Friday, March 12, 2004

Immigrant Thoughts

On the way to work, I have the opportunity to talk to two Pin@y immigrants at the bus stop. The three of us are regularly there early in the morning waiting for the shuttle to take us to our work. The last two days, Carpio has made some interesting comments about clutter and moving houses and about the welfare system in the US.

Carpio is renting an apartment for $1000. He wants to decrease the rent so that he can get his daughter to the United States. But what is holding him back are the gifts from various kind people. His sister and others have given him 27" televisions, living room sets, dining room sets and other things which need a two bedroom apartment. All of the material things are free.

In order to reduce the amount of money spent on rent, Carpio must move to a cheaper and smaller apartment. But, what prevents Carpio from moving is the clutter and the material Things. In Carpio's mind, he has to keep all of the furniture because they were free.

I remember that when my family came to America that we had nothing. We only had the clothes on our backs. Many of the winter clothes we got were hand-me-downs from some nice family or relative. As we lived through the years, we slowly accumulated “material wealth” which is a nice way of saying we bought material things that were supposed to make us feel good. The material objects were supposed to say that we had arrived in America, that through hard work and sacrifice we are no longer poor.

This mind-set is very ingrained in the Pin@y immigrant mind. Hard work and sacrifice will bring you success and money. The only fault I see with this reasoning is that money is not equivalent to material wealth. Money can be exchanged for various forms of trade. A sofa can not be exchanged for food or a car.

Thus, this leads us to Carpio’s dilemma. How can he get his daughter here when he can not save enough money because he is harboring all this material wealth? I tried to suggest to him that in America, the way of thinking is different. When you don’t need something, you can donate it or throw it away. I could see how this information broke with his beliefs. His brow furrowed and his face was neutral. He was polite to listen but he had made up his mind. I should have suggested to him that he is in effect paying for the furniture that no one wanted to stay with him. He should compare his love for the furniture to his love for his daughter. If he did that, I wonder who would win.

The other topic Carpio mentioned today was about the welfare system and the arrogance fo the people who received it. Carpio told the story of how this Spaniard (more likely someone who speaks Spanish) was bragging that he had bought a new car. Carpio was pointing out to Lydia the other Filipina that the Spaniard should not brag because taxpayers like himself were paying for the Spaniard’s apartment. Why brag when you are receiving food stamps and the government is paying for your rental apartment?

Carpio also complained about single mothers who were receiving food stamps. He was triumphant when he told us that the program only lasts five or six years for each person.

While Carpio was telling us about his opinions, I made a mental note not to dominate the conversation. I remembered my girlfriend’s advice that I often talk too much and not let other people talk. So I just smiled and said nothing. At the end though, I tried to explain in a very non-threatening way how the system works.

First off, if anyone and I mean anyone does not make enough money one can apply for welfare. The design of the welfare system is to help someone get out of the hole of poverty. Immigrants who just came to America would be eligible if they somehow find themselves runnning out of money. The shame of welfare is that some people abuse the benefits. This is up to the individual and does not bespeak of the effectiveness of the system.

Foodstamps are given to people so that they can feed their family. But, it is to the American way of life to trade and barter. If you can get real money for food stamps, why can you not trade? To immigrant Pin@ys, one has to play by the rules. I no longer necessarily believe in this. What I have learned is that rules can be broken or at the very least bent. So long as the bent rule does not deserve jail time, it's fine with me.

The federal government gives subsidies to farmers in the Midwest so that the price of agriculture does not crash. Americans are so efficient that our land produces many more times the amount of agriculture per hectare than any other rancher. With the law of supply and demand, prices would dramatically drop and many farmers would be out of business without government subsidies. One can look at agricultural subsidies as WELFARE for the FARMERS.

Welfare for farmers can be of different types. They can be paid not to till land. Huh? Paid not to plant? Well, it all stems from the efficiency of the system. If you don't plant, then supply is lowered. But how about those milk farmers? What happends to all that milk? The federal government buys the milk, turns it to cheese and that cheese is sold at low cost to the people on welfare. See how welfare for farmers circles around to welfare for poor people?

There are other government subsidies in America designed to support certain producers. The goal is to have an open market in the world so that America can export the goods. The caveat on this is that open market would devastate the economic base of other countries in terms of agriculture and milk products. No one and I mean no one can compete against the modern machinery of the United States. The US will be able to feed every single Pin@y in the Philippines for a measly amount of money. Imagine all the Pin@y farmers out of a job.

A shift needs to occur in the industrialization of the other countries. And that is why industries and companies are shifting production to third world countries. But in the US, Americans are losing their jobs so this is now a hot potato that no one wants to touch.

Yes, we can be mad and pissed off that people are arrogant and bragging about welfare. But, we knowthe truth. Why should we care how they brag? Maybe they are trying to do some positive thinking to improve their mindset.

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