“Then join hand in hand, brave Americans all,
By uniting we stand, by dividing we fall;” ~ The Liberty Song, by John Dickenson
This Fourth of July I find myself in a more reflective than celebratory frame of mind. The “united we stand, divided we fall” thing weighs heavily on my mind.
I think about how the story of our country has unfolded, especially as it pertains to the fabled “melting pot.” Our nation was built in a relatively short time by immigrants from other nations around the world. Early America welcomed immigrants who followed in the footsteps of the first immigrants — the ones whose children and grandchildren played the greatest roles in founding this nation — Adams, Franklin, Hamilton, Jay, Jefferson, Madison and Washington (Hamilton was the only one of these who was not born in the British Colonies, but in the British West Indies).
The immigrants that arrived over the decades that followed, from many countries, including but not limited to Canada, China, England, Germany, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Norway, Poland, Russia, Scotland, South Korea and Spain literally built our nation. From the beginning, many were persecuted as they constructed America’s railroads, roads, bridges, skyscrapers, farms and ranches, processing plants, small businesses and in some cases major U.S. corporations.
The Immigrant Factor in 21st Century America
Immigrants and their offspring have infused and continue to infuse the American economy through their expertise, inventions and creation of companies that provide jobs for millions of Americans — such names come to mind as Steve Jobs (Apple) and Jeff Bezos (Amazon), who are the children of Syrian and Cuban immigrants, respectively. Other such notable immigrants include Sergey Brin (Google) who was born in Moscow; Elon Musk (Tesla, PayPal/South Africa); Jerry Yang (Yahoo!/Taiwan); Maxwell Kohl (Kohl’s Department Store/Poland); Pierre Omidyar (eBay) and Jean-Luc Vaillant (LinkedIn), who immigrated from France; Carlos Castro (Todos Supermarkets/El Salvador; Beto Perez (Zumba/Columbia); and Charles Pfizer and Charles Erhart (Pfizer/Germany) — just to name a few. African immigrants with STEM degrees are filling jobs in the healthcare field and contributing some $10 billion in tax revenue to the U.S. economy.
On the other end of the spectrum, immigrants from Mexico and Central America who work on temporary work visas and can become undocumented through an inefficient immigration system, take the crushing agricultural jobs that even unemployed Americans won’t touch — the jobs that pay very low wages and require long hours that put affordable produce on the tables of Americans across the country. More of these workers are needed to keep American farms functioning. And in between the billion-dollar entrepreneurs and the migrant workers are millions of immigrants who work in companies across American in both white and blue collar jobs.
This diversification in the workplace makes owners, CEOs and shareholders very happy with their growing bottom lines, and they sometimes pass on those hefty profits to their employees in some form. For that reason, companies tend to be very careful about following laws and making policies that prevent discrimination and harassment of their diversified work force. They understand globalization and know that employing and working with people that come from different cultures, backgrounds, lifestyles and genders are important to growing and maintaining their businesses. The professions, as well, are cognizant that their highly diversified professional and administrative staffs are essential to their success.
The American workplace has benefited from the assimilation of knowledge and expertise of immigrant employees. And although discrimination continues to rear its ugly head from time to time in the workplace, by and large diversification has prompted understanding, camaraderie and personal and professional growth among individuals according to UC Berkeley, and have made the companies for which they work stronger and more prosperous according to the Harvard Business Review , McKinsey and The World Economic Forum.
Thus, in the American workplace there are policies and rules based on U.S. laws that prohibit racial, ethnic, gender and homophobic harassment and discrimination and in most cases impose consequences for those who violate such policies. Companies, both private and public, understand that harmony among employees moves companies forward, and the opposite can stifle their growth and success.
On the other hand, while our nation at large by extension benefits economically from the contributions of immigrants, Americans and many of the leaders they elect do not seem to be able to connect the dots to see the value of those contributions or respect the laws that protect immigrants — both documented and undocumented. The situation we are now experiencing in which leaders are attacking, vilifying and bringing harm to immigrants actually are forbidden in most Fortune 500 and mid-size workplaces.
There appears to be a disconnect between American business and the American public and the leaders it elects.
Companies generally do not tolerate name-calling, harassment and discrimination against people of color, women, members of the LGBT community, the disabled and others that are not strictly straight white men. So why do our top elected officials, including the President, not only tolerate it but commit and encourage it? Why do many Americans and our elected officials turn a blind eye to the Constitution and history?
And how do many Americans work side by side during the day with people who are different from themselves and then support politicians who would harm those same coworkers? How, for example, are some Americans fine with advancing the mission of their companies by working successfully with immigrants and then vote for politicians who threaten to deport the people who are helping to make the economy work and making our groceries affordable while blithely mistreating the infants and children of immigrants seeking asylum?
The Flag and the Statue of Liberty
To reiterate, the issue of how American leadership and so many Americans are so negatively viewing immigration and ill treating immigrants at our Southern Border, the Dreamers, Muslims and others is weighing heavily on my mind. In that vein, I regard the American Flag as the symbol of American freedom and the Statue of Liberty as the spirit of America. The Flag represents America’s fight for liberty and its remarkable progress over nearly two and a half centuries. Lady Liberty, as she is affectionately called, represents America’s historic and present welcoming and inclusion of people from other nations to not only provide a safe haven but to facilitate building America’s prosperity and strength.
The majority of immigrants, including your ancestors and mine, have come to America to (1) escape ethnic or religious persecution, (2) pursue economic prosperity and personal freedom for themselves and their families and (3) follow loved-ones to the perceived Land of Opportunity. And some, regrettably, were forced to come here to work as slaves. Others were here before our ancestors arrived. Whatever the situation or reasons, immigrants have always had a tough time assimilating into the melting pot, largely due to discrimination by government agencies, as well as those born on the new American soil or other immigrants and descendants of immigrants.
And as previously stated, on this July Fourth immigrants who continue to come to seek asylum or a better life are under especially intense fire. But do Americans really feel threatened by immigrants? Do they believe immigrants are mostly criminals or will take their jobs? The data belie these fears that have been stoked by people who (should) know better. Immigrants — documented and otherwise — generally contribute more than they receive and many keep consumer prices low by working for low wages in jobs that American citizens won’t perform.
We need a renewal of spirit in this country. We are still growing up, and although we call ourselves the United States of America, history has shown that our unity can be fragile. If we are to remain “one nation, indivisible” we need to come together, both Americans and aspiring Americans of all backgrounds, lifestyles, locations, religions (or no religion), opinions and political persuasions. Unifying to celebrate that which we have in common as well as our differences is important for the revival — and survival — of our nation.
Etiquette for the Fourth of July and Beyond
So however we celebrate or observe the Fourth, why not make this a new beginning to reach out to those who are different from ourselves? That can be as simple as talking to the new neighbors or as major as temporarily taking in a refugee.
We can all up our game by observing basic etiquette, which is sorely absent from social media and even in many cases face to face. As someone who has taught business etiquette to high school and college students and job hunting skills to students and adults, I believe strongly in the underlying principle of etiquette, which is the Golden Rule. Whether it is stated in the negative, “Never impose on others what you would not choose for yourself” (Confucius), or the positive, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” (Jesus), the concept is the same: simply treat others as you wish to be treated.
Think of how really great we can make this country if we start this Fourth of July to practice inclusion, understanding and respect for everyone’s life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. And then continue to do so tomorrow and beyond.
Until next time,