The United States of America started out as immigrants from places all over the world trying to start a new life, with new culture and new beginnings. The words on the Statue of Liberty, “give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free…” clearly express this very American sentiment. If our ancestry is rooted in the immigrant experience, then why do we continue to have a difficult time accepting new cultures into our society today? A core American value is equality, yet we still struggle applying it to our lives in all ways. Immigrants are not receiving the equal opportunity that people born here receive. Equality is a major American value, yet we don’t always honor it, specifically when we are faced with people that are different than we are. There are many reasons why living up to this American value is so difficult. Stereotypes, the political atmosphere at the time, and our own implicit biases all play a role.
“An Adventure in American Culture & Values”, from UNC Charlotte, identifies equality as one of the major American values. It states that, “Americans uphold the ideal that everyone is created equal” (Beane, Para 4). Many immigrants to the United States surely don’t feel equal.
Funny in Farsi written by Firoozeh Dumas, tells the story of her family’s experience immigrating from Iran to California. They experience many hardships with being foreigners at the time, but they also recognize the kindness, generosity, and new freedoms that differ from Iran. Acceptance was a struggle for this family. Her father didn’t get jobs because of the Iranian Hostage Crisis at the time; when traveling on airplanes people would nervously look at them thinking that they were terrorists; and when Firoozeh won a French speaking contest the other contestants believed that she cheated because it couldn’t be possible for an immigrant to win something like that. The prejudices that Firoozeh’s family have faced, have been documented in many ways.
An article in the New York Times, “Racial Bias, Even When We Have Good Intentions,” reported on a study from the University of Chicago that looked at how stereotypes affect equality in the workplace. They sent in the same resume to employers that had job openings, but changed the names on each of them so some of them had stereotypical African American names and others had stereotypically white names. They found that the same resume with a “white” name was fifty percent more likely to get the job. The most important thing I took out of this article was when the author stated, “Ugly pockets of conscious bigotry remain in this country, but most discrimination is more insidious. The urge to find and call out the bigot is powerful, and doing so is satisfying. But it is also a way to let ourselves off the hook. Rather than point fingers outward, we should look inward — and examine how, despite best intentions, we discriminate in ways big and small” (Mullainathan, Para 24).
Stereotypes divide our society immensely, and sometimes it is even subconsciously. Harvard University is doing a study on implicit biases called “Project Implicit.” They created a series of tests that are categorized based on gender, appearance, sexuality, race, religion and political views. They show you pictures and adjectives and you have to quickly associate that group with a photo or word. After you take the test, it shows how you feel about these social groups by how quickly you respond. This proves the issues we have in our society today and the stereotypes and biases that are in our heads every day without our intentions. When I took the test, I was very surprised by my results. I did not consider my own biases, and I see now how they might affect my perceptions toward immigrants in this country.
Over time our perceptions change. A long time ago we had issues with Jews and the Irish coming into our country, and then it was African Americans, and then Iranians, and now we have issues with Syrians and Muslims. Nowadays, Iranians like Firoozeh’s family, aren’t the target of inequality.
Despite all of the issues in our society, people come to this country for a reason. And one of those reasons is equality. Compared to other countries, the opportunity to make something of yourself as a minority in the United States is potentially more reachable. In Funny in Farsi, Firoozeh talks about feminism and the clash between gender equality in Iran versus the United states. If Firoozeh never immigrated to the United States, her life would be incredibly different. As a woman in Iran, the standards are not very high. You are expected to look beautiful, marry young, have children, and become the perfect housewife. She most likely wouldn’t have been able to marry her French husband, graduate from a prestigious university, or pursue her dreams as an author if she’d stayed in Iran.
The value of equality has been a cornerstone of the American value system since the beginning of this country. People come here to escape religious and racial persecution and it remains a place for new beginnings. Although politics, stereotypes and implicit biases make it difficult for immigrants to enjoy full equality, it remains a value that our American society strives for.
Mullainathan, Sendhil. “Racial Bias, Even When We Have Good Intentions.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 3 Jan. 2015, www.nytimes.com/2015/01/04/upshot/the-measuring-sticks-of-racial-bias-.html.
Marian Beane, Director, International Student/Scholar Office, UNC Charlotte. “An Adventure in American Culture & Values.” Study in US, A Spindle Publishing Company Publication, http://www.internationalstudentguidetotheusa.com/articles/culture.htm
Dumas, Firoozeh. Funny in Farsi: a Memoir of Growing up Iranian in America. Villard Books, 2003.
“Project Implicit.” Take a Test, Harvard University , 2011, implicit.harvard.edu/implicit/takeatest.html.
If you want to take the Implicit Biases test here is the link: https://implicit.harvard.edu/implicit/takeatest.html
Bartholdi, Frédéric Auguste. Statue Of Liberty. 1875, New York City .