Us Versus Them

On one vfx project I became aware of my new officemate taking an expensive cab home whenever we worked late. He and his wife were recent immigrants to the country with no car. I decided to offer him a ride home  and eventually the practice became routine: We’d work late, he’d reach for the phone to call the cab, and I’d yell at him to put the phone down as I’d insist on giving him a ride home.

I was a bit embarrassed to admit the reason for my kindness. If he had asked I would tell him that his apartment was on the way home – actually it was 10 minutes out of the way. The truth is I always had a fondness for immigrants and this wasn’t exclusive to “white collar” immigrants. In college when I was working at a restaurant I routinely gave immigrant co-workers a ride home late at night.

Why did I develop such strong kindness for immigrants?

It turns out I wasn’t always that way. During the early 90’s in California I had a negative view of immigration given the current events at the time. I suspect what changed me was when I came across a photo in an old family album.

It was a picture of my father holding me as a child. You could see him try to avoid smiling as all his front teeth were missing. I was unaware he had false teeth so I asked my mother what happened. Apparently he was involved in a work accident at one of his first jobs when he immigrated to the US.

I assumed he got worker’s compensation and the employer paid to get his teeth fixed but my mother said no. He didn’t let anyone know as he was worried his employer would fire him and he would have to leave the country. That image of my father was seared into my mind as I developed a strong empathy for the struggle of immigrants in the USA. Helping immigrants was an American thing to do.

I’m compelled to speak about this in light of the recent comments around the nationalist tone of the petition. It conveys a sense of an us versus them mentality: The impression is that US citizens deserve some privilege over our immigrant counterparts. This is a very very slim point of view.

The truth is the foundation of the US vfx industry was built by immigrants alongside citizens who have made the US their chosen home. The subsidies that have recently decimated the industry here know no ethnicity, gender, creed, or origin. I can tell you stories of immigrants who lost their homes or felt leveraged by their employer to move to a subsidized region by facing termination and eventual deportation if they are unable to find another job.

Consider this selected comment by Serguei Kalentchouk, a vfx professional who is an immigrant to US:

I went through a long journey to end up in California so by no means attribute my concerns to protectionism or nationalism. I simply would like to make sure that where ever I chose to work that the local industry has a reasonable chance to succeed and not force me to relocate elsewhere.

We’re in an age where the idea of being an American is under constant duress by politicians and the media. For much of it’s history this country was based on welcoming immigrants and for the vast majority in this industry, it still is.

Soldier On.


20 Responses to Us Versus Them

  1. Dave Rand says:

    Great post Soldier. We are Them. I’ve been singing the Immigrant Song for years now. The highly leverage capitalism of the studios walks above many laws and agreements and has dictated market socialism on the shops, and we are on the run chasing our jobs. As usual, it all falls on the backs of those with the least amount of organization, the least amount of collective leverage and the ones actually doing the bulk of the work. We are the immigrants now and it’s made me realize how many things I miss about my home and how much in common I have with those coming here from there.

  2. Ryan H says:

    Well said. Though I’m pretty sure you won’t ever hear a politician or news commentator say, “Helping immigrants was an American thing to do.”

    But I think you’re exactly right! The Us vs. Them mentality, at times, makes immigrants out to be sub-human. The terms used to couch the discussion seem to be meant to do exactly that. It’s easier for Americans to hate abstract immigrants. It’s much harder to hate when we see the struggle, pain, suffering, and challenges they are going through.

  3. hfaeuilheauila says:

    I agree wholeheartedly with the idea that “America for Americans” is a pretty inflammatory. But if we’re asking the federal government to step in, it needs to align with their interests, i.e. keeping US residents working. Not citizens, residents, the people that pay taxes.

    As the commenter you linked to says:

    “I simply would like to make sure that where ever I chose to work that the local industry has a reasonable chance to succeed and not force me to relocate elsewhere.”

    The keyword there is “force”.

    But, as an aside, I think we’re all getting a bit of outrage fatigue. What are we going to DO?

  4. occlude says:

    “I’m compelled to speak about this in light of the recent comments around the nationalist tone of the petition. It conveys a sense of an us versus them mentality: The impression is that US citizens deserve some privilege over our immigrant counterparts. This is a very very slim point of view.”

    Absolutely false regarding the tone of the petition. Let me quote myself:

    “I clearly want Americans to be employed, and preferably in America, paying American taxes, and contributing to the American economy. That includes foreigners who come here, pay taxes, and work and live here- people who dreamed about living here all their lives, and finally got the chance, and who want to stay here.”

    How is that against immigrants in any way?

    Furthermore, I have signed letters of recommendations for friends who needed them for their visas to be able to stay and work in VFX in this country. Those letters helped keep them here.

    Once again, you skew the perspective in your favor and make out villains that don’t exist. Bravo, sir!

    • VFX Soldier says:

      I think the petition was hastily put together and has led to responses like this:

      “Add in the near militant language and melodramatic statements like “United States citizens being forced to work abroad” and this petition starts to read badly to non-US citizens.”

      • Marcus says:

        Given the addressee, I think the wording is fine. It needs to be strong and to the point. This isn’t about fairness or some lofty idea of being good citizens of the world, but about making meaningful political change through good old lobbying, which is incredibly hard and dirty.

        Now, I’m not a fan of the US political system as well as the money and rhetoric involved. In fact, I’m an immigrant myself and am negatively affected by the BS that us artists/TDs are forced to put up with in in this industry just as much as any US citizen. When it says that “United States citizens [are] being forced to work abroad”, that is a true statement. Of course it doesn’t mean that it excludes the same predicament for every permanent resident or highly skilled visa-holder, which the US would do well to try and keep. However it is the strongest political argument to make, which is what this is about. If someone abroad takes offense, it doesn’t really matter. It’s not about that (but please correct me, Joe, if I’m wrong).

        Someone mentioned on a separate comment thread a few days ago how we as a group are way too concerned with the concept of “fairness”… while the corporate world is running circles around us.

        On an unrelated note, yes, we all know about H1B or O1-visa holders that are being taken advantage of, paid well below market rate and will not speak up because of cultural issues or fear of loosing their job and visa. The issue here is leverage, everyone watching out for each other, and can only be fixed at the artist level through unionization (different discussion from Joe’s petition altogether and, yes, efforts so far sucked).

        The realist in me doubts very much that a potential trade org will benefit the workers here other than keep some of the jobs in the country… that in itself is great, but artists still have to take care of “fair” work conditions themselves, maybe even more when facing a united front of facilities. And that means getting tough and taking some of the pie away from someone else… just like this petition tries to do for the facilities.

  5. Ballscock McFartington says:

    Jesus, Solider! You bitch and piss and moan about this shit all day long for years. Finally someone steps up and does something, and you still complain about it. How about you, yourself, do something about these issues instead of just hiding behind your blog complaining. This is the most action I’ve seen taken by anyone, about any issue in this disgusting vfx industry. So either stand up and do something about it, or sit down and shut the fuck up!

  6. jona says:

    A fairly lofty article for sure. But insinuating that people are “anti-immigrant” because they might have a problem with people moving here to work, usually for less, when there are plenty of unemployed artists here already misses the point by a mile. It’s the equivalent crying ‘racism’. Can’t win.

    America IS immigrants. So if someone suggests that Americans should be first in line for employment they are already including immigrants in that construct. Immigrants that are American citizens. Not imports for the sole purpose of working as a replacement for American workers.

    • VFX Soldier says:

      We’ll have to agree to disagree on this one.

      • jona says:

        thanks soldier. I wholeheartedly agree with helping anyone, wherever they’re from.. especially your coworkers.. I just wanted to assert that it is natural for some to feel some animosity. It’s an observation. Given that I have to say that mine isn’t a job that is threatened by it. In fact, on a show in 2008.. the only people I could find that were very hard workers.. were recent immigrants themselves. That’s just how it worked out.

        I agree with your assertion that an us-vs-them mentality is counter productive. I have been been the recipient of the usual web-flame negativity for saying that pure protectionism isn’t in the best interest of anyone and if it were possible to raise the quality of life and working conditions for everyone, everywhere .. that would be the best thing to do overall. Yes.. that might be a naive view and an impossible task but it still sounds logical to me.

  7. vfxguy says:

    I thought the whole point of this is create protection for all artist and generate a better future. All this does is create division among the very people (all artist) who are struggling with unfair employment circumstance.
    Great nice way to create internal division.
    “Us versus them” – us meaning americans and them being everyone else ?
    It hard enough to try a get all artist as a unified front for change. This doesn’t help.
    I guess its every man for himself mentality in this world of vfx.

    • VFX Soldier says:

      No I think you’re getting me wrong. I’m against the “us vs them” mentality that Mr Harkins is presenting. In the petition he asks for protection of US citizens and on some of the forums he accuses foreign vfx facilities of stealing jobs. What he said is wrong and I disagree with it.

  8. vfxguy says:

    basically when your trying to control big business its a losing battle petitions or not. There going to always take advantage when it comes to the bottom line. Finding every loop hole in labor law.
    If they build it they will come mentality.
    Christ if they setup a studio in Libya I’m sure there be vfx artist packing a suitcase just to go work.

    VFX is now a global market so you need to start thinking that way regarding protection of artist.
    Unfortunately most large studio do not value the very people that make there studio a business. Its a two way street.

    Getting as much press regarding the problem today’s artist facing is key to change. Exposing it.
    example: Apple computers slave shops.

    • VFX Soldier says:

      Well if that were the case we’d much worse off than we were 100 years ago. Yes, big business wins more battles than I wish but should we just roll over and give up? History seems to forget those who didn’t push back and try to change things. People make progress slowly but surely and eventually you turn around and realize big bold moves were made.

  9. billyshakes1492 says:

    as an industry … who are we fighting against…

  10. […] That being said I’ve always found the nationalist view in VFX quite absurd because the industry is incredibly diverse as I’ve argued before. […]

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