Sanford Ungar
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Fresh Blood:  The New American Immigrants
ISBN: 0684808609
Fresh Blood: The New American Immigrants
Sanford Ungar discussed his book, "Fresh Blood: The New American Immigrants," published by Simon and Schuster. It focuses on how waves of immigrants have renewed U.S. society over the centuries. He also talked about the current political debate over immigration and his journalistic and academic career.
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TRANSCRIPT
Fresh Blood: The New American Immigrants
Program Air Date: November 26, 1995

BRIAN LAMB, HOST: Sandy Ungar, where did you get the title "Fresh Blood"?
SANFORD UNGAR, AUTHOR, "FRESH BLOOD": Actually, my editor came up with the title because I had a much softer, squishy title on this book. I wanted to call it "We Call Ourselves Americans" or "I Call Myself an American." Well, "I Call Myself an American" sounded like me and that's not what I meant by it, and "We Call Ourselves Americans" is the name of one of my early chapters of the book. And they said, "No, you got to have a title that indicates the real idea of this book, the notion of America being refreshed with new blood and with new people arriving," and so I thought about it for a little while and caved in.
LAMB: You take a stand early ...
UNGAR: That's a good title. In the end, I think it's an excellent title.
LAMB: You take a stand early on immigration. Give us your strongest statement you can make about immigration.
UNGAR: Immigration continues to be one of the most valuable forces in this country. Immigrants give more than they take. They renew the country, its values. They are real entrepreneurs in many cases. They believe in what a lot of politicians in this country just say. They are, in a sense, the truest Americans, the newest Americans.
LAMB: Why'd you think there was a need for a book like this?
UNGAR: Well, I set out to write this book, Brian, in 1988 soon after I had found my father's birthplace in Czechoslovakia. I grew up in this small town in Pennsylvania, as I recount from the prologue of this book, and I didn't think of myself particularly as a member of an immigrant family, though both of my parents had been immigrants. But I was born later in their lives and I didn't feel anything like an immigrant at all. They were other people. And when I'd found my own immigrant roots and sort of confronted this fact that I was really not very distant from coming from this little village in Czechoslovakia -- now in Slovakia. That was what gave me the motivation to write the book. I wanted to find out what immigration was like today, what immigrants were like, what the immigrant experience was like. And when I first wrote the proposals, matter of fact, I said, "I want to talk about how the immigrant experience has change since World War II, how immigration has changed since World War II." What I found as I went along is that, sure, there are changes. There are changes of nationality and names and skin color and all that, but basically, immigration has not changed all that much. And its numbers fluctuate and all that, but immigration is still quite consistent with what it was before. So in that sense, that was a big surprise that emerged for me, in that, yes, some of these people were different in superficial terms, but the phenomenon was really the same.
LAMB: I don't know where I put the figure, but I found a figure that you've got in here that says that from 1820 to 1993 there have been 60 million immigrants to the United States.
UNGAR: Something like that. All that's officially recorded immigrants. It turns out when you start to look at it -- some of this I found out only since finishing the book -- in the early period of the 20th century, it turns out the only immigrants who were counted as immigrants were those who came in steerage on boats. They didn't count the people who came in higher classes of service on the boats and they didn't count the people who walked across the border. Now I find that a very interesting parallel to today, when you think about it, because we only get excited -- now it's the people walking across the border. They're the steerage of today. We don't get so worried about the people who come in the airplanes and the people who come in higher class of service, in effect. We don't focus on them as much as we do on the steerage -- steerage that comes across the border now. So I think probably that figure is as reliable as we're going to get, but it's probably low--considerably lower than the reality of the number of people who came.
LAMB: Our viewers will recognize you from being the host of a forum that we cover periodically. What else do you do? And what are those forums?
UNGAR: Well, I'm dean of the School of Communication at American University now here in Washington and have been for nine and a half years. Those forums are a series of programs, about four a semester now, that we put on in which we talk about controversial issues in journalism and other areas of communication. We try to have a very open dialogue, different sides, expose prominent journalists and policymakers, members of Congress, politicians to young students who ask them questions. First, we have a conversation among ourselves and then we open up the floor. Anyone who's seen an "American Forum" on C-SPAN knows that some of the questions are terrific, some are not terrific. But the one thing that's true of them is they're completely unedited and spontaneous, and whoever gets the microphone first gets the first chance to ask a question.
LAMB: When were you last host of "All Things Considered?"
UNGAR: 1982.
LAMB: How long did you do that?
UNGAR: I did it two and a half years, and I stayed at NPR for almost another year after that, starting another program -- a nightly half-hour on a single subject at the time.
LAMB: When was the last time you worked at The Washington Post?
UNGAR: I worked full time at The Washington Post from 1969 to 1973. I did some stringing for them for a year after that, but basically left in '73. Checkered career, did a lot of different things.
LAMB: You have a lot of people in the book and I just want to ask you about some of them. We'll go through a bunch of them and you can tell us ...
UNGAR: Can I cut you off for a second and just say that that's what I hope the contribution of the book is: to talk about the people, to talk about immigrants more than immigration; to talk about people rather than numbers, people rather than laws and regulations and rules and all that. I really felt, as I went along on the book, that there's too much focus on the numbers, and the people here in Washington sort of look out and say, you know, "We got to cut these numbers or change these numbers or shift these numbers." And they don't really talk to immigrants. They don't really think about immigrants when they do it. So that, yes, is what I really wanted to do.
LAMB: One that I remember -- and I'm not sure I'll pronounce it right -- it's the Hmong group. How did you pronunce ...
UNGAR: I pronounce it Mong. I'm not sure I'm exactly right either. It's H-M-O-N-G. The title of that chapter is "Manipulated by History." They are the people who fought the CIA secret war in Laos for many years -- the secret war that was not so secret. But they were on the American side and they are one group who felt they were owed something when the United States pulled out of Southeast Asia -- a fair assumption, I think -- and the United States pretty much agreed with that fact that they were owed something, took in a large number of Hmong refugees because their lives weren't worth much in Laos once it was taken over by a Communist government. They'd fought on the side of the CIA.
LAMB: How many of them are here in the United States?
UNGAR: Well, these numbers are a little difficult. I think the total now is about 65,000, 70,000, I believe. I dealt with the Hmong who were in Minneapolis and St. Paul, Minnesota, the Twin Cities, because there was a concentration of them there and I thought they were a particularly interesting group to look at. My 65,000, 70,000 may be low -- my estimate for the total number of Hmong.
LAMB: What did you find in St. Paul?
UNGAR: What I found in St. Paul and Minneapolis was that this was a case and in a way, it fits the worst sort of description of immigration by some of its opponents these days. There was a relatively high dependence on welfare by the Hmong. And one of the reasons that many Hmong had settled in Minneapolis and St. Paul, as well as California, by the way -- Fresno and other parts in California -- one of the reasons they'd settled there was that the welfare system was fairly generous in Minnesota and it was a place -- Minnesota and in California -- where they could get off to a start. I was very excited to read something the other day that said that even the Hmong, who are, in some ways, as I said, the worst case scenario -- even the Hmong were less and less dependent on welfare. Some places in Wisconsin where they also lived there was -- they were being weaned from welfare. The people I met didn't want to be on welfare. And I met some particularly interesting young Hmong who actually bragged to me about getting off welfare and supporting not just their own family, but their parents and their sisters and brothers, sending them to college. There's a young woman in that chapter called Peddy Yang who told me the absolutely horrifying story of walking out of her village, almost the entire village -- walking out of Laos to Thailand. "A column of people as far as the eye could see," she said, "walking out to escape, crossing the Mecong River." And they first settled in Providence, Rhode Island, and then went to Oshkosh, Wisconsin, and then eventually, she ended up in St. Paul and was working for something called the Hmong American Partnership, HAP -- very excited about how many of her siblings she had made it possible to go to college -- very pleased about her and her own husband's relative lack of dependence on the welfare system. I met the first Hmong American lawyer in St. Paul, Minnesota -- a fascinating man who had worked very hard. He worked as a janitor at a university in Pennsylvania for a while. He struggled to get his education, went to night law school in Minneapolis and St. Paul. And here he was in a law firm in St. Paul, and the great conflict in his life was how much public service did he have a duty to do for his own people? How many free cases did he need to take for his own people? And there was sort of pressure in his law firm. "Well, you know, come on, you've got to produce as a partner, as a lawyer, too." But he was spending a great deal of his time handling cases pro bono for immigrants.
LAMB: What do Hmong's look like? What's their skin color?
UNGAR: Dark skin. I think a lot of Americans would think they look like Cambodians or Vietnamese or Thai people. They originated in China and migrated, over the centuries, south. There are still many Hmong and Hmong-related people in China, I believe.
LAMB: Are they accepted in St. Paul?
UNGAR: Well, of course, St. Paul is a very tolerant place. It is a place where many different kinds of people are accepted, the Twin Cities. And so I would say relatively speaking, yes. They have a lot of their own organizations, live very much among themselves, to some extent, but, of course, so did the Italians when they first came to this country; so did the Irish, so did Russians, so did lots of other people. Big difference today, of course, the skin color. Will they be accepted because they're so much more identifiable? It's not so simple to look like just another American if you're Hmong. It might be simple to speak like one -- increasingly, children of the refugees. It might be possible to learn -- it is possible to learn just like any other American, to work like any other American. But they will carry skin color and names and traditions that will, to some extent, set them apart perhaps a little longer than some other people were.
LAMB: You have a chapter called "We Call Ourselves Americans."
UNGAR: Right.
LAMB: And you start off in Pensacola, Florida, with an Indian.
UNGAR: That's right, a man named Alan Patell. I wrote about him also the other day in USA Today. He is a hotel owner in the Florida panhandle. It's not where you expect to encounter people from the West Coast of India, from the Surat district of India. But he turns out to be quite typical. But he came to this country originally with his parents, went to San Francisco. His father decided he didn't like it there so much. He took the whole family back. That was 1984, I believe. And the next year, after he got married, he decided he was coming back to the United States. He liked it better than his father did. And he came back and ended up settling in the panhandle because he had a brother-in-law who was in business there -- very typical story. Immigrants come to where they have family or friends or will be accepted, have somebody who will take them in for a while. He first worked -- ran some stalls in a flea market. Then he managed some hotels in Tallahassee and Panama City, Florida. Then he started up a convenience store or bought a convenience store. That didn't go -- so he worked 16-hour days, but it didn't go so well. So he and his brother-in-law found a motel available in a foreclosure sale in Pensacola and they bought it and have made a great success of it. They have a booming banquet business. The Canadians who come to the Florida panhandle in the wintertime stay there in large numbers. By the way, when there's a cold snap, he takes the homeless in for free or for little or no money, whatever the people are willing to pay.
LAMB: He puts them in the hotel.
UNGAR: Puts them up in the hotel -- did so in Tallahassee, does it in Pensacola. He gives a lot back to the community. His little girl goes to a parochial school, is learning perfect -- they speak good Gujarati, their native language at home, like many other Americans. And his little girl's learning perfect English at school. By the way, I discovered it's an absolutely typical thing. The hotel and motel industry -- the lodging industry in this country is being revived by Indians who come and buy these properties, restore them, refurbish them, renovate them, make them a success. There's now an Asian American Hotel Operators Association that is booming, and they now own billions of dollars worth of hotels in this country. And they've revived the hotel industry. Remember the movie "Mississippi Masala" was about an Indian family in Mississippi. They've encountered a lot of discrimination in some places. There'll be signs outside of some small town saying--you know, in front of a motel saying, "American-Owned Motel," as if to say this is not an Indian-owned motel. But they've done a wonderful job.
LAMB: You have a statistic that there are 7,500 properties worth billions of dollars that are owned by Indians.
UNGAR: That's right, now owned by Indians and Pakistanis, by Asians around this country. Incidentally, many of those people, at least the Indians, come from the same district on the West Coast of India, the Surat district, and many have the same name, Patell. And so they say their business in America is -- "Hotels, Motels and Patells" is their sort of slogan. One of them decided to change his name because there were so many Patells. And so he called himself Rama instead. And people said, "Well, where'd you get the name Rama?" And it comes from the Ramada Inn that he had bought, and it was a great success. And people said, "Oh, it must be an old Indian name." No, it's Rama from his Ramada Inn.
LAMB: Rittman, Ohio -- and do you pronounce it Meelay or Meel ...
UNGAR: Miley Bartrum. That's how she said her name. It was probably an Americanized way of saying it. A Vietnamese woman who had met an American serviceman in Vietnam, an all-American serviceman, Roger Bartrum, from a small town in Ohio.
LAMB: When he was real young.
UNGAR: When he was quite young -- as I remember 19 or 20 years old, fell in love. She came back to Ohio with him after the war. She lived in this little town -- little rural town in Ohio -- Rittman, Ohio, not too far from Akron and Cleveland. Very, very interesting woman -- felt very lonely for a long time. A pretty little house on top of a hill in this rural town. She had three children. And as they began to get older, she began to feel a little lonely so she started to venture out of the house and got a driver's license and a car, went to work as a receptionist, hostess in a restaurant. When I met her a few years ago, she was the hostess in an Italian restaurant in another small town -- again, not what you expect. This is all very American, though. And she had an extraordinary experience. She heard about an Amerasian teenager --Amerasians were the children left behind by American servicemen who married, or didn't marry, Vietnamese women, but fathered children. And after the war, the United States didn't bring them back and they were outcasts in Vietnam because they were a reminder of the Americans. And this boy was having a very hard time. He seemed to be retarded to some extent. And she took him into her home. She tried to help him find work, find counseling, find an education. I think she saved his life probably. He was being buffeted around the system. He had been used as a ticket by a Vietnamese family to get to the United States. He was their foster child in Vietnam and they --when we began to take in Amerasian children, they came along in the deal, not entirely scrupulously. And then they abandoned him once they got to this country. And I think she probably saved his life. And she did a lot of good things for many other people. Again, a human being, an immigrant, who's contributing a great deal and not being recognized, gets buried in all those numbers of immigrants.
LAMB: Did you go and visit her in her home?
UNGAR: I went to her home. I visited her in her home.
LAMB: How'd you find her?
UNGAR: Actually some friends of mine who owned the newspaper in Wooster, Ohio, told me about her. There had been a story in the newspaper. Carolyn and Victor Dix, who owned the newspaper in Wooster, Ohio, found her for me. And that's how I found a lot of the people in my book. Friends sent me clippings or had me in mind, called me up and said, "I just heard an interesting story about somebody in the next town," and so when I went to give a talk in Wooster, Ohio, I went traveling around some of these little towns in Ohio and found some of these people.
LAMB: Well, how would you characterize the way she feels about being in America today?
UNGAR: Well, actually, she's a particularly interesting case, because she came to have mixed feelings and especially as Vietnam began to open up a little more and relations began to improve with Vietnam. I haven't checked in with her lately. I assume she's still there in Rittman, Ohio, but I don't really know.
LAMB: When did you see her last?
UNGAR: I last saw her about four or three years ago. And I think it's a possibility that -- I know she had gone back to Vietnam. She had gone back to visit her family, had made the trip back. And that was still while things were quite controlled. But I think she began to think that in this country there's so many pressures against caring about your family, keeping your family together, and that back in Vietnam she felt that family still mattered. By the way, Brian, I think that immigrants are really the guardians of family values in this country. It's immigrants who want to bring their family over. It's immigrants who want to get together with their family routinely, who want to live near their family. I think immigrants have something to teach us about family values -- the family values, the slogan that the politicians use.
LAMB: What did you find with the Cambodians in Revere, Massachusetts?
UNGAR: Well, I have a whole chapter about an incident in Revere, Massachusetts, that I found particularly telling. Revere was a great immigrant town, and it's a town where for a long, long time -- for most of the 20th century -- various immigrant groups lived together fairly successfully. The Irish ran the police and the fire department; the Italians were in charge politically; the Jewish families ran the local businesses. And everyone sort of co-existed. But then people began to move away.
LAMB: This is, by the way, named after Paul Revere.
UNGAR: That's right, named for Paul Revere, right. Although it's a little hard to figure out why. He didn't come from there, particularly, but he was a hero in Massachusetts. It's fair enough. Broke off from another town -- named itself for Paul Revere around the turn of the century. Well, a lot of people started moving away. And so there was a lot of empty housing, and housing that had large units, large apartments. So when the Cambodians began to come, after the Southeast Asian War, the Refugee Resettlement Administration -- the federal government was looking around for places to send people and Revere popped out as a city that had a lot of housing available, a place that people could come to. So these Cambodians are plopped down in Revere, Massachusetts, and they could not have been more of a surprise. And the mayor -- the former mayor whom I've talked to, George Colala -- wonderful, great old politician whose father had been an immigrant and felt very lucky to get a job in the fire department when he came. He found out one morning that a whole bunch of Cambodians were coming -- no time to prepare. And he had this big meeting and he walked in to welcome them in this church. And the people of Revere, Massachusetts, though they live near Boston -- that's a very sophisticated city in many respects -- didn't really know what to expect of Cambodians. So it was a big adjustment. And there was a lot of hostility by some people. Revere, by the way, had been the first sort of resort town outside of Boston up along the north shore. And they'd had a disaster and all the sort of midway along the beach had sort of fallen apart and had been torn down. And Revere was kind of a depressed area. Ed Markey, their congressman, has done a lot to try and get federal funds to restore it and so on. In a way, the Cambodians helped revive Revere, but not without a lot of trouble. So there was a lot of resentment and there was a fire in one of the neighborhoods where the Cambodians lived and it was determined that it was arson, that it was set by some kids, some teenagers from Revere who were kind of trying to make mischief for the Cambodians. Up to this day, as far as I know, the case has never been tried. Some people were indicted but there was something shaky, I guess, about some of the evidence from one of the witnesses. Then later on, more trouble between -- especially some of the Italian-Americans and some Italian immigrants -- recent Italian immigrants there and the Cambodians. And one night there was a big fight in a bar near the beach in Revere, and some Cambodians were beaten up pretty badly. So the next week some Cambodians came back and they killed an Italian immigrant in Revere. And again, that case has never been solved.
LAMB: How do you know they were Cambodians?
UNGAR: Well, there was witnesses that it was Cambodians. There were a lot of people who said they saw Cambodians do it. No one knew quite where the Cambodians were from. The betting was that they were not actually from Revere. They might have come from Lowell, Mass, or from someplace else and that they disappeared into maybe a Cambodian immigrant community in California. And the case has never been solved. Relations are better now. Some wonderful people -- again, people, Americans who care about this, who appreciated the immigrant experience themselves -- tried to bridge some of the gaps in some of the schools in Revere. They had a brand-new public school that made it a little bit easier to do some of these things. But they had a hard time. And I went to Revere -- now the reason I went to Revere to do this is I read a little peace in the newspaper one day about a lockdown in Revere, that the Massachusetts State Police and the local police and the Immigration and Naturalization Service and all these people had actually gone into Cambodian neighborhood in Revere and had an old-fashioned lockdown. They'd gone -- and and no one could leave, and they were searching all the homes. They were looking for the killers of this Italian immigrant. And I just thought that was a very interesting case. So I went to Revere and I went and I talked to the police department and I talked to the Cambodian community leaders and to the mayor and the public school people and to a minister of a congregational church, himself a Greek-American, who had been responsible originally for bringing Vietnamese into the community nearby. And for me, it was this sort of all-American story of dealing with immigration, immigrants coming and the Cambodians, like many other people -- and we've only talked about Asians so far -- but the Cambodians were very resourceful and adapting, and again, as I said, have made big contributions, gone to work in service industries around Boston, tried to make their way. And Revere is one of these places that sort of shouldered the burden on behalf of a lot of other people and had trouble.
LAMB: Of the 262 million or so people in the United States, how many of those are foreign-born?
UNGAR: Well, the percentage is up. And the percentage I'm remembering right now is about 8 percent overall. It's much higher in California, New York, a couple of other states than it is nationally, of course. The national average includes those. The foreign-born population has always been a significant number of people in this country, or at least for most of our history, because there was nobody here, and various waves of immigrants came. Immigrants did us a big favor around the turn of the century coming to late 19th century -- the Industrial Revolution in this country. In the early 20th century, there were great numbers of immigrants who came because there was a labor shortage. I mean, there were people -- I don't know if you've seen in Ellis Island, there are these posters that were used by -- and American shipping companies often did it; it was good business for them. There were posters in various European countries advertising for labor to come here, advertising for people to immigrate to the United States. And, of course, it dovetailed very well with difficult economic and other circumstances in many of these countries. In Sweden, for example, the reason there are a lot of Swedes in the upper Midwest in the United States is there was a virtual famine in Sweden. Parts of Sweden, people were going to die if they didn't leave. There wasn't enough food.
LAMB: What year?
UNGAR: In the middle of the 19th century, basically. Similarly in Ireland, there were famines, there were periods of time when this was the escape. Well, it served the needs of those countries to export people who were poor, and it served the needs of this country to import labor. And the people who came here, the people who've always come here -- it's a cliche, but you know it's true -- came because they were courageous. They were willing to take the risks. They're willing to leave everything behind. And they were hearty, they were strong. They were strong of body or strong of mind or spirit. And they came to this country and they took a big chance. And then, typically, they sent for other members of their family who also came and made contributions to this country. And, Brian, that's exactly what's happening today. People who've come here, who want to work, who are strong, who are willing to take risks, who then want to send for members of their family who also come -- their parents, their children, their brothers and sisters who also come and invariably make a contribution, help continue helping to build this country -- in different ways today, perhaps, than before.
LAMB: What year did you write your book on Africa?
UNGAR: My book on Africa was published in 1985 originally. There were two later editions published in '86 and '89.
LAMB: You have an interesting discussion about Ethiopians and Eritreans, but also before you talk about any individual in that, you suggest that you found American blacks who do not like black Africans who are here.
UNGAR: In many cases, that's the case.
LAMB: They don't get along.
UNGAR: Well, sometimes that's true. I don't want to overgeneralize, but I spoke with a woman in Houston, Valerie Michaud. I like to remember some of the names of these people who were so helpful and opened themselves to talking to me. She was married to a Haitian -- she's an African-American married to a Haitian immigrant, and she was talking about the fact that she found that in many cases American blacks who were living in depressed circumstances or difficult economic circumstances were resentful of immigrants who came and were so aggressive and seemed to do so well -- resentful of Nigerians, for example, Ethiopians -- in some cases, Haitians-- who came here and worked so hard. Now they didn't have some of the experiences of black Americans -- maybe some of the cynicism that black Americans might have felt about what reward they might get for their work. And these people were succeeding on American terms, including Valerie Michaud's husband in this particular case. And I think that's what you're referring to. That's where it came up. The chapter about Ethiopians and Eritreans is located in Washington here.
LAMB: In that chapter that you referred to, you say that those of you who have been around Washington might have seen this particular man who drives a cab who at some point was an important member of the Ethiopian society?
UNGAR: Well, what happened is that there was a man who became involved in the Ethiopian opposition here. It was called the Coalition of Ethiopian Democratic Forces, which was in Washington -- had an office in Washington, was also active, obviously, in Ethiopia. And he had left during the Marxist regime of Mengistu in Ethiopia and eventually ended up in this country. And when the people came to power who are now in power in Ethiopia, he, after defeating Mengistu and various civil wars in Ethiopia -- he was part of a movement here that wanted them to open things up more broadly and admit more people -- make it truly democratic in Ethiopia. And he went back to Addis Ababa with some other people to hold a conference of this coalition of Ethiopian democratic forces and got a visa and everything and was arrested -- was one of the many people arrested. Now the Ethiopian government claims that this man -- Amaniaub is his name -- was responsible for many deaths under Mengistu, before he left, and that he committed crimes and they wanted to try him. And he became a great cause celeb. While he was living in this country after he left Ethiopia, though he was a significant political figure for Ethiopians, he was a cab driver in Washington. Again, a very common syndrome among exiles ...
LAMB: Have you met him?
UNGAR: I had met him as a cab driver. And when I saw his photograph in the newspaper and in his wife's home -- when I met his wife and talked to her here in Washington, he was already in prison in Ethiopia. And I saw his picture and I said, "I know him." And she said, "Yes, you were probably in his cab," which I think was the case. He's still in prison, as far as I know, in Ethiopia and has not been tried, per se, but is still being held. And they claim they have a good case against him. But he is a great cause celeb in the Ethiopian community here -- at least in part of the Ethiopian community here.
LAMB: What about -- again, going back to the the immigrants who live here now -- break it down in numbers. I mean, what's the biggest population today...
UNGAR: Of immigrants today or the newcomers today?
LAMB: Well, I don't know.
UNGAR: Mexicans, of course, have the largest numbers coming in this country, both legally and illegally now, then, I think, Chinese. I don't have the chart in front of me, but Chinese certainly represent a large number. Still Vietnamese, people from the former Soviet Union, the Dominican Republic. Most people don't realize that the largest number of immigrants to New York at the moment are from the Dominican Republic.
LAMB: You say that there are half a million Koreans in Southern California.
UNGAR: Koreans were coming in large numbers. Koreans are not coming in such large numbers now, but did over a period of time. And I have a chapter about the Koreans in Los Angeles, one of my favorite chapters because I think the Koreans in this country represent a lot of the conflicts and the tensions and the strife that some immigrants have to deal with. There's still a fair number of people coming from the United Kingdom to immigrate to this country.
LAMB: How about Ireland?
UNGAR: Well, I was going to say that many of those people from the United Kingdom are actually from Northern Ireland where there's been such partisan and sectarian strife for a period of time. Most of the people who are officially recorded as coming from the United Kingdom are coming from Northern Ireland. And there are quite a lot of Irish immigrants coming, too. By the way, most Americans, when they think of illegal immigrants today, I think it's safe to say, think of Mexicans or people from Central America. There are many other so-called illegal immigrants, undocumented aliens, in the United States at any given time. According to the Irish consulate general in Boston, when I talked to them, there are about 40,000 undocumented Irish aliens in this country at any moment. They work hard just like any other immigrants to this country. They run businesses, which they have to keep underground. They don't pay taxes, because they're afraid of getting caught. They're wrong. They probably wouldn't get caught because the IRS and the INS don't have their data bases so well interfacing. Many of them benefited from these visa lotteries that were pushed through. The Irish had a special quota in the visa lotteries over the last few years.
LAMB: Those are the Morrison lotteries and Morrison visas.
UNGAR: Morrison lotteries. There was the Donahue lottery before ...
LAMB: Are those over?
UNGAR: Those are pretty much over now, yes. There was a diversity lottery that followed the Morrison visas. Morrison was Bruce Morrison, a congressman from Connecticut who pushed though the legislation but ...
LAMB: And how did it work? I remember you saying that there were something like nine million applications the first time around.
UNGAR: There were huge numbers of applications. They had to arrive at a certain time. I tell the story of the Irish and their participation in one of these lotteries. I talk about the luck of the Irish in the visa lottery because they were guaranteed 40 percent of the visas for a while in one of these lotteries through a clause that Teddy Kennedy and others had managed to get approved in Congress. The way the lotteries worked is the people had to send applications -- the first time they could send any number of applications, there were people who sent thousands of applications. And one of my favorite stories is a woman named Elena Devy who was running the Irish Immigration Center in Boston, which was basically intended to help immigrants legalize their status here. And not just Irish immigrants, but primarily Irish immigrants. It was called the Irish Immigrant Center. And around the time of one of these lotteries, she went back to Ireland for a funeral, and she discovered there was a postal strike going on, and that because of this postal strike, a lot of people who wanted to win visas in this lottery wouldn't get their applications here in time. So she went and talked to the labor union leaders in Ireland and she got them to cancel the strike for a day -- to suspend the strike for a day so that the applications for the visa lottery to the United States could get through, which I think is just a wonderful example of the industriousness of immigrants and they were doing something quite legal in doing this. And so they were able to get the applications in. In fact, many of the applications --most of the applications in the visa lottery came from people who were already here illegally. And they could mail in their applications, and it was a chance to get legalized. They had to produce evidence of having a job here and so on. And in the end, not all the people who won spots in the visa lottery actually accepted their visas, but it was one other way to get legalized. Some people would say it was a drop in the bucket, but it was a way to do it. But the interesting thing to me about the Irish immigrants in Boston -- and I had a very interesting time talking to them, was that they did have an easier time than a lot of other illegal immigrants in this country, because when we think illegal immigrants, we don't think Irish, we don't think white, we don't think English-speaking. And there's a great story in there from this one guy, David Mooney, who worked with Elena Devy at the Irish Immigration Center at that time. And he talked about when he first came here how easy it was for him and a friend to get jobs. They made up Social Security numbers. They were driving through Texas one time. They were stopped. They go, "Oh-oh, here it goes. You know, we're going to get deported." No, people were just checking for insects, to see if they were carrying any fruit in the car or something. He said it was very easy to fake an American accent. He said, "We had our tans. We looked like Americans. It was easy to get by" It's a lot harder for other people. And when we get excited about cracking down, there's not such a crackdown on the illegal Irish immigrants. There's much more of a crackdown in Los Angeles on illegal Mexican or Central American immigrants. And it's because the Irish immigrants, even if they're illegal, don't bother us as much. We don't notice them as much.
LAMB: How many illegals are there in the country if that's the word?
UNGAR: Well, I've seen the figure 2.6 million. I'm not sure anybody knows exactly. An interesting fact, however, according to the Immigration and Naturalization Service themselves, more than 50 percent of the people who are in this country illegally at any given time did not walk across the border, but came in on airplanes -- student visas, tourist visas, whatever -- came in legally on visas and overstayed. So, again, we focus on this flood, this wave of people coming across the Mexican border. Well, more than half the illegals here at any given time came in on airplanes and did not cross the Mexican border on foot. And, again, it's harder to try to look for them. We don't have an enforcement system that picks those people up. Sure, there's some surveillance at airports and there's some checking about whether people have I-9 forms, if they're working, and I-20 forms, if they're students and all that. But basically, relatively speaking, if you don't call attention to yourself with the INS, it is relatively easy to overstay your visa.
LAMB: How many have green cards? How many people live in this country legally, but are really still citizens of other countries?
UNGAR: Oh, boy. I don't know that number, Brian. I think it's probably up around four million or five million, I believe.
LAMB: Do we count them, by the way, in the 262 million?
UNGAR: Oh, I think we count them as residents of this country.
LAMB: As population?
UNGAR: Sure, as part of the population.
LAMB: Census?
UNGAR: But there are a certain number of people who have traditionally resisted becoming citizens because they think -- well, Cubans, for example, in Miami -- they came, they thought, "Just going to stay for a year or two," and then when they get rid of Castro, they'll go back. Well, a lot of other people have always lived with this dream that they'd be able to go back when things got better at home, whether it was--meant better economically or politically or in some other way. I talked to one Ethiopian immigrant who said he'd been carrying around his -- he was a formable legal resident. He had a green card. He'd been carrying around his citizenship application in his briefcase for five years and hadn't managed to find time to fill it out because he had this dream of going back to Ethiopia. He wanted to go back and live there, though he probably wouldn't anymore. Well, now there's a great rush to become citizens, because people are worried about legislation pending in Congress. They're worried about the fact that even naturalized Americans who become citizens may be treated as second-class citizens when this legislation passes, so now they think they'd better become American citizens. And many more are naturalizing themselves. In fact, the INS has had to add on a lot more counselors and people to process applications for citizenship. That's probably a good thing. I mean, I think if people are going to stay, it probably is a good thing that they throw in their vote and participate in the system.
LAMB: You dedicate your book to Beth.
UNGAR: Yes, that's my wife.
LAMB: Why did you dedicate it to her?
UNGAR: Well, because ...
LAMB: Had you done it before?
UNGAR: I dedicated an earlier book to her, a book I wrote about the Pentagon Papers case. Well, because my family has put up with this book -- my wife and my two children, Leda and Philip -- have put up with this book for a long time. Everywhere we go, anything I did in the last five years, there was always an immigrant angle for me. On any vacation, I would peel off and find some immigrants. My son -- at one point, after dinner, I was going down to my study to work on my book one night, and this was probably two years ago, and he said, "What book is that, Dad?" And I said, "Well, you know it's my book about immigration." He said, "Oh, I thought you finished that one years ago." To him it seemed like most of his life I'd been working on this book. My family's very much part of this. I counted on various people. My father-in-law would send me clippings from all over the place and tell me about immigrant stories he'd heard or places I could go. My uncle in California who died while I was working on this book at the age of 91 was a very key figure in my writing this book, because it was he who told me how to find my father's birthplace, as I mentioned before, in Czechoslovakia. He hadn't been there -- let's see, he'd been there in 1929, and I was going in 1988. So he hadn't been there in 59 years, but he told me how to find the village. He told me, "You know, turn left here, turn right there. Look for these trees. Look for the" -- it was amazing. And it was still -- it was dead accurate. I mean, I didn't even need a map. I found a map. But I didn't even need a map to get there. His directions 59 years later were perfect.
LAMB: And, by the way, I was looking at the -- don't give it away yet -- but I was looking at the name of the city, T-U-S-I-C-E, knowing good and well it's not Tusice.
UNGAR: No.
LAMB: No, it's like Tuseecha or something .... I wanted to ask you about going back to that village where your father was from.
UNGAR: That's right. My father was born there -- a hundred years ago he was born there.
LAMB: How long has your father been dead?
UNGAR: Thirty-nine years.
LAMB: Well, when you got to that village, what was it like and at what point did you -- were you there when somebody says, "That's the place where your father was born"?
UNGAR: Well, I was working at the time on a documentary film about Czechoslovakia, which you know about from other things we've talked about over the years. And we were at steel mill in a place called Cocheka, an old Hungarian market town that was then part of Czechoslovakia, now in eastern Slovakia. And I was there with my producer and they were talking about coming back and filming. This was a sort of a research trip and talking about camera angles and the blast furnaces and production quotas and that stuff. And it was important, but I knew that I was close to where my father had come from because I had talked to my uncle about this. And I'd found a map of Slovakia, and it was actually there -- this village was there. So I asked the producer if I could borrow the car, the driver and the interpreter and go look for the village. And he said, "Sure, go ahead." And it was a gloomy afternoon. So we went off down the road -- and again, I had my notes from talking to my uncle on the phone. And we pulled in this town. First of all, I was surprised by how agricultural it was and how -- I thought of these East European villages as dreary places. This was not a dreary place. Now this was a little different. It was in sort of a agricultural region. It was not industrialized even by the Communists when they industrialized all of the villages and small towns in Czechoslovakia or in Slovakia anyway. And we were pulling into town, and there was a house, and there was a woman who looked like she was very old. I mean, she was all dressed in black and kind of what you'd expect a sort of peasant, you know, East European -- Central European person to look like. And so the young woman who was the interpreter got out and she said, "I'll ask that person because she might know." She said, "Did you ever hear of a family called Ungar that might have lived in this town?" She said, "Oh, yes, I didn't know them personally but you go, you know, down there and then turn right and turn left and it's --I'm not sure if it's number 38 or number 40, but it's on that street where they used to live." Now this was remarkable, because my grandparents perished in the Holocaust. There has been nobody -- well, there's a little kicker to the story. There is a cousin of mine who came back after the war for a short time. So we drove on -- and by the way, the woman turned out to be 50 years old, not so old, but she was weathered and had lived outside, looked very old. And we found the street and found these two houses -- went to the wrong one at first, went next door. And she said, "No, no. Try next door, that was where the Ungars lived," and I met a man who now owned the house -- and it was not the same house my father grew up in. It had been replaced in the '50s, but it was the same property, same ground. And one of the remarkable things about the houses is you got to the second floor on a ladder from the outside rather than from the inside. That's one of the things I remember most vividly about it. And it turned out that he had bought this house from a cousin of mine who had reclaimed it after World War II, and he was from this village and he told the story of coming back from the war, from the Russian front -- now what that means, he fought on the German side because Slovakia was a puppet state of the Nazis and had separated. They had separated out from the Czech part of the country, and it was run by a local fascist regime, which, by the way, paid the Gestapo to deport the Jews from Slovakia. And he had came back, he said, from fighting, and found that the Ungars, these older people he had known were gone and their house was empty. And he had learned that they had disappeared one night; people had come and taken them away. Then the next thing he knows, he comes back from the war later on and somebody called Culman, who happens to be a first cousin of mine but much older, was living in this house. And he had been in a kind of a German war camp. He had survived the war, had escaped, had been tipped off when he was going to be killed, had survived and was in a displaced person's camp and came back. He went to Tusice and he saw his grandparents' -- my grandparents' house on a list of unclaimed property. So he claimed it. And he tried to live there for a year or two after the war, and it was impossible to do so clearly. So he sold the house to this man in order to go to what was then called Palestine. And this man asks me in 1988 -- and this was a transaction that had taken place in 1946 -- so 41 years -- 42 years -- maybe 41 years later he asked me, "Tell me, did Culman ever make it to Palestine?" He's asking me, the interloper who arrives from America. And I was able to say, "Yes, he did. And he's not been well lately but he has two sons. One of those sons -- the son of my cousin -- is very dear friend of mine, is a doctor in France and we're in communication." I was telling him about that. But it was an amazingly close connection for me. And we sat around the table and talked and ...
LAMB: Did you ever take your kids or your wife there?
UNGAR: Not yet. No, we haven't gone. I'd love to. I haven't been back to Tusice. I will go back. And I could have gone back again another time, but I began to find it difficult to think of going back because I looked around this house where I was sitting and talking to him and I wondered if some of these things in the house could have been my grandparents' things that had been looted or taken from their house when they were shipped away. And it was -- emotionally, I found it a difficult thing to stay there. But what it did for me -- what that visit did for me was to make me feel like an immigrant. I mean, I had never felt -- I realized, you know, I was as good an American as anybody, but my family came from someplace.
LAMB: Your town in Pennsylvania where you grew up?
UNGAR: Kingston just outside of Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, small town, northeastern part of the state where there were lots of immigrants. But I didn't think I was one of them, because my parents had come so many -- I was born late in my parents -- when my father was 50 and my mother was 44, which at that time was virtually a scandal, I guess. They were replacing a son who'd had been killed in World War II with me. And so I was very far from the idea of immigration and very far from my own parents immigrant roots -- and I found them on this trip. And one of the things I said is, "I can identify with immigrants coming now, and they may not have names like mine. They may not be from Eastern or Central Europe -- some of them are -- but there's something we all have in common." And that's why I want to write about those people.
LAMB: On the cover of this book is a picture down here. Did you have anything to do with this?
UNGAR: Nothing to do with that picture. The artist at Simon & Schuster chose that picture. I think he chose it for the flag and for the Asian immigrants in the picture because, again, a lot of people think of the new immigrants being from Mexico or Central America especially, and many of them are Asians. I think they liked the picture and it became part of the sort of flag composition of the jacket.
LAMB: How many immigrants a year now?
UNGAR: About a million, maybe a little more. About 70, 75 percent of them are legal immigrants. The figures you hear are 700,000 or 800,000 legal immigrants a year -- the others, theoretically, illegal. I have a problem with some of the statistics because you know what? We only count people coming in, we don't count them going out. We don't count the ones who go home after they've worked for awhile. The INS -- the border patrol -- counts multiple apprehensions of the same person as if they apprehend the same person three times that's three, not one. So I'm not sure about some of those statistics.
LAMB: A number of months ago Peter Brimelow was here, who's written a book that basically says, "Close the door."
UNGAR: Oh, yes. He says, "Close the door completely -- moritorium on immigration." He and I are going to be seeing each other from time to time on the lecture and debate circuit. We've met once already. We're going to meet two more times soon.
LAMB: But what do you say to folks who say, "Oh, these are stories are great..."
UNGAR: Because he's English, Peter Brimelow.
LAMB: Right.
UNGAR: He's in now. He's immigrated and he thinks it's a good time to close the door.
LAMB: But what do you say -- and we don't have a whole lot of time. What do you say to folks that are watching and saying, "Yeah, but I live on the border down here in Texas or Arizona"?
UNGAR: I'm glad you asked about the border in Texas.
LAMB: I know, and it's all in here. But, I mean, what do you say to them? They say, "This is costing us money." Mr.
UNGAR: Well, in Texas -- the reason I'm glad you asked about Texas is that Texas is not quite so uptight about immigration as California is. People have been coming back and forth across the border in Texas and in the lower Rio Grande Valley for years. That's not America vs. Mexico. That's Mex-America. That's an area where a lot of people are not sure what side of the border they were born on.
LAMB: Do illegal immigrants come here -- or even immigrants come here -- and go on welfare?
UNGAR: Some do. Some do, just as a lot of other people do in ...
LAMB: Out of proportion with the rest of society?
UNGAR: I don't think so. Not out of proportion with the rest of society. I'm a little uncertain about some of those statistics that we get because, again, immigrants who are coming in and are on welfare get counted. A lot of immigrants who come and are not welfare don't get counted in the statistics. So what I would say to people, to answer your question, people who live on the border and people who live elsewhere is, let's look at how willing immigrants are to work. Let's look at the fact that they respond to rational, economic messages that are transmited not just across the Mexican border, but elsewhere in the world. They generally come to places where there are jobs. They generally come to work. They work hard. The Federal Reserve Bank of New York found that immigrants -- male immigrants on the whole -- pay higher rates of taxation than other people because they don't often claim their tax refunds that they might be entitled to in some cases. And let's not get swept up in this hysteria. Let's examine what people are doing. Let's redefine some of the illegal immigration as serving a purpose here. A lot of people would be very happy to come on guest-worker programs of the sort that Pete Wilson once supported.
LAMB: You say, "I think that some 32 million Americans or people that live in his country go home at night and speak another language."
UNGAR: That's right.
LAMB: Good or bad?
UNGAR: No problem. It's always been true. I suspect that a lot of our -- I know my grandparents, when they came, spoke their own language at home. My parents, in my experience, did not. My parents spoke English and good English at that. But there is nothing wrong with people speaking a second language at home. People know that if they want to get ahead economically in this country, they'd better learn English, their children better learn English. They're children do learn English. English is virtually an official language in this country already. We don't have to fool around with making it an official language and turn this country into Quebec.
LAMB: What in this book is your favorite story, the one you like gathering the most and the one you like telling the most?
UNGAR: Well, apart from my own story about going to my father's home village, I think I am moved the most, maybe, by the stories of the Koreans in Los Angeles -- how hard they work, how they feel trapped, they feel resented by African-Americans. They have this cultural conflict -- you know, the daughter of a Korean-American family comes home and says her American friend wants to take her with her family for a weekend someplace. And it's a great crisis because it's not part of Korean culture. The Koreans have contributed so much. They get loans from each other. They don't go near banks.
LAMB: You say they had a cooperative.
UNGAR: They have cooperative loan societies, you know. And they draw who's going to get the money this time and the next time. There's a woman, Em Joan Quan, at the end of my Korean chapter that I talk about who struggled so with this emotionally.
LAMB: Guess what?
UNGAR: We're out of time.
LAMB: People are going to have to go buy this book in order to get the rest of this story.
UNGAR: A lot of good people in there from all over the world.
LAMB: "Fresh Blood: The New American Immigrants," Sanford J. Ungar, our guest. And we thank you for joining us.
UNGAR: Thank you, Brian.
Copyright National Cable Satellite Corporation 1995. Personal, noncommercial use of this transcript is permitted. No commercial, political or other use may be made of this transcript without the express permission of National Cable Satellite Corporation.