Friday, May 18, 2007

You may need a hanky.

The following is from Vasko Kohlmayer, a naturalized American citizen who was born and grew up in communist Czechoslovakia. He came to the United States in 1989.

Dear Fellow Immigrant:

As you may know, Congress is grappling with the serious immigration problem of this country, seeking to design what it calls comprehensive immigration reform. I think it is only appropriate that we who are at the center of this problem should do our best to help with the solution.

I am afraid, however, that the behavior of some among us only makes the already complex matters worse.

You may have noticed certain unlovely tendencies that have been becoming increasingly prominent in the immigrant population. We have learned to demand many things and then complain when our requests are not met. Protesting and tossing about charges of cultural insensitivity, discrimination, or worse have become our latest pastime.

It is safe to say that this ungracious attitude would not be tolerated anywhere else in the world. That it has been in America is due to the matchless amity of her people. But as criticisms and complaints grow more and more unreasonable, the situation is slowly becoming intolerable.

Being an immigrant myself, let me say something that needs to be said, but which Americans are reluctant to say: If you do not like it here, you should seriously think about going back to where you came from. Actually, such a move may prove to be the best thing for you, because living in a country you dislike is probably more damaging to you than you realize. For one thing, festering dissatisfaction tends to embitter the heart, a condition that should always be a matter for concern.

But regardless of where you ultimately decide to live, you would definitely benefit from introspection, for your attitude shows that something is profoundly wrong either with your judgment or character or both.

Because of this, you have failed to recognize that you live in the most immigrant-friendly country on this planet. I have been privileged to visit many places and realized long ago that Americans are by far the most welcoming and hospitable people anywhere. This is especially true where foreigners are concerned. Whereas in most other lands, immigrants are often looked upon with prejudice and even scorn, Americans greet them with open arms.

You would do well to remember that America has given you the most precious thing a country can give: the freedom to pursue your dreams. Whatever your inclinations, whatever the deepest stirrings of your heart, in America you can try to make them come true. America is one country on this earth where you truly have the opportunity to live up to your God-given potential. And while America gives so much, it asks for very little in return. You are even free to criticize and America will defend your right to do so.

This, however, does not mean we should abuse the privilege. America is a gracious host and we should try to be gracious guests. Although you will never be asked to pay for all the things you have received here, you should recognize that to give something in return is the decent thing to do. Bestowing upon America a measure of our love and loyalty is, in my opinion, the least we immigrants can do.

A young American president once said: "Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country." We immigrants especially should be mindful of this admonishment. America has given us the unique opportunity to lead a life of dignity, which is something most of us could never hope for in the country of our birth.

Be thankful to this generous nation and its kindhearted people who do not despise you because you look different, smell different, or speak with an accent. Most Americans who crossed your path — I am sure — have done their best to overlook your idiosyncrasies and offered support instead of criticism. It is only proper that we should at least try to match their goodwill, which is why it is so unseemly to gripe about mostly imaginary grievances.

This is a land of immigrants who in their time responded to this country's goodness with industriousness and faithfulness. They gave of their sweat and life to build this wondrous thing called America. They labored and struggled uncomplainingly, even though their lives were far more difficult than yours or mine are today. Let us, then, each carry our burden with good cheer and resolve. To be sure, life won't always be easy. It rarely is anywhere, but for honest and hard-working people, nowhere is life more rewarding than in America.

Despite its share of problems, America is by almost any measure the greatest country that has ever been. Let us, therefore, be continually thankful for the privilege of being allowed to live here. And above all, let us learn how to love America, for if there ever was a country that merited the love of its people, it surely must be this one. America deserves it especially from those of us who arrived as aliens, but whom she nevertheless so graciously accepted as her own.

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