OUTSIDERS TO INSIDERS
Take the long view of immigration in the United States (not the current mess) and our nation looks pretty good. So many other countries these days (especially in Europe) are terribly stressed out over the issue. We, on the other hand, have from the very beginning, taken considerable pride in the waves of immigrants who arrived on our shores. They brought their skills, their energy and their determination to make new and productive lives for themselves here. The United States would not be the world’s leading nation today without their enormous contributions.
That’s certainly true, but we should temper our self-congratulations and acknowledge that the immigrant story loses some of its luster when one gets down to cases. In fact, in most instances, these newcomers were resented, many deemed unworthy and not up to American standards. And, furthermore, were viewed as representing a threat to the stability of our nation. In light of this for us to take immense pride in our immigration heritage is a little like parents who rejected and abused their child but later step forth and take credit when that person nevertheless achieves wide acclaim.
Still, has any other nation in the world had so many individuals who though born outside the country rise to prominence, as is the case in the United States? It just hasn’t happened elsewhere: Americans for their part hardly give it a thought and, if pointed out, express satisfaction, not resentment.
Take Madeleine Albright, born in Prague, Czechoslovakia who, in President Clinton’s second term served as Secretary of State no less. No one believed that her foreign birth compromised in any way her commitment to American interests across the globe. But even before Albright there was Henry Kissinger, born in Bavaria, Germany, who also served effectively as Secretary of State in the administrations of Nixon and Ford. And after Kissinger, take note of Zbigniew Brzezinski, Polish born, who counselled President Lyndon Johnson and later became National Security Advisor to President Jimmy Carter. Add to this list, Samantha Power, born in Ireland, who currently serves as United States Ambassador to the United Nations; and Preet Bharara, born in India, who in 2009 rose to the influential position of US Attorney for the Southern District of New York.
Beyond government service consider the career of Ariana Huffington. Though born in Greece, she is almost a household name in the US. In 2009 she was high up in Forbes Magazine’s list of the Most Influential Women in Media and in 2014 that same magazine designated her as the 52nd most powerful woman in the world. Talking about power, take note of General Eric Shinseki, born in Hawaii before it became part of the United States, who served as Chief of Staff of the army from 1999 to 2003.
In the business world foreign-born entrepreneurs have clearly made their mark starting most prominently with the DuPont Company, established by a French immigrant escaping the French Revolution. Then there was Proctor and Gamble, founded in 1837 by two Englishmen, and Carnegie Steel (later US Steel), the brainchild of Andrew Carnegie, originally from Scotland. Even before that Marcus Goldman (Bavaria) started Goldman Sachs.. Among major merchandisers take note of John Nordstrom from Sweden and Maxwell Kohl, born in Poland. And don’t overlook Nathan Handwerker, born in Krakow Poland, responsible for creating Nathan’s Famous Hot Dogs in Coney Island (1921). More recently, add to our list Jerry Yang (Taiwan), cofounder of Yahoo, and Sergey Brin (Soviet Union) a founder of Google, and Elon Musk (South Africa) whose Tesla Motors may revolutionize the automobile industry. Indeed, in 2010, 90 of the Forbes 500 companies were established by immigrants or their children!
All this makes for a remarkable chapter in America’s immigration story and distinguishes us from every other nation on earth – then and now. Give American credit for creating a society in which “strangers”, “outsiders” and “aliens” were free and able to rise to the very top and be judged by and awarded for their talents and contributions, irrespective of foreign birth.