What does it mean to be an immigrant in Trump’s America?

Jorge Ramos speaking at the Brown & Black Presidential Forum at Sheslow Auditorium at Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa. (Photo by Gage Skidmore via Wikimedia Commons) 

The paradox of being from two places but having no real home is a phenomenon all immigrants grapple with. Jorge Ramos is no stranger to that experience, as is evident in his new memoir, Stranger: The Challenge of a Latino Immigrant in the Trump Era.

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The book opens with the infamous encounter in August 2015 between Ramos, star anchor of Univision’s “Noticiero Univision,” and then-presidential candidate Donald J. Trump. When Ramos pressed for specifics on Trump’s campaign promise to deport all 11 million undocumented immigrants, Ramos was removed from the press conference. Outside, Ramos was mockingly told by a Trump supporter to “get out of my country.”

Strangerby Jorge Ramos

Vintage. 224p $15

This encounter prompted Ramos to examine what the Trump supporter meant. As a U.S. citizen, Ramos has the same right as any other American to live here. As a member of the media, Ramos has the right to attend press conferences and ask tough questions. Yet clearly some still would not accept an immigrant like him. He remained a stranger in his own country.

Born in Mexico City, Ramos immigrated to the United States in 1983 at the age of 24 with dreams of working in television. His experiences mirror those familiar to many immigrants: arriving in Los Angeles with little money and few possessions, struggling to master the English language (with an accent he still has not been able to shake) and desiring to work and live freely.  

While the memoir is inevitably full of snapshots of Ramos’s life as a bilingual journalist, from his inexperienced days in radio to his prestigious current status as the “Walter Cronkite of Latin America,” what is most striking is how he comes to terms with his yearnings for the comforts of his home in Mexico. Ramos writes, “I will never be American enough for many Americans. Just as I will never be Mexican enough for many Mexicans.”

These words eerily resemble a famous line from the 1997 biopic “Selena,” in which Abraham Quintanilla says about Mexican-Americans, “We gotta be more Mexican than the Mexicans and more American than the Americans, both at the same time.”

If 21 years later, Mexican-Americans are still dealing with the same issues, who is to say when we will truly belong?

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Mike Theman
3 months 1 week ago

Here's an idea: stop calling yourselves "immigrants."

Since the founding of the country, those who immigrate here have faced the challenge of dealing with those who were already here. Those groups who prosper are those who have assimilated; those who refuse to assimilate and hold tightly to their ancestral culture are essentially saying to those already here that they do not want to be Americans; they want to live here but want to keep the culture of the country from which they emigrated. Look at the African Americans and how they refuse to assimilate, even so as to speak out against so-called "White" culture of education and hard work.

Strive to speak good English. Work hard and try not to rely on the government to provide assistance to you. Obey the law, starting with how you arrive here. Do not come here expecting everyone else to adapt to you.

I'm third generation Polish and still hear Polish jokes. My wife is 3rd generation Irish and is still assumed to be a drinker. We eat kielbasa and we drink beer. But we are Americans, first and foremost. Our grandparents came here speaking other languages and learned English. Assimilate.

Sandi Sinor
3 months 1 week ago

Most of the non-English speaking immigrants to the US in earlier eras did not become fluent in English (as Ramos has) in the first generation. They also clung to their cultural and ethnic groups - with Italian parishes, Irish parishes, German parishes, Polish parishes etc. Your family still partakes of traditional foods from your Polish heritage.

Why was it OK for white European immigrants to speak broken English, to take a generation to become fully fluent in English as your ancestors did, as my ancestors did, but not for the immigrants who have arrived during the last 30 years?

I have a Greek friend who came here at age 2. Her parents never spoke fluent English - only heavily accented, broken English. They, like Latino and other recent immigrants, worked hard so that their children would have the advantages of becoming Americans. My friend grew up with 4 people in a tiny 1 bedroom apt in the Bronx, with her parents working as garment workers for minimum wage, or less than minimum wage, as immigrants then were often cheated of their full pay, just as they are now in many places. But their kids grew up speaking English, and they were able to get decent educations. My friend married another Greek immigrant who came as a young adult. He still has a heavy accent. Together their net worth is more than $10 million. Rags to riches. The American story. My friend's mother's whole world was the Greek community at her church. My friend and her husband also cling closely to their Greek church community, making sure their own children know all the customs, foods, dances, music, and language. Americans with Greek heritage. Is it wrong for Mexicans to eat native foods? To speak Spanish among themselves? To enjoy their own customs and cultural heritage? Just as most Italians did when they came? As most Poles did? Most Germans?

Every Latino immigrant I have known works VERY hard - far harder than most white Americans, at jobs the native born Americans refuse to take. The native born Americans who lose their jobs very often seem like they would rather take welfare than work the garbage trucks. They would rather take welfare than spend 10 hours a day under the hot sun, stooped over, picking crops and living under despicable conditions, all so your strawberries and oranges will be cheap. Every hard job in my town - raking steaming asphalt on roads under the blazing sun, yard work, trash collection, janitorial work is done mostly by immigrants. They work the minimum wage jobs at fast food and cheaper restaurants. The clean the white people's houses, scrub their toilets, do their dirty laundry. They also take care of a lot of the young children who need day-care. Again, for minimum wage. Sometimes it's the dangerous jobs they take - like replacing roofs and risking bad falls. Many work two or more jobs, cleaning office buildings at night after working a full day of hard labor elsewhere.

The serious studies of recent immigrants show that they are following the same pattern as earlier waves of immigrants. The second generation speaks English fluently because they grew up here. They get better educations (many of their parents came from villages and towns where education stopped in 8th grade,, and sometimes 3rd. I have visited some of these places. I have seen the poverty. Poverty that is unknown in our country, barely imagined by most here Have you ever spent time in a really poor village in a poor third world country?) and then better jobs. They work their way up the ladder. Their children graduate from high school, and more and more of them graduate from college. I had a very nice conversation with a Mexican contractor who does a lot of household repair work for an aunt. He had come to the US with nothing, worked hard, learned English (with an accent still), saved money from his labor and eventually started his own contracting business, providing jobs for others as well as for himself. Some of the worst areas of Los Angeles are returning to "middle class" because of all the small businesses started there by Mexican immigrants. This man was so proud, as he was entitled to be. His daughter was at UCLA, and his son was in dental school. He and his wife had achieved their dream - a better life for their children and grandchildren.

My Irish ancestors were dirt poor when they arrived with all of the other poor Irish. They were not welcome by those already here. No Irish need apply. They worked hard. The first generation born here included ( 9 children) priests and nuns, teachers, engineers, a doctor and a college professor. My Irish immigrant great-grandparents were illiterate when they arrived as the British had forbade schools from teaching Irish Catholics. They learned to read and write. Their children became middle class and better - professionals. My German ancestors came here a bit later, also poor but not as poor as my Irish side, and also with high school level educations (the men, not the women - only 8th grade for them in that era). They came to escape the European wars - to escape the violence - just as so many are today. They are trying to save their children's lives. - literally. Once again, the first generation born in the US did very well, graduating from top universities and starting companies.

Those who take the time to research seriously - legitimate sources - instead of lapping up all the hate news against immigrants and refugees, will learn that the vast majority of immigrants to the US in the last 30 or so years have followed the same pattern as earlier generations. Start at the bottom, work hard, save money, educate their kids and see their children and grandchildren fully assimilate - just as the white European immigrants did before them. Are there some bad apples? Yes, just as there were some bad apples among the Irish and Polish and Italians and Germans who came here. But most are good people trying to care for their families.

And most of those immigrants whom I have known - Latino, Asian, African - and Muslim from many different countries - are more proud of being Americans - more appreciative of America - than many of the native born. They believe in the American values that too many native born Americans seem to have given up - the values that are engraved on the Statue of Liberty. America has always been the shining light of hope to the "tired and poor....those yearning to be free". I pray that we will continue to be the America that welcomed my ancestors and yours, instead of retreating into a selfish, isolationist, "I've got mine and you need to stay out" attitude. We need to follow Christ, not hate-filled politicians who incite fear and loathing of the "other", especially when the "other" has brown skin.

When my ancestors, and yours, came to America there were no quotas. So everyone who came was "legal". The WASPs who were here were not thrilled to see them - they were anti-immigrant. They discriminated against them also. Under the proposed new laws, not only would our own immigrant ancestors have been prevented from coming, even the current president's mother (poorly educated, poor, working the non-critical skill of "maid" and not speaking English, but a Scottish form of Gaelic) and wife and parents-in-law would not have been allowed in. Few people consider modeling to be a "critical" skill. Most of those who built America, who did the hard labor - literally - saved, and progressed into becoming those who provided money for the next round of American growth - capitalists - would have been stopped from coming in under the proposed rules.

Between 50-75% of "illegal" immigrants today entered the country legally and overstayed their visas. Those seeking asylum have waits of years. The wait to immigrate under quotas for those who are most desperate, but who are coming as "economic" refugees - fleeing dire poverty and pure misery instead of bombs and guns - face waits of up to 20 years and longer. Our consulates are woefully understaffed and underfunded, so processing applications takes years and years. It will be too late to save their children. In the meantime, we are gutting our State Dept, making matters even worse.

Ronald Reagan granted amnesty to millions of "undocumented" who went on to become proud, hardworking American citizens. He had compassion, something that too many politicians today totally lack. He also urged Congress to enact legitimate immigration reform, create a path for those who most needed it. It didn't happen. George W. Bush also tried - he proposed a very reasonable program of immigration reform, paving a way for those who sought shelter and safety and opportunity in America to come legally without a 20+ year wait. It was defeated - not by the Democrats, but by his own party.

Why is that the "haves" have no compassion for the "have nots'?

Why do so many who claim to be christians ignore Jesus' clear teachings about helping the poor? Welcoming the stranger?

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