Kim: Exceptional Americans
By Yoo Jung Kim, Staff Columnist
Published on Tuesday, August 21, 2012
For my past two consecutive off-terms, I’ve crisscrossed the North American continent whenever my jobs allowed, seeing the sights in Boston, Montreal, Washington, D.C., Seattle, Vancouver, New York and Los Angeles. I’ve crashed in motels, hotels, friends’ guest rooms, trains, charter busses and on airport floors.
In those five months, I’ve sampled various portions the American demographic pie, and while each trip filled my head with new sights, one uneasy thing stood out in almost every single visit — a pervading pessimism for America’s future, heralded by news reports, magazines, boarded-up store windows and general discontent.
Considering our current long-term economic malady and a downright pugnacious presidential campaign, this is not surprising. According to a 2011 poll commissioned by the congressional newspaper The Hill, “A resounding 69 percent of respondents said the country is ‘in decline.’ Additionally, 83 percent of voters indicated that they’re either very or somewhat worried about the future of the nation.”
Perhaps the current national depression is a logical reaction to the whiplash that followed a decade of American optimism — perhaps even arrogance — which stemmed from the decline of a major superpower rival of the time, the USSR, and the years of surplus in the United States treasury. But to be expected or not, pessimism is a poor impetus to rouse America from its current stagnation, and if American confidence continues to plummet, future generations risk being stuck in a deepening mire of self-fulfilling doubt.
Paul Argenti, a professor of corporate communications at the Tuck School of Business, recently commented on this trend in a U.S. News and World Report piece titled “How America Can Win an Olympic Gold for Its Economy.” Argenti offered seven points that called upon readers to change their attitudes. One of his suggestions was to “instill a sense of hope in your children.”
But every day, we are met with a slew of facts, statistics and opinion columns, including some by prominent columnists such as Thomas Friedman, that bemoan how far Americans have fallen, how the American education system is failing future generations and how Asian economic tigers are quickly catching up. How can American adults, depressed themselves, hope to instill hope in a future generation of American citizens?
Many suggestions have been raised and debated endlessly, such as raising the standard of American education, investing in the sciences and making America more competitive in the global workforce. While these factors are all important, and while it is true that we will probably not be able to devise a singular panacea to cure America’s current malaise, another suggestion would be to increase the flow of optimistic immigrants.
Speaking as an immigrant myself, I’ve known many people who, in the recent economic downturn, have moved back to South Korea. Yet those who have elected to remain — both legally and illegally — are bound by a strong sense of optimism that America will recover. They continue to work and run their businesses, to send their children to institutions of higher education.
Fortunately, a new federal government immigration policy known as “deferred action for childhood arrivals,” which went into effect last week, allows as many as 1.7 million young immigrants — many of whom have grown up in the U.S. — to avoid deportation and qualify for work permits, social security cards and drivers’ licenses, giving them a productive, although temporary, place in America’s economy. The policy can help the United States generate taxes from these temporarily legal residents and help retain some exceptional members, such as Daniela Pelaez ’16, who can help rebuild American self-esteem. Pelaez and her sister “received a 30-day deportation order in February and led a public battle to stay in the country after Daniela was elected to deliver her high school’s valedictorian commencement speech,” Reuters recently reported
Americans need to restore their sense of optimism for the country’s future. While many important points must be addressed, perhaps America should also consider giving those who have grown up in the United States an opportunity to become exceptional Americans and to restore faith in American exceptionalism.