In 2005, I left the U.S. for what would be seven years of working overseas – in China, Saudi Arabia, and Japan. I left partly to escape my own misery in a job I didn’t like in Washington, D.C., and partly to see if the rest of the world were somehow better than the U.S. Let us just say that I was constantly disappointed. My friend Osvaldo rightly laughs at me and my naiveté. How could you possibly think somewhere is better, or that the U.S. itself is better? he once asked me. I don’t know. I guess it was hope.
I wanted to write this post because I know I’ve come down hard on Saudi Arabia and the other Gulf States. I wanted to say that in alarming ways, the U.S. is a lot like the Kingdom. Clearly, we don’t treat our new immigrant workers much better. I know I know you will argue that many of them are illegal, but to me that isn’t a justification for denying them basic human rights – the right to health care and education, for example.
In a recent report from the New York Times, two reporters followed Interstate 35 from the border with Mexico to Duluth, Minnesota (where my parents grew up, incidentally). In their last article, they asked people from all over what it means to be American. One man, Antonio H. Hernandez, originally from Mexico but now living in Missouri, said, “People say this is a land of opportunity, but a lot of the time there are no opportunities, no jobs. And if you are an immigrant, you don’t get paid as much, and if you go to the hospital, sometimes they won’t take care of you. An American with papers has more opportunities than an American without.”
Sounds like Saudi Arabia, doesn’t it?? It all comes down to those precious papers. I was recently at a doctor’s appointment, and they asked me for my I.D. – a driver’s license. For a doctor’s appointment, for Christ sake!!! Just like the iqama in Saudi Arabia, you can’t do shit without I.D. here.
In another recent article about homelessness in Honolulu, a homeless man named Ronnie Cruz, told of how a police officer took his I.D. away from him many years ago. Now he can’t go back to where he came from, even if he had the money. In fact, he can hardly do anything without it. You need I.D. to get a job in this country, after all.
So Saudi Arabia in many ways is an awful place, but for many people here in the U.S., it is equally awful. And a lot of that has to do with “papers”, the almighty I.D.
As much as I want it to be, America isn’t a better place. It’s just home.