2014年2月21日星期五

Personal Examples of Globalization and the Migrant Worker

What do we think about when we think of immigration? Back in the 1980s and 90s, many Chinese student-immigrants with grants had to work in restaurants to make ends meet. Writer Ha Jin describes about the work in many of his novels, such as A Free Life. When you ask a Chinese student-immigrant in the U.S. nowadays, the class condition has moved up a notch and consequently affected their view of American society. I recently got into a heated debate with a Chinese IT worker in the U.S. on social media about affirmative action. She defiantly called affirmative a "fascist policy." She argued in a libertarian vein against preferential for African Americans in principle since Americans have free access to 12 years of public schooling, blind-sighted to the inequality of educational resources. I was thus alarmed by how some mainland Chinese are drawn to the rights of US citizenship without understanding the movement that created the freedom, namely the Civil Rights Movement. Aside from the lack of historical education and racial sensitivity, which I should discuss in a future post about Chinese people's views of other minorities in the U.S., this particular Chinese immigrant's positioning is definitely an upper-middle class one. She worried about her kid's education and how affirmative action could affect her child's university choice in the next decade. The Chinese students who study abroad nowadays probably have even fewer chances to interact with possibly undocumented immigrants than back in the 1990s.
My perspective of immigration is also mostly preoccupied with the influx of middle class immigrants into America. As I have mentioned in my previous post about civic awareness among mainland Chinese immigrants and U.S. immigration reform, my friends are waiting on H1B visas, which provide for immigrants with technical skills. Recently, the Canadian government decided to abolish its investment immigration program and eliminate the backlog of applications, which will also affect the future of a lot of Chinese upper-middle class. Here is a post for a few class-conscious stories of migration brought to my mind through the internet and personal experience. 
Traveling across borders means different conditions for different classes. I am definitely do not have to deal with the circumstances of the working class. Documentation and sponsorship are always important. JD, an Indian cook who dislikes MSG, travels around the world. He does not know English very well but has enjoyed living in most countries, including Cambodia and Germany. He sought my help for obtaining a Portuguese visitor’s visa in China. He had no printer or computer at his command and needed to rely on friends and acquaintances like me for advice and resources. I am simply amazed by how far JD has gone despite his lack of English skills and internet access. 
Laurie Taylor of BBC's Thinking Allowed podcast interviewed Kimberly Kay Hoang, a Boston College professor and sociologist, on her field work of sex work and international migration. Hoang’s field work focused on Vietnamese sex workers who intend to marry up to “first world” countries such as Britain and Australia. Of those who make it as brides eventually, many become the breadwinners of the family and work in jobs such as nail salons. Many would not return to Vietnam unless they have enough money to start a business. Globalization never meant much to me personally until I realized that my friend Vikash faced the same dilemma as the Vietnamese brides. He works in China in the service sector with terrible conditions, without minimum legal counsel or a union for protecting his rights. He has finally won back his passport which has been illegally held onto by his boss for four months. He misses his home in Uttarakhand, India, yet he refuses to go home empty-handed. A lot of pride is associated with leaving one’s home, which the Chinese idiom captures so well--“return to one's home (only) with silk clothes (衣锦还乡).” But what is the level upward mobility for these cross-border migrants? How many return home successfully according to their expectations? Or does their contribution only come as remittances?
The border-crossers chose the less-trodden road and are determined to bear many hardships. When one speaks of immigration reform, PACs like FWD.us try to focus it on middle class. The DREAM Act focuses it on the image of a disciplined and self-sacrificing youth. The migrant worker certainly has her own perspective of the issue and would not share either the DREAM Act version or the FWD.us version. Invoking different class experiences is important when discussing immigration, because different experiences would lead to very different conclusions.

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