disappointment. Yes, the U.S. government offers greater stability than many developing countries. Yes, first-generation immigrant parents often see the fruit of their labor in the success of their children and grandchildren. Yes, the passing of the Senate immigration bill moves our nation one step closer to greater justice in the American immigration system.
BUT (there’s always a but), the acquisition of bipartisan support of the bill in the Senate is only half the battle. The House has openly asserted its opposition to the Senate bill. It wants to craft its own version of the bill. Which makes me both love and hate our government: love, because it seeks to guard against arbitrary lawmaking; hate, because a victory here may end up as a defeat later on. Furthermore, the “miracle of America,” aka the American Dream, is “still alive” only for some, because it is conditional upon education, income, race, ethnicity and other factors. The reality is that many immigrants are experiencing just a sliver of the hope they envisioned.
Ultimately, the goal of the U.S. is not to be the hope of the world. We have tried this and failed, countless times, because the hope of the world is Jesus Christ. But in extending favor and assistance to people in search of a better life and empowering families to stay together, the U.S. can make small miracles happen in the daily lives of immigrants. Maybe the small miracles of everyday blessing, rather than the large “miracles” of lifelong luxury, are the real reasons to keep hoping for change.