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The Chain Immigrant

My cousin` and me soon after arriving in the US.

There has been a lot of conversation around immigration after the State of the Union Address this week and all of this has really made me think of what "immigrant" means to me. To those that don't know me, I was not born in the the great US of A, but in Sri Lanka and became a naturalized citizen in my late teens. But all of that was made possible by the fact that we had family living in the US that could sponsor my parents to make the great trek across the ocean. I am the face of chain immigration. My life, career and hopefully my legacy in science are the products of what some see as an un-American shift taking place in the US.

I think it might be easy to say, "It was a good thing that you made it. You are an example of the highly skilled workforce we want to come to this country. WIN!". But I doubt that would have been the assessment when my family first arrived in this country. My father, though well educated at the University of Melbourne, was unable to secure a well-paying job. He heard over and over that a "foreign degree" meant nothing in this country. He took a job as a skilled tradesman as opposed to the professional career he had studied for, and contributed to the US through his long career within the VA and as an active member of his community.  My mother had never really worked out of the home prior to our immigration. She started off in minimum-wage jobs and later became a Montessori teacher. They were DREAMers. Their dreams enabled me to pursue my love of science. Their legacy lives on in the the people I am now able to train, the science that we as a team move forward and hopefully the future scientists that will build off of our work to innovate even further...many of them born in far off places.

The current debate seems to miss the point in so many ways. Yes America is the great melting pot, but more than that it is the great social experiment. Can a bunch of misfits from everywhere make a truly phenomenal country? It seems like that is exactly what they did. It is saddening to know that writing this post is a political act. Not so long ago this would have been a obvious statement of the most "American" kind. In the turn of the 20th century, those that came before were sneering at the "dirty Irish" that were pouring onto our shores much like we now malign the poor Mexican farm-worker. But it's 2018...shouldn't we be further?

American was built by Americans, but Americans are immigrants. Immigrants thrive when they have family - an important support network, for them to move beyond immigrant to American. They may come here as huddled masses, but their legacy is our great artists, inventors, and at least one Sri Lankan scientist.

Me and my amazingly multicultural lab!

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