The United States of America is founded on the idea of immigration and is the biggest melting pot in the world. The large influx of immigrants attributes to the very foundation of the country’s ethnic diversity. Immigrants who settle here share a part of their heritage, slowly embedding their culture into our society and contributing to the country’s multiculturalism. Metropolises, such as New York City, strive and flourish through culture diversity from global migrates. However, when it comes to illegal immigration the issue takes a turn.
The state of Arizona is under scrutiny for their most recent law passed to deal with the illegal immigration problem. The bill, SB 1070, was signed in April and takes into effect in August, dictating that “failure to carry immigration documents a crime and give the police broad power to detain anyone suspected of being in the country illegally”. Many have called it an open invitation for harassment and discrimination for people of color. Although the new law is an effort to shift the nation’s attention to Arizona, if such enforcement would be imposed locally, it would greatly cause difficulties in the lives of the many undocumented immigrants.
According to the Office of Immigration Statistics, “1,046,539 persons were naturalized as U.S. citizens in 2008.” Even though the exact numbers are unknown, it is estimated that about 11 million illegal immigrants were residing in the United States as of 2008, according to the Center for Immigration Studies.
Jason De Leon, a professor at the University of Washington under the department of Anthropology and who studies undocumented migration, expresses his thoughts on the subject of immigration. “The tendency, at least in the American imagination, is that undocumented people are of Mexican descent. When in actuality, we have undocumented people from all walks of life who are going through a lot of the same experiences.”
The concept of America being the land of opportunities is ubiquitous among China’s working class denizens. A local undocumented worker who will be identified as Zheng Chen, a pseudonym, explains, “Everyone wants to come here; it’s like a dream because they think the opportunities are abundant. America is the land of opportunities.” The following is a translation of his experiences.
In China, low-paying jobs with harsh conditions are plentiful and the income is barely enough to support a family. Even with an education, there is no clear indication of obtaining a job upon graduation. Putting the necessities of life over education, Chen sacrificed his schooling to start working at a very early age. Working under inhumane and squalid conditions, Chen worked in an assembly line environment for eleven hours a day with no official breaks and a lunch that starts before noon, making approximately a hundred United States dollars a month. Chen migrated to the Pacific Northwest fours years ago and continues to pursue the better life that he never had.
“When people come here it’s because they know someone here already,” said De Leon. “There’s already a system in place to help them along. Having a support network and a social network of people who have gone through the same experience makes the transition relatively easy.”
Through the help of relatives, Chen is able to find employment in America working in the kitchen of several restaurants. Being paid under the table at six dollars an hour, well below Washington State’s minimum wage, Chen is forced to work two jobs, nearly totaling sixty hours a week, six days a week. Immediately after his first shift is over, he travels to his next job with no time to rest. Rarely does he come upon a day of relaxation. Although his dainty paychecks do not amount to much, Chen still manages to collect some funds to send to his struggling relatives back in China.
One of the biggest struggles for Chen is his maladjustment to a new society. From strictly speaking Chinese to migrating to a country where everything is unfamiliar and very foreign, makes the transition difficult. Learning the societal nuances to even the regulations and laws is challenging. In addition, the language barrier makes daily life extremely difficult for Chen.
“English is everywhere. It’s very hard to express what I’m thinking when I can’t even communicate with my co-workers.”
Chen is coping by making Chinese friends and trying to live a normal life while attempting to fit into a culture that he cannot relate to. His burden and hard work continues to be a beacon of hope for his poverty-stricken family back in China.
“I am very lucky to have the opportunity and a chance at a better life,” said Chen.