Opinion

We the Immigrants Are the World's Future

We, the world’s immigrants and potential immigrants, came to be free, to learn but also to have our cultures of origin acknowledged, and we will not be stopped by walls or restrictions.

Protesters display placards during the Jewish Rally for Refugees at Battery Park in New York, February 12, 2017.
JEWEL SAMAD/AFP

Fate hurled us to the far ends of the earth. We are total opposites — Muslim and Christian, black and whites, in miniskirts or veiled, bearded or clean-shaven. Sometimes we can’t stand each other, but we have much in common: We are bolder than our previous neighbors and poorer than our new neighbors. We mop stairwells and save every cent so that our children can go to college. Our eyes tear up when we recall our old homes, and our lips curl into a smile of hope when we dream about the home our children will build. We are the world’s quarter-billion immigrants — refugees, migrants and those “returning to their homeland.” We are the new class.

Not by chance has mass migration become a top issue for the wealthy, developed world in the past few years. According to a United Nations report, in 2015 international immigrants accounted for 15.2 percent of the population of North America, up from 9.8 percent in 1990. In Europe, that figure increased from 6.8 percent to 10.3 percent in the same period.

When viewed through the prism of the past 200 years, however, these numbers seem less dramatic. International Monetary Fund data show that the proportion of immigrants in the U.S. population was around 14 percent in the 1870s and in the first years of the 20th century.

Economists believe the massive waves of immigration of the late 19th and early 20th centuries helped to bring the standard of living in both the countries of origin and the host countries closer together: The poor who left Europe for the New World leveled the seesaw. Thus, violent attempts to elevate the proletariat and introduce equality in certain countries occurred in parallel with a nonviolent process of increasing equality worldwide through immigration.

After the two world wars and the Great Depression that they bracketed, this process resumed. This time Europe joined the New World as a destination, with immigrants arriving from the countries of Latin America, Africa, Asia and the Middle East.

Today, however, achieving balance between the poor world and the wealthy world seems almost inconceivable. In essence, this is the nightmare of the wealthy world, and of its poor in particular, with whom the immigrants compete for jobs.

It is this nightmare that led to the strict immigration restrictions put in place beginning in the middle of the 20th century. It is the same nightmare that brought Donald Trump into the White House, made Brexit happen and now has France on the verge of electing a far-right government.

But as for us — the quarter of a billion immigrants and an even larger number of potential immigrants — will this stop our aspiration to happiness? Like the classic proletariat, we lack means. Not the means of production, but rather the social ties and cultural capital needed to succeed in the society to which we’ve come. What we do have, though, are survival skills, unique life experience and the ability to move between and to bridge different worlds.

Instead of fearing the proletariat of the destination countries — our competitors, and so often, our haters — let us extend a hand in peace and band together to demand better health, welfare and education for all of us.

We came to be free, not to hide ourselves away in ghettos of fear and suspicion. We came to learn, but that doesn’t mean we won’t demand that our own culture be acknowledged. You can place restrictions on us and put up walls before us, but it won’t stop us — the desire to live and be happy is stronger than fear. Unlike the old proletariat, we don’t need to foment a revolution, because we are the revolution. We are the future, and you ought to welcome us.