AILA proudly welcomes this blog post from Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Committee Law Student Scholarship recipient Maria Montenegro-Bernardo, part of a series intended to highlight the important ways in which diversity, equity, and inclusion inform immigration law and policy. More information about AILA’s DEI Committee and its important work is available on AILA’s website
One day as I was looking for a specific flour to make arepas, a Venezuelan flour cake, I asked the worker at the supermarket for help. The worker said, “check aisle five” and as I made my way down the aisles, I noticed the big aisle five sign hanging from the ceiling. Below sauces and above condiments read the heading “ethnic foods.” I made my way through the aisle and had a feeling of detachment and unimportance. The flour I grew up knowing as “Arina Pan,” sat next to different products from completely different countries that I had never seen. Suddenly, my special Venezuelan arepa, which my mom made for us every morning, was clumped into what seemed like an ethnic sea.
I was born in Venezuela and came to the United States when I was three years old. My mother brought me and my brothers to the United States to give us a chance not only to live, but to prosper. I hold my nationality and ethnicity very dear to my heart. I am proud to be Venezuelan, a statement that is not always easy to make in an America that is so divided on immigration. Although I am Venezuelan, American society does not really recognize that; I am simply an immigrant, foreign, or ethnic. This classification is not only hurtful to our identities as diverse Americans, but I believe it is damaging to the growth of our society. Clumping diverse cultures into one category and refusing to accept the differences that make each one of them great does not help to cultivate innovation or advancement.
Diversity fosters change and nourishes growth. According to the World Ometer, the United States has a population of 336,024,282. Further, the Migration Policy Institute reported that as of 2021, 84.8 million of the population was comprised of immigrant families. In fact, the Migration Policy Institute also reported that although 78% of Americans speak only English at home, 22% reported speaking English and another language. Given America’s inception, these statistics should come as no surprise. Immigration is America’s origin story.
America’s success today could not have occurred without the labor and innovation brought by immigrant people. In fact, according to Fwd.Us, immigrant farmworkers make up about “73% of agriculture workers in the United States.” This work is not only tedious and difficult, but also extremely important to our daily lives. Further, the American Immigration Council found that in 2019, immigrants made up 23.1% of all STEM workers in the United States. These statistics among many others show the capability and contribution that immigrant people bring to the country both economically and intellectually. According to the ACLU, immigrants “create new jobs by forming new businesses, spending their incomes on American goods and services, paying taxes, and raising the productivity of U.S. businesses. Immigrants are good for the economy, not the other way around.” Additionally, the ACLU reported that immigrants paid $90 billion in taxes while receiving only $5 billion in welfare.
Still, despite these numbers, the misconception that opportunities in the United States come to anyone who works hard must be dismantled. In fact, as Nicholas Kristof writes in an article for The New York Times, many minorities and disadvantaged groups never have the advantages reserved for certain racial groups due to systemic and institutional racism. In order to continue to grow and prosper, we as a society need to accept and welcome the incredible diversity that surrounds us and allow everyone the opportunities this country has afforded Caucasian Americans.
Further, we need to outgrow the fallacy that immigrant people are a drain on the economy and appreciate the hard work and innovation that diverse minds bring to the country. We are the “melting pot”, various cultures, religions, and languages seeking opportunity in the United States. However, as writer Julia Higgins highlights in her work, Immigration: The Myth of the Melting Pot, the view that this country is welcoming and open to such differences is false.
Change is necessary and the more we embrace and feed our diversity, the better a country and society we will be. I am not naïve to think that my special flour cake will have its own section in every supermarket, but I am hopeful the different ethnicities and cultures in the country are accepted and celebrated.