Breaking the Stereotype of Immigrant Success

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America was founded and built by immigrants. This fact sometimes feels flabbergasting when you sit and read the headlines of current news cycles. The identities and journeys of individuals who came to the United States have been politicized to strip away the nuances that make up their immigration experience.  

From their historical contributions to society to their innate strength to face adversity, immigrants have proved time and time again to be the backbone of the nation’s success. They have played a significant role in creating American culture through the performing arts, sciences, and an infinite variety of other cultural pursuits.

In 1987, Ronald Reagan proclaimed October 28th National Immigrants Day in honor of the 101st anniversary of the unveiling of the Statue of Liberty. Today, we want to highlight the stories of our nation’s immigrants, celebrate their successes, and honor their experiences throughout history.

Some of the most influential people in our society have come to the United States to pursue the infamous American Dream. The inventor of the telephone, Alexander Graham Bell, was born in Scotland. Renowned physicist Albert Einstein was born in Germany. Trailblazing publisher Joseph Pulitzer was born in Hungary. They all made outstanding contributions to the systems that shape America today.

Similarly, some of the leading tech giants today also immigrated and rooted their success on American soil. Google co-founder Sergey Brin was born in Russia. Yahoo! co-founder Jerry Yang was born in Taiwan. The founder of SpaceX and Tesla, Elon Musk, was born in South Africa. Instagram co-founder Mike Krieger was born in Brazil. The list goes on.

In many cases, the immigration experience tends to be celebrated — or even obscured — when talking about icons that made a name and a fortune for themselves, thus rising to fame. However, research has shown that famous and wealthy figures aren’t the only ones that have contributed to America’s reputation and built up its economy.

According to the President and CEO of the National Immigration Forum Ali Noorani, immigrant-owned businesses employed 8 million workers and generated $1.3 trillion in sales in 2017.

“Immigrants represent more than 40% of the founders of Fortune 500 businesses, but they also are heavily represented in Main Street businesses. I think most of us have firsthand experience with that — these are businesses such as restaurants, grocery stores, gas stations, and dry cleaners. Immigrant-owned businesses are fuel for the U.S. economy,” Noorani shared with Forbes.   

One example of this can be seen within the Hispanic community. A 2019 report from the Stanford Latino Entrepreneurship Initiative showed that between 2009 and 2019, the number of Latino businesses grew 34% compared to the 1% for all business owners in the United States.

The president of the Greater Philadelphia Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, Jennifer Rodríguez, shared that Mexican immigrants were responsible for reviving an area that was deteriorating, turning it into one of the most desirable neighborhoods in Philadelphia. By opening businesses and seizing the opportunity to revitalize, the area became emblematic of the transformational power and influence Hispanic communities have.

Alongside entrepreneurship, immigrants have helped strengthen America’s labor force. The New American Economy reported that “immigrants are more likely to hold an advanced degree than the U.S.-born. They are also more likely to have less than high school education. Uniquely, this allows them to fill critical shortages at both ends of the skill spectrum, from high-tech fields to agriculture, hospitality, and service industries.”

Not only have they been a pillar in different facets of the economy, but they’ve also been critical in the development of the arts and culture in the United States. Since those who come from other places are less bound to conventions, their perspective of culture puts them in a unique innovation position. Their multicultural background allows for multiple reference frames, where they can see more choices and possibilities than those familiar with only one culture. 

The list of people and communities who have used their experience and knowledge to challenge the limiting descriptions of immigration is bigger than the stories that have been perpetuated about them in recent years. However, the recognition they’ve received for their merits and contributions has been little compared to the imposed narratives and detrimental stereotyping that has echoed throughout time. This National Immigrants Day, recognize, celebrate, and honor the contributions immigrants have made within the unspoken legacy of this country.