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.