I had an extremely interesting conversation with a gentleman recently. It intrigued me on two levels: First, he spoke good English, but still with a Croatian accent, and second, he was an extremely successful businessman. For this article, we will call him Jacob.
Here is a portion of what Jacob said in our talk: “In 1979 we had our second child and I started to really think about my family’s future and the lifestyle I wanted to build for them. I didn’t want to be forced to live in a communist country and I wanted greater opportunity for my family. So in 1980 I decided to pursue my dreams and move my family to the United States, which was viewed as the land of opportunity.”
When Jacob arrived in the land of the free and home of the brave at the age of 26, “I had two children, two suitcases and $40 in my pocket.”
For years I have preached that many Americans do not appreciate the privilege of living in America. In fact, I have even posited a potential solution that I feel would have a dramatic impact on how future American born citizens would view the privilege of living in the USA. Instead of graduation occurring at grade 12, an additional year would be added and the senior classmen sent overseas to live. Once there, they would be required to live at the income level generated by their father’s or mother’s job in the particular country of residence. For example, if your parent was a farmhand, plumber, office worker in the USA, you would live at the income level paid for that job in that country. Whatever the pay is for a secretary, cook, dishwasher or yard maintenance person in that country, that would be the level at which you lived and worked. How bad could that be?
You wonder why our borders are flooded with illegals? Here is a hint: How many Americans do you think you could get to work for $1,550? Oh, did I forget to mention that is the mean average income per year in Mexico, where the minimum wage is $0.66 per hour? However, compared to some, Mexicans live high on the hog; the minimum wage in Sierra Leone, Africa, is $0.03. And just in case you were wondering why China can sell stuff so much cheaper than made-in-the-USA stuff, how about a minimum wage of a whopping $0.80 per hour?
Well, what about “poverty-stricken Americans”? A single person in the good ol’ USA is considered poverty stricken if his or her income is only $11,670 per annum; and while you are at it, compare that $1,550 per year (or less) in Mexico to the U.S. standard of $23,850 for a family of four (add $4,060 for each additional person, or subtract that amount for smaller families). And oh, by the way, just FYI, the federal poverty level is updated every year to keep up with price increases in the previous year.
So, Jacob brought his family, his two suitcases and his $40 to the U.S. By the way, when he arrived, Jacob “no speakee the English.”
“Man,” I asked with my mouth hanging open, “how did you live?”‘
“I was fortunate enough to find a full-time maintenance job working in a filtration company. I had a part-time job as a dishwasher and was also a part-time busboy. My wife worked two jobs to help support the family. Then in 1981, only one year living in the United States, I broke my back and was bedridden for several months. My wife had to pick up a third job, and we were really struggling to make ends meet. I thought that I hit rock bottom and couldn’t dig myself out of this hole. By God’s holy grace, when I was finally able to walk again, my previous employer offered me a job again. I couldn’t work in maintenance anymore; however, due to my construction background, they knew I had some experience in drafting and creating blueprints, so they had me working in R&D in the filter department. That’s when, again, God displayed His massive blessings upon me and gave me the greatest opportunity I could ever imagine. Our company was working on this multimillion-dollar contract and all the artwork and blueprints were written in the European metric system, which was unfamiliar to everyone. I understood the metric system very well and therefore was a key contributor to the success of this major account. I soon got promoted to production manager, and by 1985 I was managing over 250 people, and still spoke very broken English.”
End of story? Nope, here is how he closed our conversation: “I started my own company and we’ve been very fortunate; I’ve expanded to three privately owned companies. To date, our companies have over 300 employees covering 25 different ethnicities, and three facilities totaling over 145,000 square feet. My two sons are actively running the businesses while I spend my winter months in Florida.”
Could it be that, like someone staring too long at the sun, we have become temporarily blinded to the privileges, challenges and opportunities available to those of us who are, like James Brown sings in Rocky IV, “Living in America”?
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