1660338513534 Walt Boyes

Immigrants are us

May 5, 2006
We are all immigrants here, and if you look at the contributions made by immigrants to arts, letters, science and engineering in the U.S. over the past 400 years, the amount of innovation is staggering.
By Walt Boyes, Editor in Chief

I'M TALKING politics here. Process automation isn’t immune, and there’s something going on that is very relevant to what we’ll do in the future, as well as what we’ve done in the past.

Congress and the nation are mired in a debate over the status of undocumented immigrants to the U.S. I doubt sincerely that by the time you read this, the debate will be over, or a solution found. That’s too bad.

I've written a lot about outsourcing and the fact that the globalization of the world economy is already done. As far as corporations are concerned, national interests are inconvenient holdovers from the last century, and they'll go where the money is, where the engineering talent is, and where the business takes them.

However, the workforce isn't global. It’s only a matter of time before the tsunami of parity rolls all the way around the world. Workers in India are now getting close to parity (adjusted for cost of living) with workers in the First World. This will happen everywhere. It’s much easier for a company to be global than it is for a worker to pull up stakes, and seek better opportunities elsewhere. And yet they do, and have done so for hundreds of years.

My maternal grandparents came to the U.S. from Italy about 1910. At that time, the requirements to come to the U.S. were so much less stringent that a man and woman from Italy could just get on a boat and come to America, looking for a better life. Both of them spoke Italian all their lives, preferentially. My grandfather, Stefano Martini, raised his family, lived and died in the U.S. I don’t know if he ever became a citizen. My grandmother, Marietta Martini, did become a citizen. In 1910, in the Santa Clara Valley (long before Silicon), Italians were the "wops" who picked the crops, worked in the fields, worked in the canneries, and cleaned the houses. Now, in Silicon Valley, those jobs are held by Latin Americans, mostly undocumented. In the 19th Century, we discriminated against Poles, Irish, Italians, other immigrants, because they "would change our way of life." Well, the pot melted, and they (we) are all Americans now. Despite the doom and gloom, this will happen again. Even the “Native Americans” aren't really. They came over the land bridge from Siberia earlier than my grandparents came through Ellis Island. We are all immigrants here.

My other grandfather, Joseph Denim Boyes, was born in Glasgow, Scotland. He immigrated to Canada with his family in the 1890s, and came down to the U.S. to work on the railroad in Idaho. Eventually, he became a U.S. citizen. He married a girl, Grace Barr, whose family was Pennsylvania Dutch. That means they were immigrants from Germany. They crossed the country in a covered wagon, looking for opportunity. Between them, they raised eight children, including a ferry boat captain, a wizard with neon light, and my father, who went to work for Brown Instruments in 1940, and bequeathed to me the world of automation.

None of my grandparents were ever told they couldn't come here. We were the land of opportunity, then. We should still be the land of opportunity, now. If you look at the contributions to arts, letters, science and engineering made by immigrants to the United States over the past 400 years, the amount of innovation is staggering. Without those immigrants, there simply would not be a United States, as we know it.

What does this mean for process automation? I’ve been asking where are we going to get those younger workers that we need, without whom jobs are already going begging?

That's right. You guessed it.

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