I'm so honored to be a part of Odyssey, to be given this platform to voice my thoughts and my experiences. Because I have this privilege, I want to use it to applaud those who have persevered, and who continue to every day. People who persevere under the radar, without recognition. People for whom perseverance is not a choice but a necessity, a way of life.
According to the American Immigration Council, one in eight US residents is an immigrant. And one in nine residents is a native-born US citizen with at least one immigrant parent. In my county in New Jersey, the immigration index is even higher: Foreign-born residents make up almost a third of our county's population.
I am a big fan of ethnic food, so I like to get Korean or Colombian food on the weekend from some local immigrant-run restaurant. If I like the food, which I always do! I look them up online and see what they're all about, their back story, whatever. But a lot of the time, I don't find much.
But most of these places don't have websites or social media at all. Some of my searches even turn up these disgruntled comments, like, "Why don't these people have social media? Why don't they have an email? I can't understand their menu."
And it's cute, right. The owners of the restaurant or store you're talking about, they just moved here from Central America or Eastern Europe or Southeast Asia. They may not speak English. Some of them moved because there was nothing for them or their kids back home, or because they were in danger. And now they're operating their own business. I mean, the average American couldn't do that. And you expect them to have an Instagram.
The thing is that we do, though. We're used to businesses advertising and catering to us with social media and websites, so we get annoyed when a restaurant doesn't have all their info handy and ready to go online. We say, Next, we move on, that's it.
But we need to level the platform so immigrant-run businesses have just as much chance to succeed. So they're not skipped over. So they can access the services they're entitled to, so they can publicize and tap into a more diverse clientele, instead of one that is limited to their own cultural communities or their family.
Through my culinary travels throughout New Jersey, I've met a lot of immigrant-run restaurants that had business models they wanted to introduce in America, but they didn't have the resources to maximize and spread out. They needed help with (or access to) technology. They needed help with conversational English.
I've also heard some incredible ones. I've been stunned, and I've been inspired. I've heard about families separated across time zones and continents. Businesspeople, people with degrees, people who were wealthy, working these menial jobs in the US. Parents saving every penny for their children to do the things they never could back home.
These are the stories of the average immigrant, but they're even more compounded by the trials and tribulations of putting yourself out there and starting your own business in a foreign country.
In an age when our own government is actively condemning and demeaning immigrants, it is so important to recognize how impressive their perseverance is. They start a brand-new life in a country that makes it very apparent that the odds of success are against them. Because of language barriers and cultural differences, they are, in a lot of ways, disadvantaged. They're more susceptible to poverty, racial profiling, domestic violence. They're treated like second-class citizens.
But even so, they are still hardworking, persistent. They're brave beyond belief. They have guts and incredible motivation. Even though they might be working below the surface, blending into the background, these new Americans are the embodiment of perseverance. It is their time to shine.