Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Thankful To Be An American 新移民 - 自豪的美国人

Thankful To Be An American 新移民 - 自豪的美国人

Dinesh D'Souza came to the U.S. on a high school Rotary Scholarship 27 years ago. Today, a scholar at the Hoover Institute at Stanford University, he is one of America's foremost cultural commentators. tothesource asked Dinesh why he decided to stay and make America his home.

November 23, 2004

Dear Concerned Citizen, by Dinesh D'Souza

The conventional wisdom is that immigrants come to America for one reason: to make money. It is endlessly conveyed in the "rags to riches" literature on immigrants, and it is reinforced by America's critics, who think America buys the affection of immigrants by promising to make them filthy rich. But this Horatio Alger narrative is woefully incomplete; indeed, it misses the real attraction of America to immigrants, and to people around the world. It misses why the pilgrims came here nearly four hundred years ago, and why we celebrate Thanksgiving each year.

There is enough truth in the conventional account to give it a surface plausibility. Certainly America offers a degree of mobility and opportunity unavailable elsewhere, not even in Europe. Only in America could Vinod Khosla, the son of an Indian army officer, become a shaper of the technology industry and a billionaire to boot. America's greatness is that it has extended the benefits of affluence, traditionally available to the privileged few, to a large segment in society. America is a country where "poor" people have television sets and microwave ovens, where maids drive rather nice cars, where plumbers take their families on vacation to Europe.

In India, I was accustomed to mind-numbing inefficiency, and multi-layered corruption. I arrived in America to discover, to my wonder and delight, that everything works! The roads are clean and paper smooth, the highway signs are clear and accurate, the public toilets function properly, and when I picked up the telephone I got a dial tone. I could even buy things from the store and then take them back. I found America full of numerous unappreciated inventions; quilted toilet paper, fabric softener, cordless phones, disposable diapers, and roll-on luggage.

So, yes, in material terms America offers the newcomer such as myself a better life. Still, the material allure of America does not capture the deepest source of its appeal. Recently I asked myself how my life would have been if I had not come to America. I was raised in a middle-class family in India. I didn't have luxuries, but I didn't lack necessities. Materially, my life is better in the US, but it is not a fundamental difference. My life has changed far more dramatically in other ways.

Had I remained in India, I would probably live my entire existence within a five-mile radius of where I was born. I would undoubtedly have married a woman of my identical religious and socioeconomic background. I would face relentless pressure to become an engineer, a doctor, or a computer programmer. My socialization would have been almost entirely within my ethnic community. I world have a whole set of opinions that could be predicted in advance. In sum, my destiny would, to a large degree, have been given to me.

In America, my life has broken free of these traditional confines. At Dartmouth College, I became interested in literature and switched my major to the humanities. Soon I developed a fascination with politics, and resolved to become a writer, which is something you can make a living doing in America, and which is not easy to do in India. I married a woman of English, Scotch-Irish, French and German ancestry. Eventually I found myself working in the White House, even though I was not an American citizen. I cannot imagine any other country allowing a non-citizen to work in its inner citadel of government.

In most of the world, even today, your identity and your fate are largely handed to you. This is not to say that you have no choice, but it is choice within given parameters. In America, by contrast, you write the script of your own life: what to be, where to live, whom to love, whom to marry, what to believe, what religion to practice.

Some critics, both in America and abroad, have noted that this freedom to shape one's own life is a mixed blessing. Freedom can be used well or badly. Some Americans do indeed make mistakes with freedom as the country's high divorce and illegitimacy rates suggest. These are unfortunate social trends, but we should remember that while freedom allows vice its scope, it also gives greater luster to virtue.

Those who have tasted the exhilaration of freedom - which entails responsibility for one's own choices and one's own life - can hardly imagine living in any other system. The core American idea is the "pursuit of happiness", which means that happiness is not a guarantee, but that in America you have a chance to find it for yourself. No wonder that so many young people through out the world are magnetically attracted to what America represents: they find irresistible the prospect of being in the driver's seat of their lives.

Like the pilgrims, the immigrant discovers that America permits him to break free of the constraints that have him captive, so that the future becomes a landscape of his own choosing. For this freedom, I am truly grateful.

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