Gary Horton: In praise of immigrant ethics


Two weeks back, Signal Saturday Pastor David Hegg wrote a somewhat controversial column titled, “Calling every man to be a man.” Whatever that means. No matter, Hegg rightly laments that many young men fail to “launch” in today’s society. Too many never leave home, or return home after college not to launch their own lives. They’re not motivated, that they don’t treat women right, that they don’t own their own life, don’t chase success and independence, seem unmotivated and just don’t… “man up.”

Hegg concludes, “The days of sissified boy raising must end.”

Amidst an otherwise pertinent column, Hegg trips on the American Christianity gender / roll thing. Plainly, there are plenty of burly, tough men that would surely qualify as “manly men” to Hegg, yet who still fail to launch, still fail to own their lives, and perhaps worst of all – treat their women extremely poorly. So, it’s not about being, “manly” – it’s about being self-disciplined and driven. Hegg also misses that we’ve also got plenty of women that never quite grow up.

Let’s ditch Hegg’s “sissifying” distraction. Instead, let’s say:

“The days of coddling our children must end.” And, “The days of teaching drive and ambition and desire for success” must increase.

This is no easy feat. Far easier to simply say we’ve “sissified” our boys and be done with it. But teaching drive, teaching raw desire to succeed, teaching hunger to go out and make a true mark on the world, to create, to build, to establish one’s own world – now that’s inspired parenting. Teaching drive and maturity is a little like harnessing lightning.

And especially not easy given the “easy” culture in which most of us live. We’ve inherited the riches of the Greatest Generation, from those who built our nation, built our infrastructure, build our prosperity – all for us to enjoy. We’ve got (in suburbia at least) cushy schools, parks, leafy roads, 66’ TVs, and cell phones with endless possibilities in multiple pockets. Food is on demand, just stick it in the microwave. Often the house cleaner cleans, the gardener gardens and mom helps the kids write up the homework.

Against this backdrop we’re supposed to create a hunger and drive for success? Create a gut-level drive, pushing our kids towards mature individuality?

No wonder, Hegg sees there’s trouble brewing out there. Many kids are “softer” than in prior generations. Amidst so much plenty, we’ve got to teach individual desire for achieving one’s personal best.

I don’t have answers for this in this column. But I do have an observation:

In the play, Hamilton, after defeating the British at Yorktown, General Lafayette and Hamilton high-five each-other and shout,

“Immigrants: We get the job done!”

Immigrant Hamilton adds, “I’m young, scrappy, and hungry – And I’m not throwing away my shot”

In my recent column about that play, I mentioned that Carrie and I are lucky to have a housekeep come and help out once a week at our home. Marina and her husband Angel are Salvadoran immigrants, who fled the civil war there seeking a better life, here. It takes a lot of courage to leave one’s homeland and venture to someplace completely new, with customs, language, and people foreign to you.

These are the folks with drive in their guts and a hope to build, on their own, a better life.

In this case Angel and Marina built their own cleaning company. They grew it and hired staff. They bought their own nice, beautiful home. And their daughter saw all their hard work and developed her own hunger and sense of destiny and is now a 3rd year pre-med student at UCLA.

Last week I bumped into Marina while she was cleaning our house and she genuinely thanked me for the call-out in the column. I asked her how she liked her life and, brush in hand said, “I love my life!” Her accomplishments must seem a dream come true. She and her husband built their own American Dream with literally, their very own hands.

What is it about immigrants that they push themselves so hard?

“They’re scrappy and hungry…” Not coddled, not gifted with every convenience, toy, and free time – they have to scrape by so hard “back home” that they travel thousands of miles and endure hardships we’ll never know just for – a shot at a new life.

I’ve known quite a few in my industry and I’m always impressed with their drive and work ethic and humble commitment to improve their lot for themselves and their families.

Jose showed up in the U.S. about 30-something years ago. He took giant risks to get here – he was young, scrappy, and hungry.

Reagan opened the door to citizenship for immigrants and like many, Jose became a full citizen. Later, he learned English and got his GED to be an example to his kids. He worked his way up through our company. Today, he runs a workforce of over 700, earns more than most Americans would ever hope to, owns his own house, his wife owns a hair salon, and his daughter is a top graduating student in high school.

Now, that’s guts. Risk-taking. Pushing, wanting, working, driving.

I could name Ricardo, Carla, Pablo, on and on for hundreds. Same similar stories of risk, work, responsibility, and just reward.

How do you teach this stuff?

It’s the story of your grandparents, or great grandparents. It’s the story of America itself. It’s a story of a desire to build a better life so burning that they risk what little they have for a shot – and take it – and make it.

So, what about our kids, our next “American” generation? Do our kids have the save drive for success? Trump says our kids shouldn’t face immigrant competition – and he’s right to the extent we over-allow immigration. But do our kids, our American workers here have that same work ethic and humility to perform hard, laborious jobs?

Pastor Hegg laments that we’ve “sissified” our kids. Wrong word choice. I think we need to teach our kids the world out there is very competitive, very demanding, always changing – and if they’re not willing to pour themselves into their own success, one thing’s for sure:

“Immigrants – they’ll get the job done.”

And we should all rediscover the tremendous values and ethics we see in the immigrants surrounding us.

Gary Horton is a Santa Clarita resident. His column, “Full Speed to Port!” appears Wednesdays in The Signal.

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