From Emma Lazarus to Donald Trump
Both the progressives and GOP call the new immigration proposal devastating, because it cuts too much into what we believe to be true for America, and engraved on the Statue of Liberty. In particular, a “merit” requirement that to be naturalized in the US, you must learn English first (in fact, acquiring culture-and-language tandem before arrival) downplays Emma Lazarus’ famous line of who may immigrate. There’s more to it than meets the eye. Here’s what I think.
Culture and Success in the US
The success in the US always correlated with integrating into its mainstream culture: the deeper the integration, the more advanced the success of a new immigrant. But what is this mainstream culture about? It’s complicated.
For centuries now, immigration of diverse people to the US resulted in our nation’s bottom line success – along with America becoming a flagship of the free world. American cultural DNA incorporated the values of tough men and women who populated the land, worked hard to sustain their families, and overtime learned to cooperate with people different from themselves.
Research shows that the United States has an Anglo majority which is politically and economically dominant. One of the persisting characteristics of the country is its continuing economic and social inequalities based on race. With this background and the mainstream culture described in detail by prominent interculturalists, the U.S. culture at large has significant regional inflections.
Interestingly, cultural variations and new strands of cultural DNA may leave their mark on the nation’s core DNA, a recent study said. We cannot ignore it. How does it relate to success in the US?
Evolving Concept of American Success
The concept of success in America evolved over the years—and became part of its cultural staples. Nobody reflected success code better than Andrew Carnegie who personally epitomized American-style success, believing that virtuous struggle for wealth improves character and fattens pocketbook. Ralph Waldo Emerson rejected the pursuit of money-and-fame as the prime goal, providing a different paradigm of success—that appreciating the subtleties in life can make it more enjoyable. This took root in society at large, but not in media which continue to brainwash Americans into accepting a money-and-fame-oriented definition of success. Educating our young will help them comprehend that true success requires integrity and patience. There is no elevator to American success – we should take the stairs step by step, along with absorbing the culture!
Cracking the Culture Code
Cracking the culture code is a prerequisite to “cracking the success code.” Why? Because of America’s diverse ethnic and social multi-leveling, we need to know the culture-bound how-to of communication and relationship. So, with respect to people new to America, we speak of first cracking the immigration success code, or a set of complex and mostly unspoken socioeconomic rules of the game in the new culture. Language learning comes in parallel with culture, so it’s unreasonable to put the cart before the horse and demand simple language acquisition to be the “merit” preceding immigration/naturalization.
Experience taught me that the best way to motivate people to crack the culture code is by sharing the role models’ success stories. Here’s an immigrant woman who integrated in-depth and became a worthy role model.
Paulina Porizkova, from Czechoslovakia: “In America, do as Americans do.”
Living in the States, Paulina (pictured) was chosen twice by People as one of the Fifty Most Beautiful People in the world; she graced the covers of over five hundred magazines and starred in sixteen movies and countless TV shows. After winning the highest-paying six-million-dollar contract for modeling with Estée Lauder, her public image soared to that of European sophisticate. Seeking more self-expression, she went on to write a children’s book, a novel, and a respectable number of insightful HuffPost blogs. So, Paulina isn’t your regular supermodel. How did she make it?
Re-inventing herself at “Balzac age”
If Paulina is a leader in any way, she’s a leader in reinventing herself—because, given her fame for the modeling occupation, it was a challenging thing to accomplish. She’s young – what’s fifties for a beautiful woman? Nothing! Age 50 is a new 30, the new “Balzac age,” so the years of reaching her full potential have just begun.
When the classic French writer Honore de Balzac wrote a novel called A Woman of Thirty, he stated that – contrary to trendy belief of his time – a thirty-year-old woman can hope for a warm Indian summer, when the passion, happiness, and fulfillment are still quite possible. Today, he would have called his book “A Woman of Fifty/Sixty.” After all, he was famous for describing reality adequately—and, modern-day women are active achievers well into their fifties-sixties. And Paulina, re-inventing herself, is one of them.
Being a steel magnolia
Throughout her life, Paulina exemplified refined femininity along with uncommon resilience and strong spirit—the properties ascribed to women known as “steel magnolias.”
Her strong spirit showed multiple times, for example, living-and-working in Paris from under 16 years of age, and not letting daily drudgery of the modeling industry infect her. She later described her disgust to it in the book “A Model Summer.”
Resilience of her family values showed when she willingly interrupted her career twice, to take care of her baby sons. Paulina’s most trying times came after being fired – right on her 44th birthday – from a TV show Dancing With the Stars, which resulted in depression and subsequent use of a doctor-prescribed medication. Paulina immediately began intense therapy: “…which is what I credit with my now better understanding of who I am.” This is a tenacious steel magnolia talking about fighting the life’s odds while exhibiting the spirit matching the American true grits of the past and present!
The Point: Don’t Pretend—Become!
European/Czech at core, Paulina’s ability to fit the American culture is admirable. Paulina is true to her mantra, “In America, do as the Americans do.” She cracked the American culture code and language-niceties in parallel—then her immigration success took care of itself. And mind, her ideal is not a shallow money-plus-fame success but the advanced happy-American success including integrity, creativity, love, and patience.
So, this is what we can learn from Paulina: do not pretend to be American—become one!