My editorial last month, “Installation and Immigration: How to Deal with Increased Competition” is without a doubt the most controversial article I’ve penned for this magazine. Unfortunately, it was controversial in the wrong ways.
Some contractors and installers wrote in to share their frustration of being undercut at every turn. One said it is impossible to stay competitive when undocumented immigrant crews are busting out several jobs a day for barely any pocket change. Another openly wondered if it was worth staying in the installation industry when so many potential customers and clients put their priorities on doing things as cheaply, not as expertly, as possible.
Those were the kinds of comments and discussion I was hoping to receive. These editorials are designed to serve as the opening of a dialog, not the be-all-end-all, here-is-my-point-no-other-perspective-is-allowed final say. I love interacting with you guys and hearing your viewpoints on the business. It’s how we all learn.
That said, I also received comments from people who thought my editorial was aiming to disparage the hard-working immigrants who live and work in the United States, and add to our cultural melting pot and shared American heritage. This, quite frankly, blindsided me.
I think I see where the confusion lies. When I wrote last month’s article, I was aware that immigrant advocacy groups hate the term “illegal immigrant.” Their reasoning is, it makes it seem as if the personis illegal, rather than the actionof living in the United States without documentation. The Associated Press, which publishes the stylebook that most journalists use as a guide for standardized grammar and context, dropped the phrase “illegal immigrant” themselves. So I decided to remove the word “illegal” from the conversation entirely.
Unfortunately, I didn’t think about adding the word “undocumented,” a much preferred term by the AP and advocacy groups. The result is, without that qualifier, the original article ends up taking on an insidious new meaning, painting all immigrants with the same brush. Please understand I did not mean the original editorial in that way. I solely meant undocumented immigrants and the exploitation of that labor force.
It was very moving to see people respond with links to stories about immigrant culture and the ways in which immigrants have added to American life. I couldn’t agree more. To most people, my last name is a clumsy obstacle to pronounce. But for me, it calls up boyhood weekends with my babcia and dziadziu (grandmother and grandfather), eating homemade galubki (cabbage rolls) and listening to their fast-moving conversations peppered with Polish.
I guess what I’m trying to say is: Never forget where you came from.