This is the continuation of a tale about a Hungarian female alien, who is staying in the US for a few months, but otherwise lives in the UK. She is a constant migrant. And she is me. And in the light of a 3-day US government shutdown over immigration, I still have a few things to say.
Immigrants Just Wanna Have Fu-un
People can leave their homes for many reasons. They can flee from economic insecurity, political oppression, war, or from natural disasters. Or they just leave everything behind because, you know, it is such fun. For instance, even though we were politically active, me and my husband left Hungary because the acid air of soft-authoritarianism crept under our skin and started to burn our cells. But making that decision certainly gave us a lot of joy.
And when you leave your home, besides not knowing anyone, you also have to relearn everything – not to mention the language – from ground zero. (Or in other words “lobby”. Just in case you spent an hour in an American elevator desperately searching for the zero on the electronic panel and eventually got saved by a guy carelessly pushing the L button and noting “so you’re from Europe”.)
And for us newbies, one of the greatest confusions stems from our most basic need: nutrition.
When we moved into our apartment in the US, my husband needed some milk for his morning coffee. So naturally, we went out to search for a store. And from the wonder-struck looks we received from cars passing by, we instantly realized that one of the craziest thing you can do in America is to walk. Some cars even stopped and people leaning out of car windows asked if everything was okay. (Which was nice, by the way.) And when we finally found a store, it was on the other side of a road with multiple lanes. With no crossings in sight, we had to run like scared cats to miraculously get to the other side. When we entered the store, the cashier asked how she could help us.
“We’re looking for some milk.” – My husband said.
“But this is an electronics store, sir. And we’re closed.”
See? Confusions. Here, crisps is the same as chips, but apple butter is not the same as apple sauce and beware of ordering sweet potato fries. You can get a big bowl of an oily dollop topped with a mountain of icing sugar. Yes, sugar. It’s sweet potato after all, right?
But me and my husband are still privileged. We were not in (direct) danger in Hungary. We made a decision. I can’t even imagine how hard it could be for those, who had no choice. Who had to flee from economic hopelessness, or from wars or from other catastrophes to dream a better future for their children.
So when I hear dumbed-down phrases like “stealing jobs”, I always think, sure. It must be such fun stealing jobs, when you don’t even know where to find food.
Now. I’m far from being an economist (thank God, one is enough in the family), but doesn’t more working people mean they pay more taxes, which helps the economy to grow, which in turn creates more jobs? True, the kindhearted Christian Republicans are mostly angry at illegal immigrants. Illegal aliens, to be precise. Dependent, illegal – aliens have subspecies, you see.
And these Republicans are angry even though it is proven that the so-called Dreamers (who lived in the US their whole lives) are helping the US economy. So for me, this anger looks more like a communication tactic.
But let’s be fair and admit that the picture is more complex. Because economic growth doesn’t mean that everyone can benefit from it. And usually those, who suffer are not the ones at the top. Which means that even though there are more new jobs on the market and the unemployment rate has been also low in the last few years, the distribution is unequal.
I remember when we were on a trip to almost heaven West Virginia, we were stunned by the contrast between the magic of the mountain scenery and the poverty of the towns. Once a wealthy mining state, West Virginia now has one of the US’s lowest median household incomes at $42,644, well below the national average of $59,039. And the state’s labor force participation is just 53.4 percent, meaning almost half of the state’s adults are neither working nor looking for jobs.
But the scapegoating of immigrants for the disparity in the US is not only severely missing the point, but is also highly irresponsible. The social consequences of deindustrialization and the employment of cheap labor are two different mechanisms.
First, it is not the immigrants’ fault that businesses are tempted to exploit cheap labor. It’s the businesses’ fault that they value profit more, than humans.
And second, if Trump would be so devoted to help the working class, instead of scraping their health insurance, he would give them more rights and protection by – brace yourselves – regulating the labor market. *Gasp *Faint
And he would go even further and would invest in the green industry and retraining, and would even make higher education more accessible for worse-off families.
Crazy, I know.
But Trump is doing none of these things. In fact, when it comes to his businesses, he is also attracted to cheap labor, like a moth to a lamp. And not only him, but his daughter too. And Trump even built his emblematic tower in the heart of New York City by exploiting cheap labor and the vulnerability of immigrants.
To sum up, turning workers against immigrants is only good for businesses that are after quick profits and for politicians, who want a cheap tool to maximize their votes. And now that he is the President, Trump can kill two birds with one stone.
“I’m Really Rich”
What I don’t get about the American sentiment is that how bragging about one’s wealth could be an appealing argument in a rally? Or anywhere? Moreover, how, on Earth, could this be part of a “saving the working class” narrative?
Or perhaps I’m the one who’s wrong here, because, you see, I’m Hungarian. And boy, Hungarians hate showing off. And even if you’re not rich or don’t intend to show off, you can easily fall into this category. Because for Hungarians, “showing off” can cover a large scale of activities from racing on the streets of Budapest with your brand new BMW to eating avocado. That’s why our PM always makes sure that he takes his ragged backpack everywhere to avoid appearing rich – even though he and his family surely are, considering the skyrocketing corruption in the country.
But my point is, that Trump should be very grateful for his grandfather, who immigrated to the US from Germany, because showing off – the very essence of his brand – might not made him so successful in Central Europe. (Sorry folks in the US.)
So if the shadow of another shutdown is upon the US government again by February 8 and the question of immigration arises, remember being grateful for your aliens.
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(Green alien from canva.com)