Some people in the office didn't mince words in most given
situations talking work, personal business, politics, religion or ideology. Even prejudices.
Even those who normally engaged only in light conversations frequently got drawn
into a somewhat over-stimulated interaction. This was often because of Norman Tilley
and his lack of language manners.
Some of his co-workers thought they had him figured out a long time ago. His
vulgarity. His lack of couth. His total disregard, at times, of other people's sensitivities.
They said he led a dreadfully boring life at home with a second wife whom he didn't love
and who, likewise, didn't care if one day he never showed up. He had a son from his first
marriage who wouldn't have anything to do with him except when father fell behind on the
child support and the child upon learning of it from mother would call father at work and
speak his mind to him.
These, people learned from Norman Tilley himself who placed little value in
keeping such personal things private. Thus, everyone understood that to make his day
interesting, Norman Tilley either subconsciously or deliberately precipitated his human
environment, making himself the focus of everyone's attention, regardless of the nature of
such attention. Everyone knew the personal life circumstances he was coming from and
nobody was supposed to take offense at anything he said or did. He was a man who just
needed some acknowledgment of any kind at all.
People went along with this as calmly as they could, as far as they could. But
every now and then, someone would snap and signal Norman Tilley - enough; that's as far
as I go along. Cool it.
Norman Tilley ordinarily heeded such signals although sometimes, Lester Jenkins,
a mild-mannered professional middle-class black, had to give him a second signal to stop.
Sam Goodman, a son of eastern European immigrant Jews but a native-born from Silver
Spring, Maryland, who could be as verbally abusive as Norman Tilley, a wasp, told him
explicitly to cool it twice. And if he found it necessary to tell him a third time, he'd tell
him to 'cool it, asshole'.
That seldom failed to take effect, and a scene never got any uglier than that for a
professional engineering consulting firm, although this was not to say it couldn't.
Nicholas tried to avoid Norman Tilley, limit their contact for anything not work-
related. Fortunately, his assignments didn't involve working much with Norman who did
site utility development plans on a separate project. Nicholas worked closely with Lester
Jenkins, even shared an office with him. Together, they headed a team of engineers and
drafters on the structural design of a sprawling department store complex being built in
Nicholas had a clean rapport with Lester Jenkins. He knew how Lester reacted to
Norman. And he knew how the black man would like to react further to Norman Tilley
but 'I wouldn't stoop to soil myself with such dirt', so he uttered under his breath to
Another man who took part in this scenario of reluctant office camaraderie was
Harold Forker, the division chief, or the boss. Harold Forker, like Norman Tilley, was a
wasp and had similar prejudices. The difference between them in this respect was that
Norman Tilley mouthed his recklessly while Harold Forker, though he didn't deny it and
wouldn't if asked, kept his to himself.
It was like one was the genuine, live example and the other a demonstration or
talking model. Where their similarities ended, the difference in the way they displayed
such similarities began.
Harold Forker was one of those who only engaged in light conversations. In fact,
it seemed he only spoke to the guys for two reasons: one, so as not to appear asocial; two,
to break up a scene when it starts to heat up, usually between Norman Tilley and
somebody else or everybody else in the division, although Sam Goodman wasn't far behind
in this too.
Sam Goodman had a streak of paranoia every three or four weeks, Nicholas had
observed during which Sam would try to play the role of Norman Tilley in the office and
touch off an ideological, ethnic or racial controversy which brought Harold Forker out of
Lester Jenkins, like Nicholas, always tried to avoid getting sucked into any
controversy but wasn't always successful. And once he got sucked into one, usually
through Norman Tilley's instigating, he got really involved in it. For him to be 'really
involved', from Nicholas' vantage point during or after a scene when Lester Jenkins would
fall back at his desk in their office, would be to hear him use the same vocabulary the
others did, during and after.
"Why do I listen to that shithead?" he asked himself and Nicholas back in their
office one morning after the ten o'clock coffee break. "Why do I even care what he says
to me or to anybody? What the fuck do I care whatever comes out of his filthy mouth?
It's always the same thing that comes out of his other end."
"Absolutely right," agreed Nicholas without reservation. "He's nothing but a big
round butt-hole that's just full of it. And he's got to let some of it out somewhere
somehow. Everybody knows that, so don't let any of it get to you."
Norman Tilley had gone down to the cafeteria to get a warm pastry at the
beginning of the coffee break and when he came back asked Lester Jenkins in front of
everybody what he was doing for lunch.
"Eat," Lester had replied, "why do you ask?"
"They got chicken gumbo down there and watermelon as dessert for today's lunch
special," said Norman Tilley naturally. "Thought I'd let you know."
It took Lester Jenkins pretty much the rest of the morning to put that one behind
him and do some work, with some coaxing from Nicholas who tried to lighten up
everything. Close to noon break, he said to Lester: "Actually, I think we ought to be
thankful for the way it is now."
"What?" Lester turned an incredulous face from the set of blueprints on his desk.
"You mean with him? That white sonofabitch?"
"Take it easy. Yes," said Nicholas, nodding wisely. "Look at it this way: do you
have any idea how many other Norman Tilleys are there in this country?"
"I'd say half the entire white population over the age of three," replied Lester
Jenkins, emphasizing the word entire, "not counting the mute and the blind."
"If you say so. Now, considering that many, aren't you glad we only got one of
"How would you like to have five of them here, maybe ten, or twenty -"
"I know what you're saying. Things could be worse. But why can't it be better?
One butt-hole may not be too bad, but isn't zero butt-hole better?"
"It's getting there. This country's getting there."
"What do you mean?" Lester Jenkins arched his eyebrows at Nicholas. "What do
you know I don't?"
Occasionally, their rapport extended beyond their concern for their immediate
surroundings, turning more into an exchange of ideological beliefs and theories. These
few minutes before lunch time became one of those occasions.
"I mean," Nicholas answered thoughtfully, "that's the whole idea behind this
national movement for racial equality. Civil rights. Equal employment opportunity.
Desegregation or integration."
"Seems more like disintegration to me."
"Seriously, the wisdom that's at work behind this movement and the collection of
all the laws, local and federal, that have been passed since is not just the elimination of
racial prejudice and discrimination and their practice in society, but the survival of this
"Which part of it -"
"All of it," Nicholas said quickly to spare both of them more of Lester's cynicism,
even only for a moment. "The whole American nation, its society and culture as we've
seen it develop to now. You see, somewhere back of the collective minds that have
worked to pass those laws is the thought that if America is allowed to disintegrate racially,
we can only expect it to go through a similar process culturally, ethnically and every which
way you can imagine to break up the pie.
"After you separate the nation by color, what next? Separate each color by
culture: by how people worship, by their customs, by what they eat and drink, by how they
cook their food? No. They want to keep America one nation, indivisible, etcetera, not a
whole continent made up of little ones like South America or Europe."
"That's very profound, Nicholas. And that sounds really beautiful too. And I
agree to the idea. But don't get me wrong, though, if I may say I don't think it's working
quite that way."
"Don't you think there's been some significant advancement of the colored people
in America since... since the big march? More respect between the races? More equality,
since Martin Luther King's death?"
"Yes, yes, of course."
"Then you do acknowledge -"
"Yes, I do. I do."
"Then if you got any smarts in you Lester Jenkins, besides that highly sought
engineering smart you got in your head which I wish you'd share with me sometimes
especially when I need it, you wouldn't let one single butt-hole shake your feathers."
"Lemme tell you something, Nicholas, ole buddy," said Lester Jenkins, closing the
set of the structural working drawings of the shopping center and glancing at his
wristwatch as he turned directly toward his officemate, "you're right about the
government, and about them laws to keep this country whole. And you're right, as I said,
about the significant progress that have been made in racial equality, civil rights, equal
opportunity. But one thing we all must learn to admit is the belief we know we all have
that integration is never going to work. You can pass all the laws you want to keep this
country racially whole, on paper. But that's as far as it goes - on paper.
"Now, I have no problem with this, though, because I don't believe in racial
integration. I don't want racial integration. I think it's bad for people. I think it is
wrong. I think firmly that it is a violation of the laws of nature. Because of it, a lot of
people have died, suffered all kinds of losses and pain, felt all kinds of hatred and anger for
one another. It has distorted people's perception of themselves and of others, forcing
upon them many a number of unrealistic expectations and certain values that are alien and
totally unnatural with them."
"You're entitled to your thoughts and beliefs as everyone else is."
"Those are facts, Nicholas. They're not just my beliefs or something I worked up
in my head. You've seen how some black people - women especially, try to adapt the
physical characteristics of the whites. Could you think of anything more unnatural than a
blond or a redhead black? And there's all these other blacks who are constantly trying to
iron their hairs. Make them straight as if they don't know that it's going to grow back to
what it was, the natural way it is, the way nature or God or biology designed us. If you
ask me, I'll tell you that's about as far as integration has got in this country. Sure, this
country is whole according to its laws. But socially, economically, it's not. And it will
never be because it could never be."
Nicholas was beginning to think of backing off from this. He seldom saw Lester
Jenkins get so strung up on any issue. But he didn't feel right about leaving him that way
without any benefit of a doubt.
"You're not looking far ahead enough," he said with some thrust, "and you're not
looking back far enough either."
Lester Jenkins held himself in thought for a couple of seconds, then said: "I
understand what you're saying. And I'm telling you, Nicholas - friend, this is as far as the
thought of those collective minds you talk about is going to carry the different racial,
cultural and ethnic groups of this country: a society of tokenism and polite acceptance."
"I don't think that's for you or me or anybody to say now or tomorrow or the next
day. Things are still happening, and they will continue to happen. This country hasn't
stopped moving. It's continuing to evolve. Like I said, it's getting there, slow but sure."
"Getting where?" Lester Jenkins couldn't be more sarcastic. "Continuing to evolve
Nicholas looked him straight in the pupils and answered: "Into a society of zero
"And slow but sure. Real slow, like a hundred years from now. Maybe a
thousand. In the meantime, it'd be a big step in that direction if somebody could get rid of
the one butt-hole we got here." Lester Jenkins got up to put his jacket on in haste and
headed out of the office.
"Hey," Nicholas called after him. "Have a good lunch."
Lester Jenkins halted on his third step out and replied: "I will, thanks. You do the
One thing Nicholas and, he was certain, most other people in the office especially
Lester Jenkins noticed about Norman Tilley's brand of prejudice was the man's display of
sensitivities, though minute, in varying measures toward different people. In spite of his
attention-getting controversial verbal spills, Norman Tilley maintained certain limits to it, a
reserve of subtleties, especially with Lester Jenkins. This, however, only made Lester
Jenkins feel worse. He told Nicholas once: "I'd feel better if he'd come right out
sometimes and call me a nigger."
With Sam Goodman, the Polish rabbi as Norman Tilley joked once, Norman Tilley
displayed lesser measures of sensitivity as he did the day he read the highlights of a news
article about a white supremacist organization somewhere in the midwest.
The organization firmly believes, says Peter Jorgensen, a spokesman
for the local chapter here, that America is no longer a country, a sovereign
state as its ruling class insists. It has become a corporation, a giant
conglomerate run by the descendants of the old-world powers who - through
their softness and incompetence uncharacteristic of the supreme Northern
European white race - have allowed their power of government to be usurped
by the Jews, the Japanese and the Chinese, the Negros, the Latins and the
We cannot and must not tolerate any longer the abuse of the
humanitarian privileges we have afforded these inferior peoples, added
another leader of the group, a woman who refused to give her name. We must
re-assert our sovereignty upon this land by rule of our superior Caucasian
instincts and strength, she said, weeding out among us those who are weak
and submissive. We must sever the roots of this Jewish economic and political
strangle-hold that's choking America through the lobbying halls of Congress,
the media airwaves, films, television and the press. We must push back the
threat to our economic well-being brought on by these Asiatic entrepreneurs
of cheap labor. And we must remind the blacks and the Latins, the same with
the others, to what extent they may indulge in those privileges we have
"Now, what do you make of that, Sam Goodman?" Norman Tilley asked
facetiously in a lunchroom full of people as most of them were just finishing up eating.
"These people really mean business. Listen to what else it says here."
Members of the organization speak openly of not paying taxes and
defying the IRS. They describe a thriving barter economy where even non-
members participate. Moneys change hands without ever going on record.
Goods and services are exchanged in measures based on units of the essential
human needs: physical, emotional, mental, spiritual.
Our most important goal at present, says Peter Jorgensen, is to survive
the conglomerate forces of the Zionist, the oriental and the black cohorts of
this hapless corporate American government. And this could only be done by
a sustained effort to build strength through our ideology and through arms
In separate incidents in Wyoming and the Dakotas, combined federal
and state troops in the past three weeks have uncovered and seized stockpiles
of assault armaments, among them dozens of hand-held rocket missile-
launchers, boxes of fragmentation grenades, a cache of M-16s with hundreds
upon hundreds of ammunition rounds. A government spokesman said the
armaments were powerful enough to hold Cheyenne captive for months.
"So what do you think about that?" Norman Tilley asked Sam Goodman again,
this time putting the paper and his lunch litter away,
Sam Goodman who sat one table away facing Norman Tilley didn't respond
immediately while he thought some of those people in the news sounded like they might
be Norman Tilley's immediate relatives. Over at another table sat Nicholas and Haj
Fujiwara, a Japanese-American born in Kansas shortly after his parents' post-war release
from their internment camp. Concentration camp, he called it whenever he told pieces of
his family life story. Haj Fujiwara was a civil engineer whose current project was the
interstate highway that would link those from Pittsburgh to Richmond directly across the
Allegheny Mountains. It was he, instead, who responded to Norman Tilley first.
"I think there's a lot of truth to some of what they're saying there," he said,
"especially about America being a giant corporation. In the first place, I think that's what
this country has been all along. It was like one of those British Companies such as the
Hudson Bay Company up north, or the British East India Company of old. Now it's an
"Come o-on," Norman Tilley complained. "Don't be stupid."
"Do you think anybody really cares whether or not there's a government running
this country and if there is, what kind of government it is, as long as people eat and have a
place to live and live healthy and comfortable lives?"
"Me! People like me!" Norman Tilley barked at Haj Fujiwara.
This was where Sam Goodman jumped in.
"You?" he barked back at Norman Tilley, mockery written all over his face. "Of
all people. Hah!"
"That's right, Sam. I care what happens to this country. Maybe you don't. Maybe
people like you don't. But I do."
Sam Goodman told Norman Tilley to look at the window to their side for a
moment and Norman Tilley did.
"When you see a blue pig fly by that window," Sam Goodman said, "that's when
I'll believe you, Norman. I think Haj is right, not that I like the thought of it: people, such
as you, couldn't care less what's happening as long as they don't go hungry, as long as they
have money in their pockets and are comfortable with their lives."
"Hey, hey, you want to know something, Sam Goodman?" Norman Tilley had an
evil smile on. "I don't care what you think I am. What you think about me don't count,
and the same goes for Tojo over there. But let me tell you something else, about this
country. This country is my country. And the only thing the matter with it is it has given
so much to so many that now everybody has become greedy and wants more. That's what
those people are talking about in the news and I can't say that I disagree with them
altogether. Not when I think about all these interest groups throughout the country and I
see their people come to town to lobby for their cause. The corporate lobbies, the various
industry lobbies, many of whom aren't even Americans or bankrolled by foreigners; ethnic
and various minority lobbies, the equal opportunity and... and these affirmative action
groups and all the rest of 'em hand-out groups, you name them."
"That takes on a lot of people," Sam Goodman commented. "You think maybe
you left somebody else out, though."
"I probably did but I believe I included enough to drive my point across."
"You talk about this country. This country which you say is your country. Just
what country is that? Of what nation? Of what people? Your kind of people?"
"Which kind? Your kind? White, Anglo-Saxon, Northern European? Christian?
"Let's break it up, okay you guys?" Harold Forker suddenly stepped in, moving
nonchalantly between the tables occupied by the two and going to the vending machine for
"Which people is it in this country that has given so much to so many who?" Sam
Goodman continued, heeding Harold Forker only with a quick glance. "Just who are you
to say who is the giver and who is the taker in this country?"
A can of Diet Coke came hurtling down the dispensing chute of the vending
machine with a loud clang. As Harold Forker picked it up, he spoke again this time with
more firmness in his voice.
"I said break it up! This is a lunchroom, not a TV talk show studio. The rest of us
here might not care to listen to either of your arguments. We got rights not to have to
listen to any of it."
"That's right," Nicholas, sitting with Haj Fujiwara, said. "So the next time you
want to read a news item, Norman Tilley, read it to yourself. And read it without moving
"Just trying to make conversation," Norman Tilley replied, his voice straining.
"That's fine. Nothing wrong with that," said Sam Goodman. "Just don't make a
"Cool it, you two!" barked Harold Forker.
Not long after things quieted down, some people began leaving the lunchroom to
go back to their offices. Nicholas remained with Haj Fujiwara at their table. They watched
Norman Tilley pick up and strut past Sam Goodman with a pesky grin on his face on his
way out of the room. In response, Sam Goodman compressed his nose with his fingers in
the same manner one would in the proximity of a skunk and inched away as Norman Tilley
Nicholas and Haj Fujiwara, together with the other employees who remained,
laughed at the scene. Whenever Nicholas and Haj saw each other in the lunchroom during
breaks, they usually ended up sitting at the same table. Nicholas noticed how much more
at ease Haj was with him than with anybody else. He could only guess that perhaps this
was because they both came from the same region or corner of the world and that Haj
Fujiwara counted this for some sort of a common bond, something they shared, though a
In any case, this was mostly how Nicholas came to learn some of Haj Fujiwara's
personal and family background. His mother was born in Japan and lived there until his
father, who was himself born in Japan but brought up in California, went back and found
her for his bride to take back to America. There was never any big problem with cultural
differences and adjustment between his parents, Haj Fujiwara said, but with him it was a
slightly different story.
He was, first, Japanese and later American. Becoming bilingual was as natural as
growing up. He had no trouble assimilating through adolescence in Kansas. In the late
fifties, they moved to Japan and lived there for four years during which their native culture
quite naturally just took over what American part of them there was.
Haj Fujiwara spoke of how, when he first came back, he realized what
undisciplined people Americans were, especially the young. Unruly, and how wasteful
they were. Senselessly wasteful.
Those four years never left him. He never fully recovered the American in him.
The Japanese which those four years had instilled in him went so deep he couldn't,
wouldn't knowingly adapt to the value systems he saw in high school in Kansas and in
college at MIT.
For a number of years, his last in college and a few after when he began working
for his state license as a professional engineer, it was a constant struggle trying to
reconcile his life at home and the world outside. Especially at work, the way he worked,
did his job, and the way 'they' did theirs.
He told Nicholas one lunch time: "I wish I could spare myself some of the insights
I gain coming to work from day to day. Do you ever feel that way sometimes?"
"I'm not sure exactly what you're talking about, Haj," Nicholas said then.
"Individualism," Haj said emphatically. "There's too much of it around and not
enough teamwork or group effort without one single person taking credit for himself
alone. I'm not saying individualism is bad. Of course everybody wants to be a star or, at
least, a pat on the back once in a while. You can't stop that. That's one of the major
ingredients of the freedom we enjoy. But there are times when something else must come
before the 'I', 'Me' or 'Myself''. What I couldn't help seeing here and other places I've
worked is an attitude people have. It's everywhere. And that is to go home at the end of
the day content in the knowledge that they've proven themselves a match to the challenge
of the day - that is, if it had been such a day.
"That, they do actually for their self-satisfaction. Fulfillment, I believe it's called
here. Their ego, or macho, if you would, more than anything else. They don't accomplish
the day primarily to produce anything, or create anything but simply to feed their ego. In
Japan, you don't work and go through the day for the sustenance of your ego and the
affirmation of the individual. That's not what counts the most there. What counts there is
your productivity and the quality of your output. Nothing less than that. The self-
satisfaction you derive out of it you do not make a part of the process."
Nicholas felt he understood this nisei then, as he told him later on during another
lunch hour, well enough to share his own insights. And more so, he said to Haj Fujiwara,
when he recalls his father years ago talking about his own similar experiences.
"The newcomers always try harder," he recounted his father saying. "They have
this instinct of survival as if the consequences for them are far worse than for others if they
didn't do good work. So they put in their best, and many get into this habit for life."
With that, he learned in the years that followed together with his father and the rest
of the family, that throughout most of their lives, immigrants never fully get over that
sense of insecurity they get when they first set foot in America. And that instinct of
survival remains strong to buffer them against any threat to their security, real or
imagined, even after they've become successful, to say the least, in resettling in their new
In the truest sense, he shared Haj Fujiwara's insights surely not only because Haj
revealed them to him but because he had many of his own: insights gained through two
decades of survival in America working constantly upon rising above that sense of
insecurity that wouldn't quit.
And like Haj, he could only wish he could spare himself from gaining those insights
because in the long run, all they really do is encumber him with knowledge he does not
need to better equip himself to survive and secure a place in society. But the process of
learning is a part of living one does not and cannot thwart.
For this reason, he was thankful for his family with whom he shared the knowledge
that came with this learning process through adolescence, especially through his
secondary-school years and even partly through college. He was thankful he was not
alone when he came to America as many other immigrants did on their own even while
they were children.
There were things, though, he perceived which he kept to himself. Things he
simply felt comfortable keeping to himself. But a time came when, around his junior-high
year in Michigan, all those thoughts and feelings he kept bottled up began crying out for
release. That was when the letters between him and Emil poured halfway across the
world. He wrote as often as twice a week. Long letters to Emil. As long as ten pages.
And short ones. As short as three quarters of a page. Emil did the same, responding
promptly to every letter he received.
Nicholas wrote to his boyhood friend then, whom he missed dearly, things that he
somehow would not deem appropriate to share with his American friends, or even with his
family. But he also wrote often of things he shared with these others for somehow he felt
more freedom of expression and more sense of release when he wrote about them,
especially for Emil to read.
When he was sixteen, he wrote Emil about a weekend trip he took to Canada with
the whole family.
Father took me with him to a house party of a close
friend of his, one of the people he went to see in Toronto.
The man works for a Canadian government office that helps
new immigrants get started with their new life. He invited
several of them to the party and I got to meet them.
They were all Europeans. For the first time in my life,
I met a Greek, a real one, from Greece. A Polish from Poland,
a Hungarian from Hungary. A Portuguese, an Italian, even
a Russian. They all came directly from their own country.
I was very very surprised to learn that none of them could
speak straight English. Only the Italian knew enough words
to express some of the things he wanted to say and the other
things he did with his hands and face.
One of them, the Polish, is a dentist and he was very
disappointed that Canada won't let him work with his
profession. He told me he wants to come here to the U.S.
instead but he has no papers and didn't know how to go
about applying. He got very excited when he learned we
came from the United States. You should have seen
him as he listened to me talk. He said I speak perfect
English and wished that someday he would be able to
sound like me too with my 'beautiful American accent',
a sound he had only heard on the radio and TV before,
but never in person.
I always thought all Caucasian people speak English.
I've never met one before who didn't, just as I've never
met a black person who speaks Spanish or French.
Also, I thought only English-speaking people are
allowed to come to North America. I couldn't imagine
father and us coming here and not being able to speak
the language like those new immigrants in Canada.
It must be awfully bad where they came from that they
risked facing such a big problem in life here. But, then,
maybe it isn't all that bad for the Europeans because they
only had the language barrier to overcome. Racially,
and culturally for most of them, they're no different.
The year he finished high school was the year they moved to the Washington
suburb of Bethesda, Maryland, after six years in Warren, Michigan. On a cold winter
night a few days before his father drove the entire family east for a whole day, he sat up
late in his room trying to break down a mass of feelings he had about their lives, past and
forthcoming, into separate little ones he could identify and understand. As much of this as
he was able to do, he put in a letter to Emil.
We're in the middle of packing everything in the
house. Father has hired an interstate mover and
they're coming to pick up everything three days from
now. The next day we'll all be in Bethesda, Maryland
near Washington, D.C., the capital of the United States.
I can't imagine what it's like over there, or what it will
be like for us. I just hope it helps my parents' allergies.
Mother, especially. She's been suffering miserably with
the weather here in Michigan.
I don't feel all broken up about leaving here. Just some.
A little sad, though, when I look back to when we first
came. I remember some of the people we got to know
first. Some of them we only knew for two or three years
and they've moved too.
It's the same thing at school. I had a couple of friends
(I told you about them several times). Nice guys.
But they were only at school for two years and they're
gone. Their families had to move some place else
in the country for jobs. One went to Pennsylvania,
the other to Texas.
So maybe that's why I can't feel too much for leaving
Warren. Maybe this is one thing people must get
used to, living in America: not grow such deep roots
where they are for they never know how soon it
would be before they were gone someplace else.
I hate to admit this, Emil, especially to you,
but somehow I wish we'd be going back to our
country instead of to Maryland. Right now, this is
how I feel. Maybe I'm just being homesick, uncertain
of what lies ahead of us where father is taking us.
I know he's doing what he believes would be right
and good for all of us. He just wants us to be happy,
live a good life here in America.
And we do - live a good life here. We do, since
we first arrived, compared to some people - many
people and families - I've seen who have been here
much longer than we have. And I'm not talking
about just the immigrants but also the natural-born
One thing I learned quick is that there are poor
people too in America. People with very little
education, and people who are practically illiterate.
No-read no-write as we used to say when we first
started school back home. I couldn't believe it
at first. But I've seen them. Both black and white
people. Most of them come from the southern
United States. They come here to the north to
find work. Start over, from nothing, like newly
arrived immigrants although they were born here.
I feel sorry for them and at the same time I get
a funny feeling like we're taking something away
from them. Their jobs, their houses, their food,
their country. I've had this feeling since two or
three years ago, I just never told you. I wish you
could be here now, Emil, or soon. There are so
many other things I'd want to tell you. It really
bothered me (it still does, although I know it
shouldn't) so I talked to one of my teachers
in school. One I felt comfortable with. She's my
history teacher. She said - get this: 'You're just
experiencing a good feeling for other people.
A feeling known as compassion.' She said it is a
sign of one's true good nature which I could not
help coming out of me.
But the reason for the way I feel is not true, she said.
I and my family have as much right as anybody to
live in America, to take the jobs we're able and willing
to do, to eat the food we eat, to live in the house we
live in as long as we don't steal or break the law to
do so. In fact, she said, we should feel proud that
we are doing it on our own and doing it so well
since we came to America without the government
or anybody having to help us.
I also talked to father about this. He said it may
look that way when people come to America to seek
a better life. In fact, in some cases it's true, depending
on the type of immigrants who come. But in our case,
it's not. On the contrary, it's the other way around.
We're not taking more than what America is gaining
by getting us. They didn't have to train me to become
a doctor of veterinary, father said. What your teacher
told you is right. We didn't come poor. We're not
rich, but we're not poor enough either to need help.
And we're healthy, educated and willing to work.
We're as much a part as anybody else is of what
makes America America.