Wednesday, February 02, 2011

One benefit to illegal immigration.

I am someone who believes, based on evidence and experience, that the vast majority of people are assets where ever they live. The degree to which they are an asset to those around them may vary. And whether a person is born in a country, or moves there, makes very little difference in the equation. Actually those who move may have the edge as it takes no effort to be born, at least not on your part, but plenty of effort to immigrate, whether legally or illegally.

The video below is an interview with Alexander Rybak, a musician/singer in Norway who has become quite popular in Scandinavia, as well as Europe in general. (More below.)

Rybak won the Eurovision Song Contest as the Norwegian entry, with the highest combined score in the history of the contest. His original song Fairytale was visually spectacular, told a great story, and was musically compelling. His combination of classical violin, Folk dancing, and his own lyrics are highly entertaining. And it doesn't hurt that Rybak is a natural charmer.

I was aware that Rybak was born in the old Soviet Union in Minsk and that he and his parents emigrated to Norway. But this interview brings out some things which I didn't know, until now.

Alexander's father, Igor Alexandrovich Rybak is a classical musician. When Alexander was still a young child, Igor went to Norway and stayed there illegally. According to Alexander his father hide in Norway, with the help of a rich family there. For two to three years he worked illegally saving up the money to bring his wife, Natalie, and young Alexander to join him.

Alexander says that he didn't even know he was immigrating to Norway, only that he was going to visit his father. But immigrate he did. It is not clear from the interview whether he and his mother were also illegal immigrants but it is clear his father was. And Alexander says the old Soviet Union was unhappy and that the KGB was looking for his father.

Alexander speaks of his memories as a child under Soviet domination. He remembers the family living in a tiny apartment that they had to share with another family. He says he never knew this wasn't the way most people lived. As he put it, if one's parents run around the garden dressed up as kangaroos a small child just thinks that is how everyone does it. He didn't know better so he assumed that life was normal.

But Alexander and his parents acclimated to the new culture, the new way of life, and the new language. So far I've heard Alexander interviewed in Russian, Norwegian, Swedish and English, which is rather impressive given how many people can't give an interview in one language.

His music has created a lot of wealth for the producers and much enjoyment for his legions of fans. He has enriched the world around him. Yet he is the product of illegal immigration. If the redneck vision of immigration were wholly accurate, he ought to be a rapist, a murderer or a drug dealer, occupations the rednecks wish to reserve for themselves I suspect.

It is absolutely true that Alexander is exceptional. The son of the typical illegal immigrant will not become a world famous entertainer. But neither will the same child typically become a criminal. Most live their lives in ways barely any different than those of the wider culture. Most work for a living, most create families that they love and care for, most contribute to their neighborhood, and to their new found home. Along the way most produce surplus wealth, leaving this world richer than they found it.

But there are the great exceptions, those immigrants who enriched their new home in much greater ways: Irving Berlin, Albert Einstein, Andrew Carniege, Houdini, Levi Strauss, Father Flanagan, Elizabeth Taylor, Angela Lansbury, Bob Hope, Ayn Rand, Colonel Tom Parker, Mikhail Baryshnikov, Isaac Asimov, Joseph Pulitzer, Eddie Van Halen,, Andre Previn, Knute Rockne, Mario Andretti, Wayne Gretzky, Admiral Rickover, Edward Teller, Enrico Fermi, Max Factor, John Audubon, and Ludwig von Mises as a very few examples. When you look at this list you wonder what area of American culture was not enriched by immigrants.

I would dare say that many of the immigrant-bashing xenophobes are quite appreciative of many of these immigrants, but don't realize they are immigrants. Most people just assume you can't be more American than Bob Hope for instance. The great American pants are Levi's, named after Levi Strauss who produced them in San Francisco. Knute Rockne was the epitome of an American sport's hero.

My life is richer because of immigrants. And I suspect you has been as well, even if you don't know it.

And now an excuse for a second Rybak video, this time the visually stunning rendition of his song Europe's Skies. This is also available in HD format, if you have it.

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