If Thoreau was right and the mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation, it is the “quiet” part I find objectionable. Quiet desperation accepts its lot; noisy desperation wants something else. Quite desperation worries that things will get still worse; noisy desperation worries things won’t improve. Immigrants by temperament are of the noisy desperation variety–unable or unwilling to sit still while economies, governments and cultures sort themselves out. They are risk takers, people willing to bet they can do something to improve their situation, even when the risks are great. They do so not because they are desperate–many people are desperate and do nothing–but because they are courageous.
My favorite instance of historical immigrant courage is that exhibited by the early saints as they were driven from place to place. It gives me pleasure to think of my ancestors, still proximate in time, braving privation in search of their promised land. Occasionally when thinking of people trudging through the wilderness, I picture in my mind’s eye darker complected saints making their own journey through the desert. Each Sunday I worship with people who know something of what it means to gather their meager possessions and move to an unknown, potentially hostile environment and begin the difficult process of hewing a place for their families. Hearing about their experiences gives me a deeper appreciation for the sacrifices of my forbearers. In their quiet determination to do well I see echoes of saints from another time. In testimony meeting I learn that, just as the saints believed divine providence led them to Utah, many believe God brought them to the U.S.–their immigration narratives of forsaking family and friends paralleling conversion narratives delivered alongside them.
My obvious sympathy for immigrants is partially self-interested. I married an immigrant. So did two of my siblings. But for immigration my daughter wouldn’t exist. Neither would four of my nieces and nephews. But the bulk of my sympathy is due to the fact that I see in the act of immigration an affirmation of hope in the face of difficulty. An immigrant seeks to improve his or her lot in life and is willing to exchange the familiar for the foreign just for the chance to do so.
A few days ago my friend told me she prays every night that the immigration bill before Congress passes and is signed into law. We discussed some of the bills problems and what the bill would require of her before she could obtain citizenship. None of the obstacles seemed to bother her; she was interested only that she would have a chance. That seems a very immigrant way of thinking.