Humble Past

I find it somewhat healthy that the President’s recent remarks have moved people to recognize their humble past.  The immigrants who came to America didn’t leave their homelands for small reasons.  Death from starvation or disease was a major consideration.

Consider the photo below.


The man on the left is my great-grandfatho Juho Silander; he was a cobbler.  The man seated is his son Heikki.  The location is Liperi, Finland, circa 1900.  That run down shack was the place my grandmother called home (she was born in the barn).   These are the sorts of people and situations from which our country was populated.  In the early 1900s, she and her two brothers came to America to leave behind this abject poverty and the death that came with it.  Let it always be a reminder for me.

Today Finland is quite an advanced country and is usually in the top-5 for standard of living among all countries.  People don’t immigrate from Finland to the US so much any more.  I have spoken to some that have, and it’s not uncommon for them to say, basically, that life in Finland can be boring and predictable – everyone has work, healthcare, maternity/paternity leave (total of 3 years), #1 school system in the world, and a social safety net that won’t allow you to become homeless if tradgedy strikes, etc.  In fact, the place is optimal enough that my sister Karin opted to move to Finland because America can be such a harsh place.  (She was valedictorian of her high school and has a Master’s degree, and so that criticism has some teeth.)

I am a booster for America.  It’s is a great country, and it has allowed me to do a lot.  But I fear that many Americans have forgotten their humble beginnings.  Immigrants bring vitality to a country because they are fully committed to making a better life for themselves.  For those people who worry that the immigrants are going to “take their job,” all I can say is the following:  Are you really afraid that some poorly-educated immigrant who may not even speak the language is going to take your job?  If that is the case, then your real job threat is not from the immigrant but from from the likes of machine learning/AI programmers like me who will replace your job with robots.  You would be better off making all AI programming illegal than keeping immigrants out because your job is likely to be taken more quickly by a machine that only needs electricity and works ceaselessly 24 hours a day.

Change is difficult, and one need only look at the census rolls of a boarding house of 1910 New York City to see how diverse our country was.  It must have been difficult with all the different languages and customs.  And even if the immigrants didn’t learn English or the new ways, their children did.   We have a long history of this sort of change – what are we worried about?



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