Closed or open?

“French cannot become Indian and Indian cannot become French”

The sprayed red letters on the screen painfully goaded me. Even though they were not directed toward me, they made me feel rejected, like a nomad wandering around unable to find anywhere to settle. This movie is The Hundred Foot Journey, produced by Steven Spielberg and Oprah Winfrey, a film that shows the life of Indian immigrants in a provincial town in France. The movie doesn’t perform well in reflecting ‘real’ immigrant life, since it is too focused on the cuisine battle between the French restaurant owner and the Indian chef. But it does its job perfectly promoting the concept of racial integration. French and Indian, unexpected harmony!

[The Hundred Foot Journey tailer]

As an international student, technically, I am not an immigrant. I am, however, an international student, who came here to study and broaden my insight. But it still hurts when others interpret immigration negatively, even though the concern in America focuses on illegal immigrants. The controversy over illegal immigrants has created havoc for some people, especially those who perceive illegal immigrants as problematic for the United States. The argument is based on stereotypical comments like: “Many illegal immigrants are below poverty level..” or “They seem to be in the center of various drug rings and gang-related crimes.” Others are concerned that even though immigrants are in the United States illegally, they still get many benefits from taxes that Americans pay. Apparently, they also “steal” many legitimate American jobs. Moreover, the comments include stereotypes that illegal immigrants they are “uneducated and vulgar.” Yes, illegal immigrants do contribute to some part of problems in America. But the many comments and issues mentioned above are all based on STEREOTYPES.

Illegal immigrants prohibition sign
Illegal immigrants prohibition sign retrieved from

A few weeks ago, I debated about a measure to provide driving licenses to people without proof of legal residency in Oregon. I heard this from my fellow students: “Illegal immigrants should all go back to their home and work in their own country, Mexico!” I was dumbfounded. Illegal immigrants made a choice to come to the U.S. because they want better working and living conditions than those of their home countries. And the comment from my peer implied a general objection toward immigrants. “Aren’t your parents, or grandparents, or others from your heritage also immigrants?” I asked in response. He answered, “My parents were legal immigrants and came here to study! Not work!”

“I see,” I thought. I wanted to ask him, “Why do you think they choose to be illegal?” They can choose to be legal. However, the United State has restricted the number of immigrant visas to  citizens of certain nations, including Mexico and some countries in Asia. And they took a leap of faith to cross the border illegally because they believed they deserve better life. Is it fair to ditch people who believe in the American dream?

Like the U.S., many countries have illegal immigration problems. For example, Korea is struggling with the influx of Southeast Asian undocumented workers from Bhutan, Laos, etc… When I walk around downtown of Seoul, I see tall and dark-skinned people distributing flyers for Indian restaurant to passers-by. They smile, saying “Hello!” in their broken Korean. Few Koreans argue. The stereotypes in Korea are not very different from those in the U.S..: “Illegal immigrants are the origin of social evil and we must root the weed out. Undocumented workers steal the public’s money and sometimes harm of murder their employers. They all must be expelled from our country.” Really? I feel pity for them, those narrow-sighted, and egotistical people. Who will  take care of old, outdated rural areas where all native Korean people left to come to the big city, Seoul? Undocumented workers. Who takes the dangerous jobs that must be done but nobody wants to do? Undocumented workers. Who works hard despite their poor working conditions? Well, undocumented workers. For the numerous jobs undocumented workers or illegal immigrants do in poor conditions in Korea, they deserve veneration, not hatred. Still, the population of undocumented workers in Korea is increasing despite the hatred and anathema they will face in this closed small country.

[Obama’s immigration reform]

There are many ways to deal with immigration problems, and one way could be integration. The epitome of immigration policy, to me, would be that of Germany. The Germans applied integration education and the simplified visa system.

One of the things I most appreciate in this country is its open-mindedness and constant effort to fix social biases or problems. This is why my parents sent me to U.S. at a young age-to have a broader outlook and varied experiences. And I’ll bet that some illegal immigrants have expectations like mine, especially because America is the land of immigrants. And actually, very few of the original Americans exist anymore. This country and many others were formed by immigration of other people from elsewhere.

Illegal immigration is definitely a problem that needs to be solved. It somehow appears unfair to many, average U.S. citizens, and naturalized citizens, who went through the difficult immigration process to live, work and pay taxes. However, that doesn’t mean that the bias against illegal immigration has to spread and create unfounded hatred, or that the government should allow a measure to provide driving licenses without legal residency. Rather, I see the need for national integration policy. The country should be more open-minded and understanding towards illegal immigrants instead of looking upon them with a jaundiced eye. They are humans who have struggled greatly to come to U.S. to pioneer their own lives.

In the movie, The Hundred Foot Journey, the Indian Chef, Hassan, replies to Madam Mallory’s question about why he changes a classic French Recipe by adding unique Indian spices.

“Why change a recipe that is 200 years old?” Madam Mallory asks.

Hassan replies, “Maybe 200 years is long enough.”

Yes. Maybe 200 years is long enough.





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