America’s Real Dream Team - The New York Times
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America’s Real Dream Team
Thomas L. Friedman
MARCH 20, 2010
Went to a big Washington dinner last week. You know the kind: Large hall; black
ties; long dresses. But this was no ordinary dinner. There were 40 guests of honor.
So here’s my Sunday news quiz: I’ll give you the names of most of the honorees, and
you tell me what dinner I was at. Ready?
Linda Zhou, Alice Wei Zhao, Lori Ying, Angela Yu-Yun Yeung, Lynnelle Lin Ye,
Kevin Young Xu, Benjamin Chang Sun, Jane Yoonhae Suh, Katheryn Cheng Shi,
Sunanda Sharma, Sarine Gayaneh Shahmirian, Arjun Ranganath Puranik, Raman
Venkat Nelakant, Akhil Mathew, Paul Masih Das, David Chienyun Liu, Elisa Bisi Lin,
Yifan Li, Lanair Amaad Lett, Ruoyi Jiang, Otana Agape Jakpor, Peter Danming Hu,
Yale Wang Fan, Yuval Yaacov Calev, Levent Alpoge, John Vincenzo Capodilupo and
No, sorry, it was not a dinner of the China-India Friendship League. Give up?
O.K. All these kids are American high school students. They were the majority of
the 40 finalists in the 2010 Intel Science Talent Search, which, through a national
contest, identifies and honors the top math and science high school students in
America, based on their solutions to scientific problems. The awards dinner was
Tuesday, and, as you can see from the above list, most finalists hailed from
immigrant families, largely from Asia.
Indeed, if you need any more convincing about the virtues of immigration, just
come to the Intel science finals. I am a pro-immigration fanatic. I think keeping a
America’s Real Dream Team - The New York Times
constant flow of legal immigrants into our country — whether they wear blue collars
or lab coats — is the key to keeping us ahead of China. Because when you mix all of
these energetic, high-aspiring people with a democratic system and free markets,
magic happens. If we hope to keep that magic, we need immigration reform that
guarantees that we will always attract and retain, in an orderly fashion, the world’s
first-round aspirational and intellectual draft choices.
This isn’t complicated. In today’s wired world, the most important economic
competition is no longer between countries or companies. The most important
economic competition is actually between you and your own imagination. Because
what your kids imagine, they can now act on farther, faster, cheaper than ever before
— as individuals. Today, just about everything is becoming a commodity, except
imagination, except the ability to spark new ideas.
If I just have the spark of an idea now, I can get a designer in Taiwan to design
it. I can get a factory in China to produce a prototype. I can get a factory in Vietnam
to mass manufacture it. I can use Amazon.com to handle fulfillment. I can use
freelancer.com to find someone to do my logo and manage my backroom. And I can
do all this at incredibly low prices. The one thing that is not a commodity and never
will be is that spark of an idea. And this Intel dinner was all about our best sparklers.
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Before the dinner started, each contestant stood by a storyboard explaining
their specific project. Namrata Anand, a 17-year-old from the Harker School in
California, patiently explained to me her research, which used spectral analysis and
other data to expose information about the chemical enrichment history of
“Andromeda Galaxy.” I did not understand a word she said, but I sure caught the
gleam in her eye.
My favorite chat, though, was with Amanda Alonzo, a 30-year-old biology
teacher at Lynbrook High School in San Jose, Calif. She had taught two of the
finalists. When I asked her the secret, she said it was the resources provided by her
school, extremely “supportive parents” and a grant from Intel that let her spend part
of each day inspiring and preparing students to enter this contest. Then she told me
America’s Real Dream Team - The New York Times
this: Local San Jose realtors are running ads in newspapers in China and India
telling potential immigrants to “buy a home” in her Lynbrook school district because
it produced “two Intel science winners.”
Seriously, ESPN or MTV should broadcast the Intel finals live. All of the 40
finalists are introduced, with little stories about their lives and aspirations. Then the
winners of the nine best projects are announced. And finally, with great drama, the
overall winner of the $100,000 award for the best project of the 40 is identified. This
year it was Erika Alden DeBenedictis of New Mexico for developing a software
navigation system that would enable spacecraft to more efficiently “travel through
the solar system.” After her name was called, she was swarmed by her fellow
Gotta say, it was the most inspiring evening I’ve had in D.C. in 20 years. It left
me thinking, “If we can just get a few things right — immigration, education
standards, bandwidth, fiscal policy — maybe we’ll be O.K.” It left me feeling that
maybe Alice Wei Zhao of North High School in Sheboygan, Wis., chosen by her
fellow finalists to be their spokeswoman, was right when she told the audience:
“Don’t sweat about the problems our generation will have to deal with. Believe me,
our future is in good hands.”
As long as we don’t shut our doors.
A version of this oped appears in print on March 21, 2010, on page WK10 of the New York edition with
the headline: America’s Real Dream Team.
© 2016 The New York Times Company
Immigration problem is about us, not them
June 07, 2006|By JO-ANN PILARDI
The immigration debates always focus on small brown bodies jumping fences and scooting
through the brush of our Southwestern states (land that was Mexico about 150 years ago).
Our self-righteous anger at those brown bodies is fueled by our narrow use of the word "illegal" a term reserved only for those immigrant workers. Yet aren't there other "illegals" hiding in the
American underbrush, and isn't it time to add to the American immigration lexicon a new term?
But where are those other "illegals" - the illegal employers of the illegal workers? Let's call them
"illegal native employers." These INEs run the gamut from executives of hotel chains to
presidents of agribusiness corporations in California, from nanny-employing parents to
restaurant owners, from contractors to employment agencies. And let's not forget the INEs who
own huge chicken-processing plants.
Where are the TV news videotapes of those illegals? Let's film them as they leave their homes
and arrive at their corporate headquarters, their law offices, their retail establishments, their
hotels, their construction sites. Do we dare humiliate them with our cameras - and call them
I'd like to see the Minutemen set up a chapter far from the Arizona border and patrol Wall Street,
binoculars in hand, to set their sights on those "illegals" - brokers selling stocks for
Let's build fences outside the INE businesses, to separate and stigmatize them. Maybe the
National Guard should patrol those fences. Not to worry, though, because President Bush assures
us the troops will not be "militarized." (The word is still out, though, on whether there will be
bullets in their guns.)
No doubt, these suggestions make us squirm. Maybe that's because many of these "illegals" are
us, or our friends or relatives. If 12 million undocumented workers are employed here, thousands
of employers must be signing their paychecks.
If 12 million undocumented workers toil in this country as construction workers, gardeners,
housekeepers, nannies, agricultural workers, food processers, then thousands of business owners,
homeowners, politicians and government officials condone or welcome their work - and look the
other way at their illegal status.
Many of our political leaders talk a hard line about "immigration reform" even though they know
our country is mired in its demand for the immigrant work force. We use and exploit the labor of
these millions every day. In doing so, we also weaken the wages, benefits and organizing power
of all our workers.
The Senate voted 62-36 to approve its version of an immigration bill, with most GOP senators
opposing it. A battle with the more conservative House over its more vicious bill begins shortly.
Evidently, the Senate version includes most of the so-called Ag Jobs bill, which has languished
for years under the Bush administration and which has been supported in the past by the United
Immigrants in the United States for two to five years would be put into a "temporary-worker"
program; those here longer would be eligible for citizenship after an 11-year probationary period,
with other criteria also to be met.
Conservatives describe the bill as "amnesty" for undocumented workers. So, once again,
virtually all of the media attention centers on the workers, not the employers.
This is not the first time, nor will it be the last, that workers have come across the southern
border in great numbers to make a living and to contribute to the U.S. economy. We need to
create a fair immigration program for those who want to stay, not one that separates them by
creating a national caste system of "guest workers." Europeans have learned the hard way that
guest-worker programs lead to further national divisions and to virulent racism.
But whatever we do, we should stop thinking the problem is just about "securing our borders" from them. The immigration problem is fundamentally a demand for cheap labor - for a supply
to fill our demand.
Noting the problems that arose from Germany's guest-worker program, which imported masses
of Turkish and southern European workers, the writer Max Frisch observed, "Labor was called,
but it was people who came." This - the moral, economic and political problem - is not the
immigrants' problem; it's ours. I hope we have the courage to solve it humanely.
Jo-Ann Pilardi is a professor of philosophy and women's studies at Towson University.
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