There are many reasons why people want to emigrate to the United States. One oft cited reason is abundance of economic opportunity. Where one is perhaps stymied in his attempts to set up shop on a street in Bangladesh so that he will be able to make enough to support himself and his family, he will have no problem doing so in the United States. Work hard, play by the rules, and the rewards will come your way. This is the capitalist myth, aimed especially at immigrants, that has endured for as long as Ford has been making cars. And it has worked — at least in luring immigrants to the United States. What happens to most of them after they arrive and settle here is a different story.
I often wonder whether some immigrants now in the United States would not have been better off staying in their home countries. Of course, there are many places that are not liveable even for the most resourceful and optimistic individuals. I cannot tell you where those places might be from personal experience but if news accounts are to believed modern day Syria seems like an example of such a hellhole. But what about other places where living conditions might be considered harsh but not unbearable to the point where one is in constant fear of being indiscriminately shot at, kidnapped or tortured?
It is true in many of these places you cannot have a house with a yard and two cars. You are lucky if you can get a one bedroom apartment with your own bathroom and a separate kitchen. You will either have to walk or to ride crowded buses and trains to most destinations you’d like to go to throughout the day. What you eat for the day will be limited to what’s being served at the local food stand or cafeteria or what’s in stock at the local market.
Such living conditions certainly seem shabby when described in the abstract. And all the more so when considered in tandem with images, littered all over the internet and publications, depicting homes in the West of uncompromising luxury.
The mindset of the immigrant who decides to escape such shabby living conditions in search of the gold-flecked frontiers of the United States is akin to what goes through the mind of a high schooler who is about to leave home for college. For the student it is the excitement that she will no longer be bound by the rules and conventions that she had to observe while living at home. No more curfews; no more dinner table rituals; no more lectures; no more chores. It is the excitement of imminent freedom.
The same goes for the immigrant. No doubt that with shabby living conditions come more rules and conventions that are meant to prevent conflict and maintain a certain level of social harmony. To be able to free oneself from these social norms is understandably exciting.
But as is often the case, the immigrant eventually comes to his or her senses, as does the college student It dawns on the immigrant that living in a place without the constraints that are often placed on one’s conduct in places that present more crowded, inhospitable living conditions make living a very lonely and purposeless endeavor. And it dawns on the college student that life at home wasn’t so bad after all; that perhaps all those rules and conventions were in place for reasons, even if some of those reasons never really made sense, and perhaps never will.