Off and on over the past eight years, like the progressive I generally am, I’ve threatened to move to Canada if things in this country didn’t improve for all of us average citizens. My idle threat became more than that after Bush’s win in the ’04 election against Sen. John Kerry (D-Massachusetts), a win that shouldn’t have been, given Kerry’s credentials. After that, I actively pursued jobs in Canada, mostly academic positions at the University of Toronto or the University of British Columbia. But even with a doctorate, or maybe because I have one, it’s not as if there’s tons of unfilled jobs in Canada where they’re in need of someone with a Ph.D. in History whose worked in academia and in the nonprofit world on education reform and social justice issues. It’s not like there aren’t experienced Canadians who could fill those jobs. So I swallowed hard and hoped that the ’08 would bring change to a better president and better times.
We do have a better president, one whose entire campaign exemplified change. “Change you can believe in,” as a matter of fact. Now that we have President Obama, his emerging policies and his administration’s heavy level of activity on all front, we at least have half of my equation fulfilled. We don’t have better times, though. In fact, things are as bad for average Americans now as they were a quarter-century ago, when welfare became my mother’s last option to keep us off the streets of Mount Vernon, New York. Despite our economic struggles, our family is no where near that frightening scenario. But it’s also obvious that we may be in for a longer ride of financial stress than we could’ve anticipated a year or two ago. My question is, should we think about moving to Canada or somewhere else now?
Conventional wisdom — which isn’t wisdom, by the way, it’s acting on what other “smart” folks say — would say no, since this recession is a global one. Meaning that there’s a scarcity of quality jobs all over the world, not just in the US. That’s only part of the truth. The ability to obtain a job is a function of the combination of “whats” and “whos.” As in “what you know,” “what you bring to the table in terms of education and/or experience,” and as in “who you know.” What I know in general is enough to qualify me for many mid-level jobs, even ones outside of the nonprofit sector and the university world. What I bring to the table educationally and experientially is enough to qualify me for fairly senior jobs — or at least low-level senior management positions — at small colleges, some universities, and in the nonprofit world in general. Who I know, however, has always been a concern, even when the people I have come to know have written letters and served as references on my behalf. And that’s in the US. Would they be helpful in me finding a job in Toronto, Ottawa, Vancouver, or even say, London or Paris.
That’s the rub, I suppose. If I were to look for work overseas, I would be in a truly global competition, one that someone whose talent is as overpriced (in this country, at least) as mine might have trouble winning. Combined with my lack of social networks outside of the US, there wouldn’t be anyone on the receiving end of my c.v. and cover letter who would feel compelled to do anything other than to file my packet with the rubbish. Or even worse, lose it in a pile that would serve as the annual winter festival bonfire at the end of the year.
Still, given the state of the American economy, our politics, our civility, our education, it’s still something to think about, check out, mull over, and actually do as things get worse before or until they get better. Vancouver’s weather is typical of the Pacific Northwest, and only a couple of hours from Seattle. On the other hand, I’d be 2,500 miles from relatives on the East Coast. Toronto’s a happening multicultural metropolis, with one in six Canadians living in its metropolitan area. But like much of Canada, it’s cold for long stretches of the year, and really is a truly warm city from May through September. London and Paris, New Zealand and other places have distances, language, climate, cultural and other barriers for this well-traveled-within-the-states individual to overcome. Much less my wife and son.
I’m not afraid of the possibility, though, and will keep my eyes open for an opportunity, if there is one to be had. One of the greatest myths that American perpetuate is that we are the greatest country — not only on Earth, but in the history of human existence. With the recent steep recession, the media types keep saying, “This is a land of opportunity. Everyone wants to come here.” At face value, the statement isn’t exactly incorrect. There’s a reason why 300 million people live in this country today, including about 200 million Whites. Let’s not get carried away, however. Even during the height of European immigration to the US, this time about 100 years ago, as a matter of fact, one in six immigrants left. It might have been a land of opportunity, but those immigrants who left obviously didn’t see it that way. Out of 33 million European immigrants who came to the US between 1870 and 1920, it meant that about six million flew the coop, so to speak. Roughly half of them went to other countries, including Mexico, Canada, Argentina, Brazil, and Peru.
We were even less hospitable for Asian immigration. Between the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 and other quotas on Japanese immigration, many Chinese and Japanese went to other parts of Asia (including Singapore and Indonesia) and to Mexico, Peru, Venezuela, and Argentina at the same time. Freed Blacks in the nineteenth century — not to mention escaping African slaves –and Black intellectuals in the twentieth left the US for enclaves in Toronto, London, Paris, Amsterdam, even Berlin. All of these groups, however small, saw the US as less a place where hard work and opportunity meant a successful life and more a place where they were being held back from achieving their dreams.
So not everyone’s coming here to work and stay, even when one accounts for undocumented (mostly Latino and especially Mexican) workers. Certainly those who are coming here to do more than wash and fold hotel linens, slaughter and render cows and pigs, and pick strawberries and plant pine trees aren’t staying for the long haul. The brain drain that drew Indian, Chinese, and African immigrants to the US after ’65 has slowed in many cases over the past two decades, especially in the first two cases. So much for the idea that everyone who comes to the US is welcome and that they too can enjoy the American Dream if they do come.
I’m not sure I want the American Dream as it stands today. I don’t want a huge house or a gas-guzzling SUV. I want a modest home with a hydrogen full cell powered automobile. I don’t want to have to work upwards of 100 hours a week to generate enough income to pay for my son to go to Harvard. I’d prefer working 35 or 40 hours a week, with state-sponsored health care and vacations, and my son to go to college for free. And I’m willing to pay 60 percent of my income in taxes to have that peace of mind. I want meaningful work that enables me to grow as a person even when I’m in my sixties. I don’t want to move from one dead-end job to another in pursuit of something that only existed for the majority of Americans between the end of World War II and the beginning of the OPEC crisis in ’73.
Wow, I guess I’m a socialist now. Last I checked, though, the US Constitution is a living document, and the Founding Fathers never intimated that it was a document for greedy capitalists or power-hungry communists or evangelizing Christians. It was meant to be flexible, not rigid. If those in power keep us from having that flexibility in our lives here in America, maybe I should really come up with a long-term strategy for living in a place that does provide that flexibility for its citizens and visitors.