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tv   This Is America With Dennis Wholey  PBS  November 21, 2010 10:00am-10:30am EST

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>> is it fair to say that we are a nation of immigrants? >> we are a nation of immigrants that makes enormous contributions to this country every single day. we are also a nation that at times has presented our immigrant background. we talk about the statue of liberty and praised these virtues, of the alien and sedition act could have been written by lou dobbs. our culture being debased and
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changed by the french. that anger was turned towards the irish, the italians, the russians, than the asians. agents in california could not own property in the 1950's -- asians in california could not own property in the 1950's. there is this periodic fear that they will change america. but the truth is that people that are fearful think it will change their culture. but american culture has never been static. it has never been static. it is dynamic. i had a woman say to me the other day -- how can we get our american kids to study as hard as the asian immigrants in our classroom? [laughter] >> when we talk about this melting pot idea and this nation
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of immigrants, is there any other country that is like ours? >> australia has always been a country that has welcomed immigrants. and canada. in fact, today, both of them are doing something smarter than we are. we have a program called hv visas that go to highly educated graduates. we limit this in a very foolish way to 65,000 each year. they are scooped up every day by every high-tech firm in america. bill gates has pleaded with congress to raise that limit. he said that 30% of their patents come from engineers that are foreign born. ideas have no boundaries. if we limit the ability of this country to absorbent welcome the best young minds from around the world, they will go to australia, to germany, to
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canada. >> is the argument not that if we give the jobs to those people, that those jobs will not be available for americans? >> that is the argument, but it is profoundly wrong. first of all, there are not enough americans with these degrees. we had three americans this year, two of them foreign-born. what did they create? one of them led to fiber optics, the other with digital photography. how many americans have jobs today because those american where working here. this is not a loss. this is not a zero sum game. we will never compete because we of lower wages than bangladesh and pakistan. to compete in the creating new
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products and scientific innovations that will give us that advantage in the international market. >> looking at immigrants from day one until yesterday, or to day as the case may be, is there a reason why they come up? why the people come? what are the characteristics of some of these that leave the country and come to another country? >> a very good question. people often make mistakes, the idea that america is paved with gold. those streets are paved with opportunity. high-profile 15 different families in my book. no one came here to have anything be handed to them. no one achieve anything because things were handed to them.
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hard work, the most basic value we teach every day. it starts with imagination. if you are sitting in burma, the ukraine, how do you imagine a life in another place? how do you have the courage, the strength to plan and finally make the break? even when we see poverty and oppression, which my grandparents did, you leave a lot behind. you leave your ancestors' graves. you leave the food you have eaten your entire life. the smell, the air. you leave home. even if you are grateful to leave, you leave something of yourself. >> you have that sentence here -- mothers all over the world, weeping in their kitchens
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thinking of their children in america. >> it is true. i stood in a kitchen in a stone house in a village outside of esparta. there was a woman who told the story of her children that had come to america. of course, they felt guilty because they never came back to visit. they sent her every kitchen appliance imaginable. she is surrounded by toaster ovens in this little kitchen and was weeping one day. her children were home for the summer. one of her sons comes upon her weeping. he asks why she is crying. we are here. your grandkids are here. she said because she is thinking of the day that you are going to leave. that is a part of immigration. a woman from afghanistan quoted to me favors written by a 13th century poet's called the song
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of the read. when you plug a read from a reid bed and blow through it, there is a particularly mournful sound. he says that that sound is the pain of separation it feels from having been plucked. that is the way by feel about leaving afghanistan, my friend said. those lines were written 800 years ago. every immigrant in the history of the world has felt the pain of separation. >> quickly, before we get behind, stephen this year. -- is here. a wonderful journalist, a teacher on the faculty of george washington university.
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"13 families and the new lives made in america." >> "this is america" is brought to you by -- hyundai motor america, maker of the 2009 sonnata. the national education association ben, the nation's largest -- , the nation's largest advocate for children and public education. the league of arab states, representing 350 million people in 22 member countries. the rotondaro family trust, the ctc foundation, and the american
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life tv network. >> you know what i gather i am reading the book, steve? a lot of people that come here come from very painful circumstances. tragedy. payin. of the horror in some of those countries. a wide variety in many ways. going to graduate school in cleveland, nothing terribly dramatic. but there are families in africa particularly where the civil war continues. there is a woman in this book named alice that came from rwanda. she grew up in a refugee camp. her family was driven out by the dominant tribal groups in rwanda. she grew up in a refugee camp
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and a guerrilla army was organized there. she was being trained as a guerrilla fighter. her uncle had seen these test scores published in the home town. she had gotten a place in the secondary school, which was hard to do. he could not even call her. he grabbed her to tell her that she had passed and that she had to come with him. she was within one hour of shipping out with her brabant. her commander said to her bed she will do more for her people in school. the horrible genocide that happened, when that happened she was in school. she came back to rwanda after
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words and every family is grieving the death of dozens of people. she was despondent and despairing, ready to give up. graduate school in ethiopia, she said that she had no energy for it. she came out to take the test. some in the education ministry saw the score and they called in the friend. they wanted to know who that girl was. my friend, alice, they said. just a day, a tiny moment of faith. he had gotten a letter from the american college of pittsburgh. young people from war-torn countries. he said, you get one of those scholarships. it turns out there was a female
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professor that was moving from president in wisconsin that wanted the girl. alice winds up in wisconsin and of late thursday she is told she as a scholarship, leaving for america in two days. mom, i am leaving for america of. >> we have 13 families in this book. you have a divided into different sections. i want to talk about this one family. from vietnam. and thailand. talking about those difficult situations, 140 people floating in the ocean on a boat that is 6 feet wide and 18 feet long. >> big enough for one-third of
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those people led most. what happened was, as they floated the engines died and pirates would attack them. they would rape the women, take the boats and dump everyone into one vote. at one. the mother of this family had been floating for days -- at one point the mother of this family had been floating for days with the lot -- two lowboys. she said she had no recourse left, that she was ready to slit her wrists to feed her children her blood. and she meant it. fortunately they did not have to do it because they saw land one day later. thehey hadn't washed up on shore of cambodia, the crop --
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if they had washed up on the shore of cambodia, they would have been killed. can you imagine that moment of anxiety? the captain calls up and that's where they are and the answer is thailand. so, the family lived. the line between survival and being extinguished is so faint. >> these are some of the people that come here as immigrants. i am thinking of two women in the section that talk about selling the crown jewels because they have a connection to the automobile industry. >> one of the things interesting about modern immigration, the pain of separation being universal -- there is something different about modern immigration. historically it was difficult
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for single women to make this move. first of all, the cultural chivalry was very strong. you needed a man. and the economic opportunities were not that good. today both of those things have changed. culturally women are able to be on their own and there are economic opportunities. every person that takes care of a 90-year-old mother is a foreign-born women of color. service industries provide enormous economic opportunities for single foreign-born women. the granddaughter of the last king of afghanistan, when the communists took over she just decided -- a single mother with a 3-year-old daughter -- she remembered the airplanes of the
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soviets flying over her house. she said she had to get her daughter out of there. she had no money and very little ability to make money. her first job was a salesperson for a company that sold bulletproof vests to spies and embassies. she could not afford a nanny. when her daughter got sick, she had to take her daughter to work. her daughter would take naps on the pile bulletproof vests. >> how about this woman from germany? she is the one that comes up in the war. the writing was so beautiful in this section because it allowed me to appreciate my sister-in- law, who talked about being on
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the german side during the war. >> she is actually an old friend of mine. the only person that i knew in the book before i started writing the book. flying a dive bomber, she was 11 and she thought he was about to kill her. her mother did not though -- did not know that her aunt lived near a secret nazi base. americans were bombing it. one day she was going to school across a snowy field. an american dive bomber came over. it came so low, she saw the face of the american pilot.
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the first american she had ever seen. she dove into the snow bank. the line between survival and death is so faint. >> her father died? >> her father was a nazi officer. >> her husband? >> an american that was killed. >> her father and her husband both died? >> both killed. her father was a not see officer that had occupied france. the basis that he was killed by the french with a knife wound through his stomach. her husband was that american journalists killed covering the revolution. >> coming from the soviet union, each of them got $120 and now they live in a penthouse on central park west? the chans, from china,
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entrepreneurs and business people. >> all kinds of things. one of the things that is key about modern immigration, particularly amongst asians, many of them are doing business with their home country. when my father left the soviet union he was out of touch with his sister for 50 years. today i met a student from brazil. her brother married a brazilian woman. the bride's family could not get visas to come to the wedding. my students took a digital camera and a laptop to the wedding, took photographs, posted them on the internet, and the bride's family was watching a real time slide show of the wedding. these kinds of connections, these communications -- teh chan
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family left china in terror. hated communism. coming to america, setting up shop as a small-time accountant. one thing leads to another and when china starts to open up commercial ties to the west, he has a friend of a friend of a friend that wants to sell fireworks in america. one thing leads to another, in one generation ago they had fled in terror, going back to china and doing business. he owns a business that employs 20 people in the province. he stays in the same room every time. from one generation ago from fleeing communism to returning and doing business. >> i have so many things to
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rescue. one of the things is immigrants always saying that they will go back home, but they never do? >> by and large they do not because they become americans and their kids and grandkids become american. >> is that a problem of the sacrifice generation democrats the parents come, you have a cultural thing of raising the kids -- >> the fact is that in modern immigration it is possible for the people to go back. a significant number of indian immigrants, particularly the well-educated ones can go back home and live back home. in fact it is a serious problem for americans. they should be here. >> they come and they go back. when you put all of this together and you write this, what is the biggest lesson you are taking from all of this? the biggest lesson you have
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learned along the way to get to this point? >> the value that we teach our children is eternal. it knows no ethnic or religious boundaries. the values of devotion, loyalty, your family and your community, your country -- the value of tenacity in overcoming obstacles and difficulties, saying that every single language, culture, religion and country -- the great genius of america is that we attract the most ambitious, the most determined, the most energetic. we are removed constantly. the title of this book comes from barack obama's inaugural
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address. that characteristic is a strength and not a weakness. that is what i take away from this. listening to a family from sierra leone, i can hear the voices of my grandparents in their story. i can hear the lessons we were taught and that we tried to pass on to the next generation. when we meet someone who is very new to this country and they are having trouble with the language, not counting things the way we might, what would you have us take into that encounter? >> well, i think one thing this respect. i have three muslim sisters in this book who wear a head scarf.
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i wanted to see what life was like for young muslim women in america that where the garment every day. the story that made me cringe was when people did not respect them as americans. they were americans. one woman told me the story of being in a store where she wanted to smell the aroma of some saffron that she was buying. somebody attacked her saying that -- we do not do that in this country. she started to cry, saying she was doing -- doing nothing wrong. we need to respect those differences. it is totally possible for people to be completely
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committed, loyal, patriotic americans, and still love for get where they came from. these are not mutually exclusive ideas. they are completely compatible ideas and i would like to see more people understanding that america is enriched by the woman in the head scarf. she does not have to cook hamburgers to be an american. she can still cope with saffron and where her headscarf. >> from every end of this earth. 13 families and the new lives they made in america. always good to talk to you, steve. >> thank you. >> for online video of "this is america all" programs, visit our website -- website, this is
10:26 am the program is brought to you by hyundai motor america, the maker of the 2000 ninesonata. -- 2009 sonata. the national education association, the nation's largest advocate for children in public education. the league of arab states, representing 350 million people in 22 member countries. the rotondaro family trust, the ctc foundation, and the american life tv network.
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