Who are immigrants and what do they want?

Most immigrants want what they’ve always wanted; freedom and opportunity

By Morf Morford, Tacoma Daily Index

South of the Border

We might have a set of established assumptions about who crosses our southern border – legally or illegally. We might assume that most of them, official or not, originate from Mexico. Many of them are not. Many of them come from (far) further south, like El Salvador, Nicaragua, Honduras or Guatemala.

And more and more of them are coming from even further – China. Many of them begin their American journey in Ecuador, a country that has extended visa-free entry to Chinese passport holders. Once in Ecuador, their journey is just beginning. Colombia, Panama, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Honduras, Guatemala and Mexico, and of course their geography, threats, borders and policies all stand in the way to the US border.

As to numbers, the Panamanian government registered more than 5,000 Chinese migrants making crossings into the country in just the first four months of 2023.

The Land of Opportunity calls

The route to the Promised Land is, as always, circuitous and difficult. And, just as true, arriving at a new destination is the goal of the most motivated, most desperate and, for better or worse, the ones with the most stamina. And luck. And of course, the most pressing reasons for leaving one’s home and family.

Beautiful Country

In the Chinese language, the United States of America is colloquially known as “meiguo”, a word composed of two characters: the one for “Beauty” and one for “nation,” or “country.” The word “beauty” in Mandarin and Cantonese, like most words in those languages, holds multiple layers of meanings and connotations from “welcoming” to “advantageous” to “propitious”. Either way, the language itself lends to the mystique of unique and unparalleled potential and prosperity.

Voting with our feet

It would be easy to make the argument that we all “vote with our feet” – all the time. From the neighborhoods we live in, to those we avoid, to the stores or restaurants we prefer, and yes, the countries we imagine moving to – or even visit or relocate to, we live out our values and beliefs even if we rarely put them into words.

The irony of course, is that many of us just find ourselves here. Very few of us “chose” to be born or taken here by parents or previous generations.

Those who long to be here, who make inconceivable sacrifices to be here, and who often prosper far more than they could have at home are often the most passionate patriots – and, in many cases, have the highest rates of military enlistment and community engagement. They, in a very direct way, have “voted with their feet” and chosen our country as their home.

Another irony here is that these people who have made unbelievable sacrifices, risked everything, and pursued with passion their own version of “The America Dream” are often unwelcome and castigated precisely because of their success, or their intent to reach it.

These are the people who literally embody the promise and immense potential of America. In a very practical sense, they know the value of work, the power of discipline and the cost, even sacrifice of success in ways many of us native-born Americans never will.

The ultimate immigrant question

The ultimate immigrant question is, of course, the most obvious one; is an arduous, often dangerous journey to an unfamiliar country and culture worth it?

The obvious answer is, and perhaps always has been, if things were better back home, they (and most of us) would have stayed in our nations of origin.

My first American ancestors (from Scotland and Norway) would have, by far I am sure, preferred to stay at home, but instead, to some degree, were driven out of their home countries by forces of poverty, persecution or politics.

It is usually a brutal and relentless equation; are the opportunities and aspirations more within reach at an unknown country and culture or back home?

There’s an old saying that the devil we know is better than the devil we don’t know.

Like the immigrants of a century (or more) ago, the “devil we know” must be beyond horrific to warrant a death-defying trek and an investment of lifetime savings to make the, for most, one-way journey into a foreign country where language, faith, food and anything familiar is lost in the shuffle.

For many individuals – and their families – the cost of getting here is brutal, and the rewards are often dramatic. And as every business owner knows, word of mouth is the best advertising, and the product or promise most wanted is the one everyone else wants – such as the promise of America. Virtually all of us are here precisely because our ancestors saw North America as a beacon, a refuge, even an escape. To deny that vision and opportunity to others seems odd indeed.