Dignity in labor
US IMMIGRATION NOTES - Atty. Marco F.G. Tomakin (The Freeman) - December 8, 2019 - 12:00am

One of the most enduring promises of the American dream is that anyone has the chance to advance his lot in life regardless of his birth, race, color, or origin. It’s why the US is still the foremost destination by immigrants from all over the world, each with different backgrounds, even those from poor and war-torn areas seeking asylum or refuge.

The only requirement for the dream is to work hard and find dignity and love in his work. And what I mean by this is that we still have to dedicate and love the job we find ourselves in the US, even if it’s not the similar occupation or rank of position that we used to hold in our home country. We may be managers, executives or supervisors in the Philippines but in the US, we may find ourselves working odd jobs or in positions too low from the towers we used to perch back home.

Take the case of Veli whom I met the other day. I walked into a barbershop near my office and found out that my regular barber was absent due to a snowstorm. So the receptionist referred me to Veli. After a few pleasantries, I asked him where he came from after noticing his accent (I should know because I know I have still my Bisaya accent, even Siri cannot understand what I command).

Veli is from Albania, a former communist country in southeastern Europe. It has its own share of foreign occupation and internal strife that caused undue hardship to its citizens. It’s for this reason, among others, that the US listed Albania as one of the countries whose citizens are eligible for the diversity immigrant visa.

Veli and his wife filed their application for the program and got their visa through the greencard lottery. Knowing that opportunities that could enrich them about in the US, they left their properties and jobs in Albania and settled in NY. With no friends, family, little savings, and far more “little English” they only had their hopes and ambitions to get them by as they struggled in their early days. Veli’s wife worked at a local hospital as a nursing aide. Veli enrolled at a cosmetology school to become a licensed barber. Since then, he has been cutting hair every day. No day off, longer hours, and even braving snowstorms to work. I asked him why he has to work this hard when it’s just him and his wife. Veli replied that he loves his job, takes pride in what he does, and isn’t ashamed to cut hair. Besides, he gets to meet people and practice his English.

Later, he told me he is saving money to pay for an English entrance exam to Law school and pay for his one-year Law program as part of his requirement to take the New York Bar examination. Someday, Veli said, I will also be a New York lawyer like you, Marco. Veli is proud to tell me that he is a well-respected lawyer back in Albania. But he adds, he is a much prouder to proclaim he is a barber in New York.

Veli is an example of an immigrant chasing the American dream and isn’t ashamed of what he is doing as he is assured that more good and better things are yet to come. Meanwhile, he has to do his job better because he knows that being good in what he does now helps him propel to what he really wants to ultimately become. The most important thing we can learn from him is that we take pride, render dignity, and show respect in the labor that we do.


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