Throughout its history, at times when it seemed that New York City was about to become obsolete or worse, immigrants have moved in and revitalized our city beyond expectation. Ironically, the more they contributed, the more resentment they engendered from “native” Americans. But the truth is, unless your first name is “Running,” you ain’t native, and the fact that you are lucky enough to be here is due to immigrants—be they Dutch, German, Eastern European, Italian, Irish, Middle Eastern, or Asian.
Although today’s immigrants are more likely to come from a nation that pays its workers in rice than in wheat, their contribution to our city is as great, if not greater, than that of the Jewish, Irish, or Italian immigrants of one hundred years ago. Who doesn’t admire the hardworking Korean families who operate many of the city’s fruit and vegetable stands? They provide most New Yorkers with easy access to fresh produce and healthy foods—24 hours a day. And what about the Indian families who operate many of the city’s neighborhood newsstands and provide the great majority of our transit system’s engineers; or the recent Greek immigrants who own most of our 24-hour diners?
Perhaps the best place to observe the beneficial effect that immigrants have on New York is at our city’s hotels. One midtown hotel boasts of employees from thirty different nations: doormen are from Romania, housekeepers from the Caribbean, engineers from the former Soviet Union, controllers from Lebanon, managers from India, and the cooks from Pakistan. All contribute to the services that the hotel offers its clients, but, more importantly, they all contribute to the GNP and to the employment and tax base of the city.
At the same time that immigrants are quietly going about the task of finding employment, most “native” Americans are busy complaining about the inability of the average citizen to find decent entry-level jobs. But somehow our immigrants manage to ferret them out.
Today’s immigrants aren’t seduced by Vice President Gore’s information highway. They don’t care what Harvard Business School professors have to say about fax machines, Federal Express, and Japanese management techniques. They are smart enough to realize what most American’s don’t: that our nation’s cities still provide the best opportunity for someone without an education to get a start in life; and although the job doesn’t provide a six-year career path to the presidency, driving a taxicab, cleaning hotel rooms, or delivering Chinese food might just provide the seed capital for a business venture that at a minimum will give their families a better life than the one they left behind.
It is a historical myth that it was the world’s “tired and poor huddled masses” who arrived at Ellis Island. Huddled? Yes. Poor? Certainly. But tired? No way. It was the tired whom they left behind.
In the past, New York benefited immeasurably from the world’s most energetic citizens. The city’s best chance for survival hasn’t changed in 350 years. New blood brings new ideas, new jobs, and new benefits to life here. Let their people come.