“Love and Peace”

Often the thought crosses my mind, “I wonder what foreigners think of America watching American TV shows, movies and reading the stories that make front page news?”  Even closer to home, I’ve often wondered what immigrants to America think about us and for the purpose of this post, I’m not going to veer into the political hot potato illegal immigration patch.  Instead, I want to talk about immigrants, people who move to our country and don’t know us yet.

Working in a big box store offers an opportunity to meet all sorts of people and years ago when I worked in the fabrics and crafts department, my store utilized recent immigrants to handle the floor-cleaning and overnight maintenance.  We had a Bulgarian cleaning crew of three people, a couple and one other very tall man.  They worked diligently with never a fuss, starting before my evening shifts ended.  They avoided eye contact as they passed through the fabrics and crafts area every night.  One evening I decided that I was going to meet them, so I began a halting conversation with the very tall gentleman.  His English was not good.  I don’t know any Bulgarian and through a few words I realized he spoke Russian, but I couldn’t remember more than a few words from my high school Russian classes.  He quickly introduced me to the couple and I began chatting with them whenever I saw them in the store.  The couple had been professional people in Bulgaria and they had a middle school age daughter.  The tall gentleman, Lubomir, had been a Soviet-trained Bulgarian army officer.  He was saving up money to bring his wife and son to America and besides working on that, he was studying English and studying to be able to become a truck driver, which would pay more and offer more opportunities to reach his goals.  Often, I watched in dismay as some ignorant co-workers would mock his halting speech and ask him what his name was and treat him like the village idiot.  He would patiently tell them his name was Lubomir and invariably they would ignore that and call him “Big Lou”.   Lubomir seemed surprised that I knew where Bulgaria actually is, as most times when he told my co-workers that, it was met with, “Never heard of it!”

As Christmas drew near I decided to bake an assortment of Christmas cookies and take it to the apartment where they lived.  I love baking, so I happily mixed and baked away and I had a large round metal Christmas tin can awaiting my cookie assortment.  Then one of my sons came in the kitchen and I chattered away about how I was going to take Christmas cookies to my Bulgarian friends from work.  Quickly, he started casting doubt on my gift idea. It started with questions like, “Mom do you realize that Bulgaria has quite a few Muslims and you don’t even know if these people are Christians?”  He went on to fill me in on all the reasons why I shouldn’t presume they celebrate Christmas.  I began doubting my project.  Finally I told him I am not trying to convert them, I’m merely giving them a gift to let them know I value their friendship.    His stream of over-thinking a simple goodwill gesture permeates how American society operates though, but he did have me wondering if my cookies might offend them.

I drove over to their apartment and the young daughter answered the door.  She told me her parents were sleeping, which I expected as they worked the overnight shift in our store.  This young lady possessed gracious manners, spoke impeccable English and offered the warmest smile when I told her I was friends with her parents at work.  I didn’t want her to wake up her parents, so I just handed her the can of Christmas cookies and she said with just the slightest accent, “Thank you very much!”

Several thoughts struck me as I drove home.  I thought about how we brag about how by the second generation immigrants assimilate and mainstream into American society and this young lady seemed well on the way toward that.  Then I thought, why do we settle for the second-generation of immigrants assimilating – why not make it a commitment to assimilate new immigrants to America and turn as many of them as possible into American success stories.  Why accept that it’s natural that the first generation toils away on the outskirts of American society, never really finding their way to being a real part of American society?  I’m not talking about new federal programs, merely suggesting we start noticing the immigrants in our own communities, try to get to know them and treat them like neighbors.  Assimilation into a community doesn’t come about through federal programs, it comes by making friends and accepting people into your group.  It doesn’t even have to cost as much as a can of cookies – it can be as simple as talking to people and letting them know you’re willing to help them.

That conversation with my son came to mind last night when a friend mentioned cutting off aid to drug addicts and turning our backs on them until they clean up their act as part of the remedy to deal with that problem.  As one who doesn’t think federal hand-out programs solve problems, I have no problem with eliminating many of these programs, as they fuel dependency and vicious cycles of poverty.  In our communities though we, especially those of us who do celebrate Christmas, still need to try to find ways to help people in trouble, even though it would be easier to cast them aside as not part of our neighborhood.  And on a lighter note, my Bulgarian friend’s name, Lubomir, means “love and peace” and if that wasn’t a good sign that my Christmas cookies would be welcome, I don’t know what is;-)

7 Comments

Filed under American Character, Culture Wars, Food for Thought

7 responses to ““Love and Peace”

  1. Justin

    “Assimilation into a community doesn’t come about through federal programs, it comes by making friends and accepting people into your group. It doesn’t even have to cost as much as a can of cookies – it can be as simple as talking to people and letting them know you’re willing to help them.”

    It doesn’t even take that LibertyBelle all it really take is what you did.

    Baking cookies. Offering a cookie to an individual reveals a bunch.

    Yet it’s also as important – one must have some idea of culture at any rate – to realize if whatever is offered in return, doesn’t look … oh how do I say this I was gonna use “barbaric” but a Japanese Christian might offer some dolphin, an Inuit a bit of whale. Somebody from Camp Lejeune a drink of water.

    Whatever is offered with an open palm and eyes with that “certain” … it’s easily recognized.

    Where we live LibertyBelle, where our neighbors seek to become us generally speaking, require no assimilation at all.

    Cookies maybe. But so long as you don’t live on a coast, you shouldn’t worry you’ll be getting some sort of yucky stuff in reciprocity – in exchange for cookies. So far as I know, nobody eats slugs.

    • I ate escargot one time – in a seafood paella dish in Barcelona. My husband told me it was just some seafood – that’s as close to eating slugs that I want to get.
      Truly, when it struck me on the level of how absurd America is at assimilation was when we had a Russian lady working as a cashier. She was a doctor from one of the “stans” and we also had a dentist from India working as a sales clerk – they both went back home.
      I know that for hundreds of years immigrants in America settled in their own ethnic communities, but in this day and age, it’s way past time to work to open things up and work towards a more blended society. The same thing happened with the Civil Rights movement. Lots more opportunity and some progress, but in everyday life, blacks and whites mostly lead completely divided lives – particularly in the South. They may work together and some may socialize a little, but by and large there are still two separate communities within the same geographical area.
      Who knows cookies might be the way to bridge cultural divides, lol. And I won first place at work when we did a cookie contest (the entries all got numbers and people voted on the best ones). However, due to my cultural cluelessness about The South, I only placed third when we had the pie contest a few years ago. I baked my favorite PA Dutch shoo-fly pie and I lost to two sweet potato pies…. You live, you learn, when in Rome………..

  2. Able

    As someone who (prior to my current woes regarding new passport and re-doing all the same paperwork/jumping the same hoops) visited often I can honestly say that away from the cities Americans are probably as open and welcoming as anyone anywhere. Invitations to games, social events, churches and even the tradition of house warming gifts are either unusual or non-existent elsewhere in the world (in that I include actions across cultural, ethnic and language barriers that would be seen as insurmountable elsewhere).

    You’ve covered, for me. the salient points – language difficulties, cultural differences and ’embarrassment’ at loss of status and the financial issues related to each. For many, the majority I suspect, the lack of ‘integration’ is a self-inflicted one, a choice. That so many there do not is a testament to how ‘pushy’ Americans can be in trying to involve new arrivals. Contrast with the ghettoes here in the UK – even in my small third tier city there are areas exclusively populated by either Portuguese, Polish or Pakistanis (police jargon indicates trouble in ie. P1) who refuse to socialise or even interact with anyone outside their own.

    Numbers seems to make the difference. In cities where large groups of similar people exist they have the ‘option’ of remaining ‘outsiders’. Like has always attracted like. Witness areas where large numbers of a particular ethnicity or nationality exist, those will be the areas where non-integration (and conflict) occurs most. Cities exacerbate the problems by the very lack of a larger community (culturally most cities have more in common with other nations cities than they do with smaller towns in their own nations – at times without language cues, and sometimes temperature, I can’t remember which country I’m in) in which to be assimilated.

    My own opinion? Here the issue revolves around how easy it has been made to remain separate (translators, documents in multiple languages, specialist services for non-English, etc.). In the past without such services, integration occurred rapidly, as it had to (integrate or leave). Limit the numbers, remove these services (allow the same as everyone else but no more) and I’d suggest the issue would resolve rapidly.

    That there are idiots and bigots is not at question. That there are those who can only bolster their own lack of self-respect by denigrating others is also not at question. In summary, I suspect you are misreading your own experiences as indicating a larger problem than exist – at least there. Just my limited experience and (usually wrong) opinion.

    (That’s not even addressing the current fad of cultural equivalence – in the past to act/appear British/American was an aim, a goal, if not a prerequisite. Now? Now we are disparaged and people are encouraged, supported and, crucially, rewarded for being ‘different’).

  3. Justin

    Able, LibertyBelle makes some points we “on the inside” too often miss.

    Surprise to me (at least) I found making friends “across the Universe” easier in Mississippi than in just across the river Arkansas. We here in Arkansas have towns which no longer are advertised as such in Mississippi:

    http://www.encyclopediaofarkansas.net/encyclopedia/entry-detail.aspx?search=1&entryID=3658

    Too often here, we “simply accept” what out Media (whether MSNBC or FOX) insists to us is what is. We Americans are sorely inept in the – finding out for ourselves and only then deciding – while we ignore what our friends (like Able obviously is) we judge “as convenient.”

    We individuals shouldn’t be accepting out of hand what our (obviously inept in any other circumstance) politicians accept as legitimate campaign contributions “to do the constituent’s will” is so in opposition as to be in plain contradiction to each promise of fidelity.

    I have this opinion understanding if I’d had a real grip on the easiest way to get rich would’ve been exactly the opposite career route I’d advise now.

    If one wishes to be very rich – get elected to some national level office.

    Otherwise …. “What did you say your name is, are you qualified to vote in my district”?

    “You got a bunch of money you’ll be contributing to me that’ll offset what you’re asking me to take away from dumb people that’ll skirt all the recent Campaign Finance Law?”

    & only the last question matters to qualify.

  4. When I wrote this I wasn’t thinking in terms that we need some national awareness program, just stating that we as individual Americans should be aware of and make the effort to welcome immigrants. And as an off-shoot, my thought is that instead of accepting this “second-generation success” line, we should strive to help first generation immigrants who move into our neighborhoods too.

    The other simple point I was trying to make was how someone can come along with multiculturist PC dogma and make you doubt yourself. I’m glad I gave them some cookies, but I almost ditched my gift idea once my son started casting doubts on it. He was a “smart” college kid then, studying international relations…….

    • Justin

      I too think the focus should be on “assimilating” the first generation. Unfortunately we’ve no longer the Henry Fords around to um … forcefeed of necessity … meaning, without the language skills and the dare I say Cultural Literacy or at any rate, Cultural Bonding – we’re left with only the one option. Depend on the second generation.

      But that poses a hazard of it’s own – the first generation is no longer incentivized to adopt (assimilate in other words) the necessaries of “living and working amongst us” – therefore the second generation will be, must be bi-lingual amongst other obvious [?] needs to help provide for the first. Thus creating what used to be called, “a vicious cycle” but nowadays is known as, “Press 1 for English.”

      “Press 1 for English” is of necessity Government driven (only the national government “having the power” to enforce (usually in our case, under the rubric of some variation of the Commerce Clause). After the national government is “granted” the power to enforce any option other than “Press 1” there must be available a “Press 2.”

      I got your point LibertyBelle (I think) – that’s why I say, bake some cookies, allow the “sniff test” and if the first generation gives some hint they’d like a cookie, say whatever variation is necessary of, “Press 1 for English.”

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