Quote Of The Day: The Descriptions Of Immigrants

Image by StockSnap from Pixabay

Quote Of The Day #54

One thing I like about the book in my last post here is that there are many descriptions of immigrants that are carefully crafted and beautifully written. Although the author is a 3rd generation immigrant, he grew up in an immigrant neighborhood and had a lot to say about people around him. He described them with affection–I wish he could have described women with more affection, but that was too much to wish for.

I guess all immigrants share similar traits, and what is described here reverberate with my own observation.

The fate of our sports teams didn’t matter much to a student body whose elders, largely undereducated and overburdened, venerated academic achievement above all else. Physical aggression, even camouflaged by athletic uniforms and official rules and intended to do no harm to Jews, was not a traditional source of pleasure in our community.

Mr. Levov was one of those slum-reared Jewish fathers whose rough-hewn, undereducated perspective goaded a whole generation of striving, college-educated Jewish sons: a father for whom everything is an unshakable duty, for whom there is a right way and a wrong way and nothing in between, a father whose compound of ambitions, biases, and beliefs is so unruffled by careful thinking that he isn’t as easy to escape from as he seems. Limited men with limitless energy; men quick to be friendly and quick to be fed up; men for whom the most serious thing in life is to keep going despite everything. And we were their sons. It was our job to love them.

Despite the undercurrent of anxiety–a sense communicated daily that hardship was a persistent menace that only persistent diligence could hope to keep at bay; despite the fear of being battered that clung to many families because of the Depression–ours was not a neighborhood steeped in darkness. The place was bright with industriousness. There was a big belief in life…

The rules they worshiped, for us rendered all but toothless by the passage of just a couple of decades of American time; those uncertainties that were theirs and not ours. The question of how free of them we might dare to be was ongoing, an internal debate, ambivalent and exasperated. What was most cramping in their point of view a few of us did find the audacity to strain against, but the intergenerational conflict never looked like it would twenty years later. The neighborhood was never a field of battle strewn with the bodies of the misunderstood. There was plenty of haranguing to ensure obedience; the adolescent capacity for upheaval was held in check by a thousand requirements, stipulations, prohibitions–restraints that proved insuperable. … not least was the enacted ideology of parental self-sacrifice that bled us of wanton rebelliousness and sent underground almost every indecent urge.

A man whose discontents were barely known to himself, awakening in middle age to the horror of self reflection.

The old intergenerational give-and-take of the country-that-used-to-be when everyone knew his role and took the rules dead seriously, the acculturating back-and-forth that all of us here grew up with, the ritual postimmigrant struggle for success turning pathological… A guy stacked like a deck of cards for things to unfold entirely differently. In no way prepared for what is going to hit him. How could he, with all his carefully calibrated goodness have known that the stakes of living obediently were so high? Obedience is embraced to lower the stakes. A beautiful wife. A beautiful house. Runs his business like a charm. He was really living it out, his version of paradise…. God is smiling down on them. There are problems, they adjust. And then everything changes, and it becomes impossible. Nothing is smiling down on anybody. And who can adjust then? Here is someone not set up for life’s working out poorly, let alone for the impossible. But who is set up for the impossible that is going to happen? Who is set up for tragedy and the incomprehensibility of suffering? Nobody. The tragedy of the man not set up for tragedy–that is every man’s tragedy.

11 thoughts on “Quote Of The Day: The Descriptions Of Immigrants

  1. I think all immigrant communities have certain similarities. I think it’s difficult to write about immigrant communities without turning them into stereotypes so I’m very picky about the books I read that have immigrant characters or are about immigrant communities.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That’s so true. I have to say this tendency for stereotype is so deeply rooted that it is very difficult to get rid of. Also you are sooooo right in pointing out that books about immigrants are almost like genre literature since it has a genre kind of characteristics without being a genre.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I absolutely agree, stereotypes are often prevalent in such books. It’s hard to show an appreciation for immigrant cultures without it becoming a stereotype so when people can find that fine line it becomes a wonderful book.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Fascinating quotes. I have no personal experience of immigrant families or communities but some of it strikes a chord. It always seemed to me as a teenager that you had a choice: either “be somebody” through following the rules and doing well at school – or choose the opposite path of rebellion. Both offered similar rewards. I chose the former largely because it was the easier option for me personally.

    Another thing: when Brits go abroad and live somewhere like Spain etc, they always refer to themselves as “expats” – never as “immigrants” to the country, which is what they really are. It’s a different mindset, yet I can’t see any justification for their viewing themselves differently. Admittedly the one difference I can think of is that they often do it after they have had children, so there is no question of the next generation settling in that country. Also the driving forces are climatic or cultural reasons – rather than economic or political.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Me too. I was the silent and obedient kid to two very narcissistic parents just so that I could get by without an incident. And I hated my parents very much. I should have chosen the rebellious path, although I don’t know if I dared at the time. Yes, choosing to be the good boy and good girl is so much easier.

      Well, Brits went around the world to establish colonies (in the past at least). They are not called immigrants. You just remind me of a British family I knew when I was living in an international house on a university campus. I mean their girl was attending graduate school there. They behaved as if they knew America, not as a foreign country, but… I don’t know exactly what they thought but the way they talked, they didn’t think it is very foreign at all…

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I think a lot of us Brits feel that we know America well because of the common language and the dominance of American cultural exports. I think that’s certainly true now in 2022. When I first went to the USA on 1974 it was a less familiar place. Modern media and the internet have brought the two countries closer. Still I think a lot of the similarities are superficial. There are some quite deep differences in terms of attitude to life etc when you scratch below the surface.

        Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s