Catch A Wave

 In Books, Business, Community, Culture, Fred's Blog, Fred's Blog, People, Transitions, Uncategorized, Vocation
Listen to “Catch a Wave.”

 

Several years ago, our local Chamber of Commerce brought in a renowned demographer to talk with a large group of business and civic leaders about the future impact of immigration (legal and illegal) on our community of 100,000 people. “Your community will soon experience the full force of a tsunami of brown, young, unemployed, fertile, sometimes violent, non-English speaking immigrants from the South. It is going to affect every institution and, as it has everywhere else, the economic resources of your city and region.”

I raised my hand and asked if he thought there were any opportunities or was he suggesting we all move to Switzerland and wait for the tidal wave to subside? I agree it was a snide question, but his bias upset me. He replied that his job was not spotting opportunities – just reporting facts.

Afterward, several of us huddled and decided we would fund a separate piece of research about the possible futures of the growing Hispanic population and look for economic opportunities in the wave moving in our direction. One of our group said, “If you don’t know how to swim you will run from a wave. If, on the other hand, you are a surfer you will get excited about a big one.” We wanted to be surfers. We were very specific about economic opportunities. We did not want to make it a social service project that focused on a needs assessment or what was lacking. We wanted to know where the business opportunities were.

One of the findings was a complete contradiction of the demographer’s report. Actually, several were, but I’ll save that for another time. Instead of the destructive wave he described, the research showed a high interest in education and business creation. After a nine-month study and three months of meetings with community leaders, the Hispanic Business Alliance was formed. The only requirement for membership was being the owner of the business. There were no memberships for Hispanics employed by someone else.

Many in the community responded as you might expect. “There are no Hispanic owned businesses. They are not entrepreneurs. They are just looking for jobs that we don’t want and taking away jobs from us.” As it turns out, hundreds of Hispanic business owners have joined the Hispanic Business Alliance. The demographer did us quite a favor.

Claudia Kolker does us another favor with her book “The Immigrant Advantage”. Now living in Houston and a professor at the Jones Graduate School of Business at Rice University, Kolker — who has reported for the Los Angeles Times, The Economist, The Boston Globe, and the Houston Chronicle — drew on her experiences as a world traveler to focus on what traditions first-generation immigrants bring to this country. In her book, she discusses several practices brought from wherever different people call “the old country.” These include a Vietnamese savings club called a hui; an age-old Mexican practice of caring for a mother for 40 days after giving birth called a cuarentena; and after-school study habits of Asian students. Some of the traditions she covers are mixtures of old and new, such as assisted marriage, which blends the family support found in the arranged marriage with Western individualism. Others are the result of increased competition, such as hagwons, Korean after-school programs whose success has helped give rise to the stereotype of Asian intellectual superiority. Still, others have arisen due to necessity, such as the Jamaican practice of intergenerational families living together. Kolker also looks at Mexican-American neighborliness and the Vietnamese custom of contracting out for com thang – a cheap but healthy home-cooked meal.

For me, most important is her broad look at the smart ideas that immigrants of all stripes bring to their adopted country and culture. There are many things they choose to leave behind because they are rotten practices but those they carry with them make life in America better for all of us. These customs and practices live on for generations even when dress, language, and other rituals are lost in future generations. However, even when those things fade away they leave behind contributions that enrich everyone.

The book is about good habits and traditions that last – family values, thrift, revering grandparents, and their wisdom. This is not about the politics of immigration but about the net benefits of importing the strengths and customs of other cultures. I don’t believe a nation is under a Biblical mandate to “welcome the stranger”, but to welcome the immigrant while assimilating their good values, practices, and beliefs that strengthen our own communities makes perfect sense to me.

Fred Smith
Fred Smith is a graduate of Denver University and Harvard Divinity School. He spent several years as teacher and administrator at Charlotte Christian School and The Stony Brook School before co-founding Leadership Network with Bob Buford and serving as President for 12 years. Fred is the Founder and President of The Gathering, an international association of individuals, families and private foundations giving to Christian ministries. Fred will tell you his true vocation is that of a Sunday School teacher and it is this role for which he would most like to be remembered. Fred and his wife, Carol, have two grown daughters and a son-in-law. They also have three well-loved grandchildren.
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Showing 21 comments
  • Tom Ziglar
    Reply

    I love your communities approach to the immigrant wave. What an opportunity. It reminds me of a conversation I had with a very successful Native American. His community had a very large Native American population but they got no respect from the business sector or city government. This is how he got everyones attention. He had a meeting with all of the Native American business owners and they all agreed to do payroll one week in cash. More importantly the cash was comprised of silver dollars and $2 bills! For the next 2 weeks the town went crazy as over 30% of the retail transactions were paid in $2 bills and silver dollars. It is not only right, kind, and loving to welcome our neighbors who might have a different accent, its also very smart.

    • Fred Smith
      Fred Smith
      Reply

      Thank you, Tom. Saul Alinsky did something similar to the banks in Chicago and they finally relented as it drove them crazy.

  • Michele Elyachar
    Reply

    Wonderful !

    • Fred Smith
      Fred Smith
      Reply

      Thank you, Michele. I appreciate your taking the time to respond.

  • John
    Reply

    Excellent! Just excellent!

    • Fred Smith
      Fred Smith
      Reply

      John, could you say a little more about how good it is?

  • Pete Hutton
    Reply

    Wow, Fred. That’s a great article. Thanks so much for sharing what’s happening your way.

    • Fred Smith
      Fred Smith
      Reply

      Yes, I am encouraged by the response of our community to change.

  • Mark Neuenschwander
    Reply

    Thanks Fred. This resonates with my experience.

  • Howard Freeman
    Reply

    I love this.
    Having grown up in a city (New York) with a storied immigrant past, I have seen the fearful and the welcoming side to immigration. Also, for those who literally want to see a swell in Central Texas, there’s always Doug Coors’s latest project, NLand in Austin (http://nlandsurfpark.com/), which I’ve surfed and quite enjoyed.

    Gotta look for opportunities where they exist, not where we want them to be.

    • Fred Smith
      Fred Smith
      Reply

      Thank you, Howard. I need to check out what he is doing there.

  • Lisa Lujan
    Reply

    Thank you so much for this wonderful blog and sharing a different perspective about the rich experience immigrants bring to our community not to mention the positive economic impact they have.

    • Fred Smith
      Fred Smith
      Reply

      Thank you, Lisa. Obviously, I am a fan of the HBA.

  • Victor Jury
    Reply

    Hear, hear. Thank you.

    • Fred Smith
      Fred Smith
      Reply

      Thank you, Victor. I appreciate your comment.

  • Andrew Tyndale
    Reply

    A wonderful, positive call in these days of fear and hate.

  • John Sims
    Reply

    Thanks for sharing this, Fred. Important information for our constantly evolving community.

    • Fred Smith
      Fred Smith
      Reply

      Thank you, John. Yes, we are constantly evolving!

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