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The "Neo-Immigrants": Immigration as a Ruse for Opportunism? The "Neo-Immigrants": Immigration as a Ruse for Opportunism?
by Dr. Emanuel Paparella
2016-11-30 08:41:34
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Coming to America at the turn of the 20th Century

A few days ago I decided to view once again the famous movie by Visconti “Il Gattopardo” (usually mistranslated as The Leopard but better rendered as “The Wild Cat.”) The movie is a faithful rendition of Giuseppe di Lambedusa’s novel published posthumously in 1956 and dealing with the 1860 events in Sicily leading to the unification of the whole Italian peninsula by Giuseppe Garibaldi. Things were supposed to get much better for the unified Italy; in reality they got worse. As Tancredi puts it in a conversation with his uncle, the prince of Salina, “we need to change everything so that nothing changes.” In fact little changed in Southern Italy except an exchange of monarchies.

In effect, the aspirations of Garibaldi to found republic were thwarted and a new King, the northern Italian king of Savoy Emmanuel II was promptly installed.  Rome became capital of Italy some ten years late in 1871. Barely thirty years later, worsening social conditions forced one million southern Italians to emigrate. One of those was my own grandfather Emmanuele, born in 1877, barely seventeen years after Italian unification.  My great-grandfather Francesco must have been a teen-ager at that time. All his three sons Emmanuele, Domenico, and Pasquale emigrated to America at the turn of the 20th century.

My father was born in America in 1912. In 1922 my grandfather, his wife Maria and his five children (four boys and one girl) return to Italy. There two more boys were born. He buys and lives with his family in a grandiose beautiful 19th century villa, and sends four of his seven children to university. In 1954 my father returns to his native land (New York) where he dies in 1968 at the age of 55. He had five children: I, the elder, followed by four sisters (Maria, Rosaria, Anna, Sandra). These are the more biographical aspects of this narration on involuntary emigration.

What prompted this article, however were sundry reflections prompted by the viewing of the above mentioned movie. I paused to reflect on the courage that must have been summoned to simply pick up and go to America on a steam-boat, with no urban skills, professional or otherwise, without an education, without knowing the language or the culture of the place they were emigrating to, aware of the obstacles and difficulties they would encounter there; willing nevertheless to work long and hard in order to provide a better future for their families. We now consider them heroes of sorts to be praised and emulated, who paved the way for our own achievements, but I doubt that they thought of themselves as such.

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Immigrants arriving in America

Just as in Lampedusa’s novel, my reflections went backward as historical and personal reminiscences, but also forward to present day America where there are presently some twenty million Italian-Americans, either descending from the original wave of Italian immigrants , or arriving a bit later in the century. They consider themselves Italian-Americans; that is to say, people who have made a bridge between two cultures; who are often bi-lingual and bi-cultural, who have by and large have integrated themselves to the host culture and because of such integration are actually better citizens than those who are monocultural, in better touch with American diversity and much better able to understand fellow citizens from other ethnic backgrounds. For, all considered, the only true genuine American is the Native American; the rest of us are all descendant from original immigrants. Unfortunately we were not always gracious and grateful guests of the Native Americans.

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We are all immigrants in America, except for the Native American

But to come back to the present day immigrants, quite often they present themselves as imitators of their great-grandparents or their grandparents; as courageous immigrants who one fine day decided to pick up and go abroad to find adventure or try their luck. This is often proudly mentioned when they return to the place they came from for a temporary visit. They tend to claim that they are following in the footsteps of their grandparents. But are they? Let’s see.

I often meet this type of new immigrant whom I like to define as neo-immigrant. I even have a few of them, arrived in the last few years, in my own family. But when I compare them to my own grandfather or father, I realize that there is something quite distinct about them. Let me list those differences:

1.     1. In the first place, their trek to America is no longer dictated by economic necessity. They are usually well off; in fact, the more well off and willing to invest their money in America, the easier it is for them to obtain residency status and even citizenship. Such is not the case for poor migrant workers or poor immigrants.

2. The motivation, more often than not, is not so much the desire to work hard and plan a better future for their children, but a desire to change life style, or because the American life style is considered more glamorous and attractive.

3.
One discerns a rather condescending attitude toward the host culture which sometimes is misguidedly considered inferior. It’s almost a turning of the table around: it is the hosts who ought to be grateful for their arrival. In other words, their effort to integrate themselves to the host culture sometimes leaves much to be desired.

4.       One notices little appreciation for the great cultural diversity existing in America and the desire to contribute to the symphony or the mosaic that is American culture, that is to say, there is little appreciation for a genuine multi-culturalism cemented by certain ideals enshrined in the American constitution, such as inalienable human rights.

5.  What one senses in the attitude of those neo-immigrants arriving here from countries who are already prosperous in their own rights is the same rather selfish and self-interested attitude, the same lack of distributive justice of the well do toward the disadvantaged in their own country. Its global international economics on full display.

Now, considering the above observations, it seems to be that the label of immigrant or even neo-immigrant is not wholly appropriate. When those neo-immigrant talk of “the land of opportunity,” I am afraid that what they often mean is the land of opportunism, pure and simple; opportunities, that is, in the realm of the material and the financial with little regard for the intellectual and the spiritual and the ideal. At least so it seems to me. These latest neo-immigrant arrive here not by steam boat but by first class airplane and not to work hard but to make money.

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One can make the case that such was also the attitude of the first generation immigrants, but then, like my grandfather, they made sure that their children learned the language and the customs of the new country, got an education and loved its ideals so by the second or third generation they could rightly call themselves Italian-Americans, or Greek-Americans or Polish-Americans. One does not get that sense from the current well to do neo-immigrants on the make on globalization. 

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Check Dr Emanuel Paparella's EBOOKS
Aesthetic Theories of Great Western Philosophers
& Europe Beyond the Euro
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Emanuel Paparella2016-12-01 19:11:50
It has come to my attention that some readers may have misunderstood or misinterpreted the above article as one supporting anti-immigrant, or anti-refugees, even racist or xenophobic sentiments, to the point of pretending to agree with said article. That can only be due to a complete misunderstanding or inattention to the article as presented, or perhaps the fact that those who have so misunderstood it are racists and xenophobes.

In any case, let me reassure any other puzzled reader that, to the contrary, the article on "neo-immigrants" was meant to defend the honorable motives of the original immigrants (among which one can count my own grandfather) and expose what I call the pseudo-immigrants who pretend to be in the tradition of the heroic immiagrants at the turn of the 20th century but in reality they have emigrated to simply change their already comfortable life-style at home, or to invest their money, having no intention to integrate themselves of synthesize another culture and way of thinking or way of life. If there is an exposè it has to do with that kind of skam worthy of a Donald Trump who wants to deport Moslems, Latinos and other "undesirables." As we well know from history, it all began with deportations and then went on to the final solution of extermination. If one thinks that is an exageration, I highly recommend Sinclair Lewis' "It Couldn't Happen Here" written way back in 1935.


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