Have you ever come home from work exhausted? You change from your Oscar de la Renta suit and throw on Liz Claiborne soft jeans, then plop into your easy chair and exhale. You turn on your Bose radio, close your eyes and listen to the gentle strains of Dave Matthews’ “You and Me.”
Just as your tension eases, you daughter calls out, “I need help with my homework.” So you walk to her room and try your best to explain E = MC squared, though it’s been years since you studied Einstein’s theory of relativity. Your serenity interrupted, you head to the kitchen to make dinner using a new Lidia Bastianich pasta recipe. And it isn’t until much later that you can finally unwind watching a Mikhail Baryshnikov special on PBS.
I bet you never thought about the immigrants that have entered your everyday life. And I don’t mean those nameless ones without whom no hospital, or restaurant, or lawn could thrive. I mean those that make your American life so…so how shall I put it? Sophisticated? Civilized? Urbane?
Oscar de la Renta was an immigrant from the Dominican Republic; Liz Claiborne from Belgium; Amar Bose from India; Dave Matthews from South Africa, Einstein from Germany; Lidia Bastianich from Yugoslavia and Mikhail Baryshnikov from Russia.
If you have loved books by Edwidge Danticat from Haiti, Isabel Allende from Chile, Kahlil Gibran from Lebanon; if you’ve laughed at Bob Hope comedy, or Charlie Chaplin’s madcap routines, these were two Brits who became Americans; if you’ve loved movies by Billy Wilder from Austria-Hungary, Samuel Goldwyn from Poland, Elia Kazan from Turkey, Frank Capra from Italy, or Arnold Schwarzenegger from Austria; if you’ve delighted to the sounds of Placido Domingo from Spain, Itzhak Perlman from Israel, or Gloria Estefan from Cuba; if you have cheered for Sammy Sosa from the Dominican Republic, Maria Sharapova from Russia, or Patrick Ewing from Jamaica, you should be grateful to immigrants for enriching your life.
These individuals are just the tip of a huge iceberg. I could go on and on, but you get the idea. We get ever so much more by welcoming those different from us than by what we have to provide. Few, if any, of these successful, valuable Americans arrived with pocketfuls of money, or fame. They worked hard because the belief in the American Dream continues to burn in the hearts of those around the world who aspire to live in our system.
My family, too, has benefitted from American generosity and contributed to America’s richness. My brother Daniel Libeskind is the master planner for rebuilding Ground Zero in New York. He couldn’t have achieved his prominence in the field of architecture without the free education at the Cooper Union. I couldn’t have pursued the sciences without my free education at the City College of the City University of New York, a school that used to be known as the Harvard of the poor.
As far back as 1997 even conservative economists at the Cato Institute supported the findings of a report titled “The New Americans: Economic, Demographic, and Fiscal Effects of Immigration,” which asserted that immigrants provide a net positive to the economy and restated that position in 2012 in the winter issue of their journal, backing it with opinions of 16 scholars. More recently, in 2013 the conservative Manhattan Institute for Policy Research in its “Economic Benefits of Immigration” report, authored by Diana Furchtgott-Roth, stated that an increased number of immigrants would help accelerate our slow economic growth and fill jobs at both the low and high end of the spectrum. These are jobs that simply cannot be filled by Americans, either due to a rejection of what are considered to be menial jobs, or due to the grossly inadequate supply of highly skilled professionals in technological fields.
But I am not an economist and numbers do not speak as loudly to me as the events of my daily life. And that has been a treasure trove of immigrant contributions, making me thankful each day that I am lucky my father took the brave step of immigrating.