A letter to Immigrants

Dear Fellow Immigrant:

As you may know, immigration has become a very serious problem in this country. So much so, there are even concerns that if not dealt with wisely, it has the potential to subvert American society altogether. Whether or not such fears are justified, one thing is certain: Addressing this issue will be a major challenge in the years to come. As such, it is only appropriate that we who are at the center of it should do our best to help with the solution. I am afraid, however, that the behavior and attitude of some among us only make the already complex matters worse.

You may have noticed certain unlovely tendencies that recently have been becoming increasingly prominent in the immigrant population. Almost every day someone from our midst comes up with new demands and then grumbles when these are not met. In addition to requesting benefits of various kinds, many repudiate their host culture and insist that natives conform to their ways. There are even those who refuse to learn the English language and then chide their hosts for not accommodating their linguistic peculiarities. When they meet with resistance or difficulties they protest and complain, tossing about the charges of cultural insensitivity, discrimination or worse.

It is safe to say that this ungracious attitude would not be tolerated anywhere else in the world. That it has been in America is due to the matchless amity of her people who try their best to satisfy the desires of their guests. But as criticisms and complaints grow more and more unreasonable, the situation is reaching the point of becoming intolerable.

Being an immigrant myself let me say something that needs to be said, but which Americans - the genial hosts that they are - are reluctant to do: If you do not like it here, you should seriously think about going back to where you came from. Ultimately such a move may prove to be the best thing for you, because living in a country you dislike is probably more damaging to you than you realize. For one thing, in the long run this kind of festering dissatisfaction tends to embitter the heart, a condition which should always be a matter for concern.

But regardless of where you ultimately decide to live, you would definitely benefit from introspection, since your attitude shows that there something profoundly wrong either with your judgment or character or both.

It is because of this that you have failed to recognize that you live in the most immigrant-friendly country on this planet. I have been privileged to visit many places and have realized long ago that Americans are by far the most welcoming and hospitable people anywhere. This is especially true where foreigners are concerned. Whereas in most other lands, immigrants are often looked upon with prejudice, suspicion and even scorn, Americans greet them with open arms. Rather than holding your foreignness against you, they encourage you when you're weak, help you when you're in need, and lift you up when you stumble. Patient with our shortcomings, Americans are ever ready to overlook our blunders.

This, my friend, is not how aliens are normally treated in other places. But I probably do not need to tell you this, since you must have enough first-hand experience from your homeland. The chances are that in your own country foreigners are not treated nearly as kindly as they are here. In fact, it is very likely that your own country does not treat its own citizens as well as America does its foreign-born inhabitants, which is probably the reason why you are now here in the first place.

You would do well to remember that America has given you the most precious thing a country can give: The freedom to pursue your dreams. Whatever your inclinations, whatever the deepest stirrings of your heart, whatever your ambitions in America you can try to make them come true. America is one country on this earth where you truly have the opportunity to live up to your God-given potential.

But this is not all, for even while you pursue your dreams, America will faithfully protect your rights and freedoms. And while she gives so much, she asks for almost nothing in return. You are even free to criticize if you feel like it and America will defend your right to do so. Can you conceive of any other country that would allow you to do this? Can you think of any other system that would guard your rights and autonomy to this extent?

This, however, does not mean that we should abuse the privilege. America is a gracious host and you should try your best to be a gracious guest. Although you will never be asked to pay for all the things you have received here, you should have the good sense to recognize that to give something in return is the decent thing to do. Bestowing upon America a measure of our love and loyalty is, in my opinion, the least we immigrants can do.

A young American president once said: ‘Ask not what your country can do for you - ask what you can do for your country.' We immigrants especially should be mindful of this admonishment. America has given us the unique opportunity to pursue our dreams and live a life of dignity, which is something most of us could never hope for in the country of our birth. Let us never forget that.

Be thankful to this generous nation and its kind-hearted people who do not despise you because you look different, smell different or speak with an accent. Most Americans who crossed your path - I am sure - have done their best to overlook your idiosyncrasies and offered support instead of criticism. It is only proper that we should at least try to match their goodwill, which is why it is so unseemly to gripe and complain about mostly imaginary grievances. Of all people, we immigrants should be most keenly appreciative of the benevolence and kindness of this great nation. If despite your best efforts you are still not able to do so, then you really would be better off living somewhere else.

This is a land of immigrants who responded to this country's goodness with industriousness and faithfulness. They gave of their sweat and life to build this wondrous thing called America. They strove and labored and struggled uncomplainingly, even though their lives were far more difficult than yours or mine are today. Let us, then, each carry our burden with good cheer and resolve. To be sure, life won't always be easy. It rarely is, and if truth be told, human existence is arduous no matter where you live. But for honest and hard-working people nowhere is life more rewarding than in America.

Despite its share of problems, America is by almost any objective measure the greatest country that has ever been. Let us, therefore, be continually thankful for the incredible privilege of being allowed to live here. And above all, let us learn how to love her, for if there ever was a country that merits the love of its people, it surely must be America. She deserves it especially from those us who arrived as aliens, but whom she nevertheless so graciously accepted as her own.

V. Kohlmayer

Vasko Kohlmayer defected from Communist Czechoslovakia at the age of 19. He can be contacted at vasko_kohlmayer@msn.com.