Original URL: http://www.azcentral.com/arizonarepublic/westvalleyopinions/articles/0214howell0214.html

Immigrants children succeed
The Arizona Republic
Feb. 14, 2004

My wife and I recently attended a dinner that honored about 20 college scholarship winners from the Phoenix metro area. The Friendly House, one of our community's oldest and most important social service agencies, annually recognizes local Hispanic high school seniors who have demonstrated their excellence in and outside the classroom.

The kids were truly impressive. The winner at our table, a senior at Camelback High School, is already taking college courses and will graduate near the top of her class. She's also working two jobs outside of school and another in the school counseling office. Her next stop will be college and then, if Cecilia's dream comes true, a business career.

Cecilia is an outstanding student and an outstanding young lady. She's also an immigrant. She came to Phoenix as a 4-year-old from Mexico. Her mother, who was with her at the dinner, still struggles with English, but Cecilia does not.

What struck me that night, in addition to being so impressed with Cecilia and the other honorees, was that their story is not uncommon Cecilia, even though she is technically a first-generation immigrant, is a classic "second-generation" American. While her parents may not have fully adopted American ways, she is clearly assimilating - and thriving. Like so many immigrant children before her, Cecilia successfully straddles two worlds. She clearly honors and cherishes her Latina heritage, but she has also embraced mainstream U.S. culture.

One of the arguments often used by those so enraged by the recent surge in immigration, legal and illegal, into the United States is the supposed lack of assimilation by this wave of newcomers.

Sorry, but I don't buy it. The path being followed by today's immigrants is identical to that followed by those who came before them.

Whether they came from Poland or Ireland, Italy or China, Mexico or Somalia, our immigrants have historically brought their culture and language with them. They have worked hard at low-paying, menial jobs. They've clustered in neighborhoods where they establish islands of familiarity in an unfamiliar land. Those neighborhoods are still alive as the Chinatowns and Little Italys of older cities and our newer "barrios."

Those immigrant families of yesterday and today also share some common goals. The objective was and remains a better life for their children - the sacrifice of one generation to enable opportunity for the next.

Those children of yesterday's immigrants are among our most successful, productive and prominent citizens today. That was also on display at the Friendly House dinner. The keynote speaker was one of Arizona's most prominent lawyers. A member of the Arizona Board of Regents and past president of the Arizona Bar Association, Ernie Calderon is also the son of an immigrant copper miner who settled in eastern Arizona.

Friendly House CEO Luis Ibarra, our host for the evening, is the son of immigrant farmworkers who found a new life for their family in the fields of southwestern Arizona. The mistress of ceremonies for the evening, Gema Duarte Luna, is the daughter of another immigrant mining family.

They are among hundreds of examples. These three individuals happen to be Hispanic, but the list also includes those with roots in Asia and Europe, Africa and the Middle East. Those children of yesterday's immigrants are a huge part of our success as a nation today, and I'm very confident that Cecilia and her peers will be major contributors to our success in the decades ahead.

David Howell is a 17-year Valley resident. He and his wife live in Phoenix. Howell can be reached at dandjhowell@aol.com. The views expressed are those of the author.

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