Next week, Americans will celebrate the Fourth of July.
As you head to the beach or a barbecue, look around your town. Take a moment to notice – and appreciate – all the many small businesses – and large ones, too – thawere started by immigrants. As we celebrate America, we also celebrate what America has meant – and continues to mean – for immigrants and how much immigration has improved the America we celebrate.
Immigrants are America’s not-so-secret strength. Most immigrants come here to save their lives – whether to flee persecution or poverty. In many countries, being of the “wrong” religion, the “wrong” ethnicity, the “wrong” sexual orientation, or “wrong” gender can lead to oppression or even death. Most immigrants experience hardships – sometimes death-defying hardships – to come here. And throughout America’s history, most immigrants have been economic immigrants. coming here not only for greater freedom or safety but for the opportunity to pull their family out of poverty.
In return for providing immigrants a new home, immigrants bring America so much. They revitalize America.
Immigrants bring us fresh, new ideas. They become our scholars. They win Olympic medals. They bring new food. They create businesses – both small businesses and huge corporations. They sometimes create entirely new industries. They keep America vital and competitive.
Here are just a few statistics on immigrants’ effect on business and job creation:
Think of some of the many immigrant entrepreneurs who have made America what it is today:
- Levi Strauss: The man who invented blue jeans emigrated from Bavaria (now a German state) in 1848 There are few things more American than a pair of Levi’s!
- Liz Claiborne: This Belgian-born fashion designer co-founded the famous label bearing her name. In 1986, Liz Claiborne Inc. became the first company founded by a woman to make the Fortune 500.
- John W. Nordstrom: The man behind the famous, upscale department store chain came from Sweden in 1887.
- Eugene Kleiner: Austrian-born Kleiner was one of the “Traitorous Eight” – the founders of Silicon Valley, and the co-founder of the famed venture capital firm, Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers.
- Sergey Brin: The co-founder of Google was born in Moscow in 1973 and came to America at the age of 6. Where would you be without Google?
- Elon Musk: Tesla Motors, SpaceX, PayPal, household battery power. This serial entrepreneur emigrated from South Africa to Canada and later here to the U.S.
- Sofía Vergara: Perhaps known best for her role as Gloria Delgado-Pritchett on the TV show “Modern Family,” Colombian-born Vergara also started the talent agency Latin World Entertainment, the lingerie brand EBY, and the media company Raze.
A few years ago, I toured the Flatbush neighborhood in Brooklyn where my father grew up. My dad, Alex, was the son of hardworking, ambitious immigrants from Eastern Europe. Like most immigrants, they came to this country seeking a better life for their children – more economic opportunity, more political and religious freedom.
Walking around my father’s old neighborhood was like taking a trip back in time – except the current generation of immigrants was from the Caribbean instead of Eastern Europe, black instead of white, and spoke with a different accent. But they were living much the same lives – students pouring over homework in the library, kids playing in front yards, parents going off to low-paying service jobs or starting their own small businesses.
Clearly, America meant the same to them as it meant to my family. And I could clearly see that these children were our future doctors and lawyers – and the future of America.
We are all – with the exception of native Americans – the descendants of immigrants. That’s something to celebrate this Fourth of July.
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