Thursday, January 29, 2009


Mason Cleveland, class of 2011, wrote this essay in Ms. Alsup's Contemporary American Culture class after students read two novels on immigration.

America is a place that was founded by immigrants. People came here in order to escape from persecution and oppression, only to end up placing the same persecution and oppression on the people that America rightfully belongs to. We killed off the native population, and then sent them into “reservations”, which is just a nice term for what is essentially a concentration camp.

Now, with a new wave of immigrants that are coming to America from their home countries to find many of the same freedoms that we desired, we do not give these rights to them, and we begin a new wave of hatred and oppression. If we were able to come here and do whatever we wanted, why can’t they? Is it because we have a government and we thought the Native Americans didn’t (even though they did)? Is it because we are losing jobs and money to these “illegal aliens”? These people come here, willing to do the jobs that other Americans aren’t, if it weren’t for them, our society would most definitely collapse.Immigrants that come to America rarely find what they are searching for. They think of America as some sort of Shang Gri La, only to find that they are only slightly better off than they were before. Despite this, though, only a certain kind of immigrant meets this sort of oppression and hatred. Without a doubt, America is not a melting pot of cultures; you must adopt American values, customs, and even the language. If you do not know English (or rather, with how Americans are acting now, it should be called “Americanese”) you have a hard time getting by, and you face stereotypes and hatred everywhere.

However, families that do know English and have money are significantly better off than others. And this difference can be seen from two books, “Donald Duk” and “The Circuit”. America can be a place of refuge and opportunity, as long as you are invested in American society and culture.

In “Donald Duk”, America has proven to be an excellent place for the Chinese immigrant family that the story focuses on. The father of the family owns a successful Chinese restaurant, and he is closely associated with a famous Cantonese opera performer.

This novel is a good representation that if you have a concept of the English language, and a good deal of money to begin with, you can be very successful and well off in America. Although the Duk family lives in the Chinatown of a major city, they are still well accustomed to society and American life.

Despite the fact that the book does not so much focus on the hardships that the family faces as a collective because they are Chinese, you can still see some forms of racism and stereotypes, such as the non-Chinese schoolteacher. When teaching about the Chinese New Year, he calls the Chinese passive and indecisive. This is far from the truth, as shown when Donald, a Chinese boy, learns about the Chinese immigrants who worked on the railroad system in the 1800s. Even looking back into Chinese history you can see that what the schoolteacher said is the opposite of the truth. If a nation can build a wall that can be seen from space and that spans nearly their entire country just so that they can keep out barbarians, they are nowhere near passive.

But despite this, the book shows that people still have misconceived views and opinions on people of other races even if those other races are born on American soil. Often, you can hear these words just by walking down a hallway in school. I can’t begin to say how many times I have heard people from the Middle East called “Sand-n******”, and everyone thinks they are terrorists or religious extremists. I often listen to Japanese music, and I have heard many people complain and insult the Japanese, calling them strange, weird, perverted, disgusting, and even so far as stupid names like “Yellow-skin."

This goes to show that just because a family like the Duk family can live well in America, not all people can, and they still face hideous amounts of racism, and this can be seen in the story, “The Circuit”.

Certainly through reading even a little of the book, you can see that America is not all warm apple pies made by grandma and kind Mr. Abernathy giving you a dollar and a glass of lemonade for mowing his lawn. America in this book is a place of hard work, and little rewards.
The family in “The Circuit” works by picking cotton, and then more jobs after that. Aside from the fact that the cotton picking sounds an awful lot like African slavery in America, they are from Mexico and are actually paid for their work. The main character is a young student in school, and this is where the oppression can be seen the clearest. America is not a place of happiness for immigrants.

The teacher yells at him for speaking in the only language that he knows, Spanish. He begins speaking with another student that knows it, and the teacher comes over and yells at him. It can be wondered if this teacher understands just how difficult it is for a young child to learn two languages, and just how troublesome English can be.

This book shows that America can be a hard place for the family that is not able to speak English fluently, and is poor to begin with. In contrast the Duk family can already speak English and they are already well off.

But this also brings up the point that racial minorities in America are often better off when they are with others of their country. This is a sad fact that promotes segregation, but it often seems that races are not as oppressed when they make little communities with each other, like the Chinatowns. Of course, Native Americans are exempt from this because, you know, we Americans are so scared that they are going to scalp us.

America is place of refuge and opportunity, as long as you come here legally, can speak English, and have money. Otherwise, you are in trouble, and will have a hard life. This is not right, simple as that. People that speak against immigrants coming here are being hypocrites, because we all came here from somewhere else.

It can only be hoped that a day will come when America will stop thinking of itself as a nation of born citizens, and as a true bastion of freedom and peace. A time must come when we do not care where our neighbor comes from, and stop thinking of them as British or Chinese or Mexican, but start thinking of them as people, people who deserve the same rights as us, the same freedoms, and the same opportunity. Only after America stops thinking about Americans, and starts thinking of the human race, will there be be true peace and freedom for all.