To the Rescue
February 11, 2012
I was sick so stayed home while Dennis and Ed went to an ultralight event down by the Salton Sea. It's a yearly event that sports every type of small flying machine you can imagine, and some that you can't. I hope to convince Dennis to buy an ultralight now that we are pilots without a plane.
One thing I appreciate about Dennis is his eagerness to help people. On snowy winter days in Alaska, he'll sometimes suit up, head out with his plow truck and tow strap, and look for cars to pull out of ditches. "To the Rescue!" we shout as he sets out.
Our friend Peter was riding his four-wheeler down the beach when he found three cars hopelessly stuck in quicksand near shore. First one got stuck, then another trying to pull out the first one, and finally a third before rescue efforts were abandoned. When Peter called Dennis, the response was "To the Rescue." Dennis loves to accomplish the impossible.
He asked a bystander to videotape. As usual in such a case, there was a whole lot of preparation before the big pull. During that time, the lady holding the videocamera said, "This is what America is about, helping people."
YES, I say! That IS what America is about!
Friends who taught school in Indonesia tell us Indonesian diplomats and citizens told them they found American charity incomprehensible! "What motivates Americans to dig deep and help people they don't know who live halfway around the world?" wondered the Indonesians. When earthquakes, tsunamis or floods hit, Americans respond with contributions and on-the-ground volunteers. Such willingness to help does not compute in all cultural perspectives.
I have a young friend in India named Monu. When I wrote that we invited a family of seven to borrow our house while we were away in California, he was flabbergasted. He wrote, "You are indeed very kind and considerate. Here if someone is allowed to stay in your house for free you will either lose your house or your belongings! When you come back they might claim your house as theirs or they might demand a share! If you leave your estate to a caretaker and do not go there for some time you might end up with people trespassing into your territory and building huts to claim a part of the property. So we have to be careful all the time. We have given land and houses to loyal staff who have served us but can't let someone cheat us!"
To me, the cultural perspective he describes reaches to the core of America's debate over illegal immigration. Nearly all Americans are immigrants or have ancestors who were. Many illegal immigrants are grateful for the opportunity to work in America. They are hard workers and have no desire to claim anything they have not rightfully earned. But they are still illegal. They compete with legal immigrants for work, unfairly because employers can avoid paying minimum wage or employment taxes.
No one can safely assume that everyone sees things as they do. There's a difference between inviting friends to stay in your home and opening your door wide to strangers and possibly thieves. The immigration debate tends to swirl around overgeneralizations. Americans opposed to illegal immigration may not be the least opposed to legal immigration, in the same way that people opposed to illegal drugs have no objection to legal drugs.
When no one addresses the issue of illegal immigration, it sets the stage for a backlash against legal immigration or immigrants in general, again due to overgeneralization. I value immigrants and the work they do in America. Some immigrants I consider more American than most Americans because they have a strong work ethic and are willing to sacrifice in the present so their children and grandchildren can enjoy a better future. Our favorite restaurant is owned by a family that escaped Thailand a few decades ago with nothing but their lives and skills. Now they all drive Mercedes. THAT's the America I love!
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