Monday, February 22, 2016

On immigration (2/22/2016)

It is election season.  Great, the demagogues are out, throwing all kinds of words at each other, you name it.  Don’t worry; I am not going to try to convince you to vote for one or the other.  I just find it fascinating, sometimes to the frustration of my wife.  But then I am one of those immigrants that are being bantered around, albeit a legal one and a Caucasian one (below I’ll write more about an interesting thing that always happened to me as a foreigner in southern New Mexico). Where I come from, the primary system and big money politics is alien on it own, so yes this is fascinating.

The symbol of our great country, the bald eagle.  I took this photo in Yorktown on 2/21/2016 during our morning walk with the dogs.  A man came to talk to us basically indicating how proud he was seeing it and how he wished he could watch it hunt and catch its prey.  The only thing I could think was "bald eagles are somewhat cowardly and go for the infirm individuals and dead animals (carrion), if you want to see a real hunter, watch an osprey." But I did not dare to tell him that, because they are real stately, beautiful birds, well worth their magnificent status, and I did not want to burst his bubble.
When I became U.S. citizen on September 9, 1994 I did it for a number of reasons:
  • My wife and daughter were U.S. citizens;
  • My wife and I had been married 17 years and our daughter was almost 6, we did not think we would be moving back to Europe anytime soon;
  • I had lived here permanently for more than 8 years and had my green card since 1980 (14 years);
  • My Masters and Ph.D. degree were both from U.S. institutions and I interviewed once for a job in Holland in 1990 and I noticed that I did not have command of the Dutch scientific jargon in my field and the persons interviewing me let me know that;
  • In a past international job, a few frustrated Dutchmen had tried to do everything in their power to show me that their European education was better than my U.S. education (you traitor);
  • Therefore, I had come to the conclusion that I was going to remain in the U.S. for the rest of my career;
  • In 1993, I was rejected for the ideal job at the last minute, when at the time of contract signing, I was asked the question: “are you a U.S. citizen”; this was for the job as manager of natural resources division at the Nevada Test Site; and lastly
  • I decided, if I want to stay in the U.S., I should be able to vote and be a responsible citizen.
Truthfully, I have not missed an election since I turned a U.S. citizen, although there have been elections where I have voted with my nose pinched very close!  I strongly feel that I am not allowed to complain if I don't vote!

So what happened to me in New Mexico?  I got my Ph.D. at New Mexico State University in Las Cruces.  I stayed on after my Ph.D. to do a post-doctoral study, and that is where this story is from.  Las Cruces is in southern New Mexico, very close to the border with Mexico.  There is no wall there between the U.S. and Mexico, and I am not even sure if there was a fence at places when we lived there.  If there was a fence, there were probably holes in it.  There were roadblocks at various locations on the highway where border patrol agents stopped your car and searched your vehicle for illegal aliens.

At the time, I was doing research in the mountains above Alamogordo, New Mexico and had to drive through the White Sands Missile Range to get there.  I traveled that road at least twice a week for an entire summer, usually in a state van or truck with two Mexican-American technicians.  These guys were American citizens, one born and raised in Las Cruces, the other near Albuquerque.  There is such a border patrol roadblock on that part of the highway, and yes we got stopped every time.  Guess what?  Without failure, my two technicians were asked every time for identification and proof that they were legal residents of the U.S., and I, who was the only (legal) alien or immigrant in the car was never questioned or asked for identification.  Thank goodness my two companions took it very lightly and it became a standing joke, but it always amazed and somewhat upset me.  It undeniably was a form of racial profiling.

While these guys put on a big smile and took it all in stride, I wonder.  I can imagine that privately they felt hurt, humiliated.  I can understand why someone (some ethnic groups) would vote for certain political candidates or not, based on some of the rhetoric being spouted about certain races, certain under current or things not being said.  As an immigrant or alien, I am fascinated with U.S. politics and probably hypersensitive to some of these things as well.  I will keep watching and listening and making my own opinion about it all.  But one thing is for sure, I will vote!

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