Most West Virginians have little contact with new immigrants. We may have met some who arrived here decades ago or encountered medical personnel from distant lands on a professional basis, but conversations with recently arrived immigrants are infrequent.
So, on our recent visit to Miami, which is rife with émigrés and has been for over a half century, it was intriguing to participate in a few enlightening conversations with some fairly new immigrants. It was also a good reminder that immigrants always have been essential for our nation’s development but that there has to be a sensible way to process those who seek to move here.
My access to this newly arrived immigrant population was through Uber/Lyft and small business entrepreneurs. Previous visits to south Florida made Maury and me decide that it was sensible to travel in the Miami area using ride-hailing services. Some drivers were not chatty, but others, when asked general questions or where they came from, were more than happy to elaborate upon their immigration experiences.
The most consistent comment these people, who appear to have immigrated legally, made for coming to the U.S. was the opportunity to work hard and get ahead. Many had plans for future careers and some noted that they wanted their children to have good educations. Some had figured out that Uber/Lyft was a good opportunity to have a second job to save money.
One of the most interesting conversations was with a Cuban man who, along with his sister, entered the U.S. at the Mexican border well before the current southern border crisis. He had numerous relatives in the U.S., and while he loved his family and friends in Cuba, he saw no hope of advancing economically there. He considered a boat escape from Cuba, but saw that as too dangerous and so, as better off Cubans do, he flew to Mexico for a “vacation.” He plans to enroll in a college degree program when he saves enough money, but already was working to improve his English fluency.
The fear, held by many Americans, that immigrants will change this country is not baseless. Those who enjoy pizza, egg rolls, sushi and bagels know this. We don’t like immigrants when they first arrive, but two to three generations later, when the immigrants’ offspring are full-fledged Americans, they, too, don’t like newcomers.
Growing up, our family spent much time in the Miami area; I attended 9th grade there. The Miami of my youth could be described as exquisitely sunny, extremely segregated and definitely economically sluggish.
Fidel Castro, Cuba’s violent dictator, was largely responsible for Miami’s economic resurgence starting in the 1960s. Except for the 1980 Mariel boat exodus, where Castro sent as many criminals and problem people as possible, the Cuban refugees positively re-energized Miami.
Today, Miami is booming with skyscrapers, new businesses, entertainment venues and universities. It has a continuing influx of Argentinians, Brazilians, Chinese, Russians, Venezuelans and more. There is a polyglot of languages, and if one wants to get ahead in business there, it is best to be bi- or trilingual.
My recent conversations with new immigrants illustrate the positive aspects of refugees and newcomers. America still needs immigrants, and because of that, it needs Congress to pass a functional immigration plan.