I love the United States of America, but I've never set foot in it.
The few people who are familiar with my output here on PolicyMic know that if there's one thing that I'm fond of not shutting up about it is the fact that I'm a Brazilian who dreams of living in America someday, so I apologize in advance for going at it again — I know I'm vastly overstaying my welcome on the subject, but this will be the last time I talk about it, pinky swear.
It wasn't always like this, though. When I started to write for this site, I purposely withheld my origins and pretended to be American, or at least a native English speaker. I don't know if people bought it. I mean, I know my English is okay, but I do make some elementary mistakes sometimes that only foreigners are likely to make (getting my “ins” and “ons” mixed up, among other things). Regardless, my reason for doing this — besides the fact that Brazilians are somewhat notorious on the internet for sometimes being the most annoying, entitled little shits to ever go online — was to have some respite from this tragic birth defect called “being a Brazilian” and pretend I actually was American. At least I could get some taste of what it's like.
You see, I've always been a bit of a couch potato. I never go out of the house much; ever since childhood I preferred staying at home watching TV and playing video games than going out and playing sports and all that, and being that there is no relevant Brazilian entertainment industry to speak of, I was partially raised on American video games, American cartoons, American movies, and American books. I learned English not from school but from American entertainment — I needed to know what the characters were talking about in those damn console RPGs. So American culture has always been an integral part of my upbringing, and what I saw through the TV screen was a window to a world much better than my own, albeit one that is completely out of my reach.
Now, I'm not poor by any stretch of the word. I was pretty poor for a while during my childhood, but let's not dwell on that. I live comfortably, by Brazilian standards at least. I'm middle class down here, even if up there I would perhaps be just a notch above Here Comes Honey Boo Boo. I can't afford a car (or a driver's license, for that matter), a new computer, an apartment — I still live with my family — or a new iPhone (even though I would be able, with the money I have now, to afford all those things if I lived in the US, but more on that later). But I can afford good food and clothes and the occasional movie and that's more than can be said about most of the population in Brazil.
The thing is, after being exposed to the American way of life for so long, I started taking a look around me and slowly began to realize: “Man, this country is a bit shit, isn't it?” In fact, it's a lot shit. Of course no Brazilian will admit that to an international audience as promptly as I do, but when the foreigners are out of earshot, every Brazilian complains about how shit this country is. A lot of Americans who live here will probably testify against me, but, then again, when you have dollars in your pocket and a cozy place to run back to in case shit gets too real, you're not likely to have the most unbiased view of this country.
So I started actively pursuing what is basically my one and only dream to this day: living somewhere else.
I started learning the language, taking note of all cultural nuances I could observe, paying attention to American politics and history and, in general, immersing myself in America. Not just to have a shot at the immigration process, but to feel a little bit like I'm already there.
Nowadays I avoid reading anything in Portuguese that isn't my Facebook feed, I only read books in English, I don't ever visit any Brazilian websites, I don't follow Brazilian politics, I'm completely ignorant of Brazilian pop culture.
So, now that immigration policy has taken the spotlight of political debate with the looming reforms being cooked up by the Senate and the House, I feel perhaps my take on the issue would be a much-needed perspective that isn't being exposed enough. Of course, I don't represent a majority of prospective immigrants in a lot of senses — I doubt they are all as “Americanized” as I am — but we all share something in common: the desire to have a better life.
And, since most of the arguments against open borders and amnesty come from the right, I will tackle their side of the conversation, even though I myself am a staunch free-market Libertarian.
So, the first thing that usually comes up in debates about immigration reform is that all that the immigrants want is some free shit. Well, first off, I already have free shit where I live. There's free universal health care, I go to a free public university that is better than the private ones, I can even get free condoms if I want to. But I don't want any of that, because you know what? We have free health care and free education and free everything and this country is still a cesspool of illiteracy, disease and poverty. Seriously, our living conditions are way worse than those of Americans. You can throw all of the free things you want at us but that won't change the fact that the Brazilian government is full of corrupt morons who couldn't manage the country even if they were inclined to do it, which they aren't.
And that's not exclusive to Brazil. Mexico also has public hospitals and public education. But it doesn't have jobs, doesn't have career opportunities, and it doesn't have safety, and that's why Mexicans go to the US. They want to build their own lives from the ground up.
But let's say the welfare state is indeed the reason why you can't let immigrants in. Well, then why don't you give immigrants a card that says “this guy is ineligible for any welfare benefits”. You give me that card and I'll sign it with my own BLOOD. The only problem I'll have with it will be in deciding whether I frame it in gold and hang it from my front door or whether I laminate it and wear it around my neck. I'm proud to say I don't want government handouts. What I want is the opportunity to prosper.
I want to be a writer of fiction. Right now I'm trying my hand at screenplays, but I'll take anything from Comic scripts to video games to actual novels. The thing is, to do any of those things in Brazil, first you have to get on your knees and beg the government for money. If you have political clout and if the bureaucrats in charge are in a good mood, you might get that money, but even after you wrote your book/ made your movie/ published your comic book, all your efforts will have been for naught because people in Brazil barely have the means to pay for their food, let alone books or movie tickets.
I steadfastly refuse to take the government's money for anything anyhow. The only reason I'm in public university is because my parents want me to have higher education and we don't have the money to pay for a private college. Still, to me, it's the most humiliating thing I've ever had to go through.
Another argument that people will inevitably raise is that immigrants need to learn “culture and language” before going to the U.S.
Well, as I've already said, I know a lot about U.S. Culture. Quick: what is the 22nd Amendment to the United States Constitution for? Why, it prevents a president from serving more than two consecutive terms in office, of course! It was ratified five years after FDR served his third term. What, you didn't know FDR was a three-term president? Well, he was actually a four term president, but he died of brain hemorrhage shortly after he was elected the fourth time, so his vice-president, Harry S. Truman, took over in 1945.
Do you know how to properly use “your” “you're” and “yore”? “There” “They're” and “Their”? Can you tell the difference between a Yooper dialect and a Canadian one?
I'd wager that a lot of Americans who demand that people learn “language and culture” before migrating to the U.S. don't know any of those things.
I'm not saying that all immigrants are like me and study those things. What I'm saying is: why should they have to learn it when a lot of American citizens don't? Just because you were born in the right place, this means you should have a lighter burden to bear? It sounds incredibly unjust to me.
And that brings me to another issue: some people say that it's not Americans' fault that the countries the prospective immigrants live in are horrible, so it's the people from those countries who should have the responsibility of changing their situation, rather than fleeing to somewhere better and being a burden on everyone else.
Well, for starters, why would they be a burden? Do you think that they will be just as poor in America as they are in their native lands? Yeah, because that's exactly what happened in history, right? A bunch of poverty-stricken Europeans went to the new continent in search of better living conditions but instead nothing improved whatsoever and the U.S. is just as poor nowadays as the poor parts of England were way back when.
Wait, that's not the case? In reality, those immigrants who had to wipe their asses on their table cloths to save money went on to create the most powerful and richest nation in the entire world?
And then, what the purveyors of that argument fail to realize is that countries don't change overnight. It may not be your fault that these people live in what could be described as “hell”, but it's not their fault either! Their only sin was being born in the wrong place! So now they have to pay for that sin by risking life and limb in a futile attempt to change a political system? Or should they just wait around until the country changes and hope they don't die first?
I, for instance, am an optimist, so I figure Brazil will reach acceptable levels of decency in five hundred thousand years or less. But even so, I'm not willing to linger and whither until we get there. I'm not responsible for any of this. We were screwed by earlier generations and we shouldn't have to suffer for it. I want the life that I deserve, not the life that was imposed upon me.
Let's apply the logic to a smaller scale, shall we? That's like saying that “we shouldn't have to free abduction victims and sex slaves. It's their responsibility to improve their living conditions or kill their tormentor. We shouldn't have to spend taxes on the police work required to save those people. If they didn't want to be raped and tortured everyday, they shouldn't have gotten themselves abducted in the first place.”
Then there are the people who say that you “can't have a country without borders.” For one, no one wants to eliminate the borders. No one wants to merge every country in the world. And secondly, the U.S. had open borders for about half of its history and it was still a country alright, so that platitude holds no water.
There's also those who say that immigrants cost jobs and impoverish the whole nation. Well, that would be leaving out several studies that find that immigrants could bring $1.5 trillion to the U.S. in ten years if they were let inside, and that expelling them would cost you $2.6 trillion.
And, finally, there are those people who say that “you wouldn't let anyone into your house, so why would we let people in the U.S.?” Oh yeah? You privately own the entire United States of America just like you own your house? If that is so, then there are just as much people who have no trouble with inviting people in, why should they not have the right to do it? After all, if citizens own the U.S., then the U.S. is their property too, isn't it? Or is it just you? You're the sole proprietor of the. entire land? Why should you be the one deciding who enters and who doesn't?
In the end, right now I have no means of going to the U.S. Right now. I don't have an American relative, I'm not married to an American girl, I don't have an American job, and I'm not a super genius who gets handed the green card just to increase the average IQ of the country.
What I'm trying to do right now is to learn and to weasel my way in. Working for PolicyMic has been a very educative experience, and I hope one day I get good enough that I can go pro, and that my employers would agree to file all the paperwork needed to bring me to the States.
I'm also writing my screenplays and sending them to contests, like the Nicholl Fellowship and BlueCat. It's a long shot, I know, but you never know, right? Might as well go for broke, since I'm already broke anyway.
But this all would be a lot easier if I could just buy a plane ticket and fly my ass to California or what have you. With the amount of money I have here I could lead a much more comfortable life in the US. A computer in Brazil, for instance, is likely to cost about three to five times more than a similar one from America, even taking into account the exchange rate. and also I would have lots more opportunities to showcase my work around, by virtue of simply being able to physically move around. And that's not to mention all of the creative writing workshops, lectures, and courses I could attend to hone my skills more effectively.
As I said, I love America. I love the idea that it was founded on the principle of liberty. I think the American constitution is damn near perfect, and I think it's still the greatest country in the world in which to grow and prosper.
So, the gist of what I'm saying is: be compassionate. I don't want to take anything from you. I just want opportunity.