Monday, July 12, 2010
We live in a large condo complex in the heart of Silicon Valley, in California. I doubt any other place in the world is more welcoming of immigrants. It attracts the best and the brightest from all over the world.
My spouse and I are native Californians. Nevertheless, our circle of friends includes an Indian Hindu software executive from Pune, a Russian Jew art therapist from Moscow, a Belarussian couple from Minsk (both programmers), a South African of South Indian extraction from Durban, her (former East) German physicist-turned-programmer husband from Leipzig, a Chinese-American freelance translator and his Taiwanese accountant wife, and more.
All have found themselves warmly welcomed here.
And our particular town has one of the top 100 public high schools in America--such that our schood district has to continually fight to keep out kids from out of district whose parents try to sneak them in. The schools are also partly responsible for housing here costing appreciably more than comparable housing in surrounding communities.
This attracts immigrants ambitious for their children. Consequently our condo complex is about 40% Chinese and other Asian, and 10% Russian and folks from other former Soviet Bloc countries.
The Russians have been notably resistant to assimilation. Several have large satellite dishes aimed at Russian satellites. They only watch Russian TV, rarely socialize with anyone but other Russians, and many still speak broken English even after decades in this country. So many Russians live in this area that a number of local markets cater to Russian culinary tastes, so they don't have to eat anything but Russian food. Many have been perfectly friendly as neighbors, but they have shown a tendency to treat the Homeowners' Association rules as not applying to them unless they're forced to by threat of fines.
Our city is a bastion of Political Correctness, part of which is requiring condo complexes like ours to include a fair number of units reserved for low income families, sold at less than half the prevailing price for other units (OTOH when such owners sell their units they're required to observe these lower prices then as well).
Surprise, most of the crime and violence we've experienced here over the years can be traced to people living in these low income units. And many of the Russians here took advantage of these low income units to get in here. Curiously, most of them own more expensive vehicles than we do.
In terms of governing our community, the many Chinese have been most apolitical. The Russians are another matter. Not one of them has ever volunteered to serve on the board or on the various committees a large condo complex needs. Instead, their specialty is complaining.
At regularly-scheduled board meetings, they regularly show up and gripe. For example, one of them turns out to be using our complex's pool for their home business of teaching swimming.
When the Association told them the pool is everyone's, not theirs, they came and griped about it--and demanded that the temperature be turned up to make it easier to run their business (people swimming laps want the temperature lower). The husband, a Soviet-Afghan war veteran, even threatened violence to the Board members if they got in his way. He has also stalked several board members and threatened them privately, along with other residents who came afoul of him.
Now the complex needs an earthquake retrofit, since most of its buildings are inadequately reinforced soft story designs (residences over garages). It will cost roughly $10,000 per unit to do this.
But a group of the Russians here have decided that they know more about earthquake retrofits than Northern California's most experienced structural engineering firm, more than the United States Geological Survey, more than the 2012 Existing Building Earthquake Retrofit Code--and more than the homeowner association's board, which serves without compensation (maybe that's why they never volunteer to serve on the board).
So they've mounted a frenzied opposition to the retrofit. They attend the meetings given by the engineers, the association's lawyer, the board, and at every meeting during the Q&A period they make long, rambling speeches in broken English. Each time whoever's running the meeting answers the questions buried in the speechifying. Then at the next meeting the same people make the same rambling speeches with the same buried questions.
And to top things off, they've accused the Board of being criminals--of taking kickbacks from the engineering firm. They don't seem to realize that this is libel.
In other words, they're acting as if this is the Soviet Union, where the State takes care of everything--badly--and every official is taking bribes routinely. And since they don't seem to know much at all about America, I suppose it's natural that they'd assume that this place is just like the place they come from.
Now I assume these are all legal immigrants--though I have heard rumors that the Russian Mafia has a little racket going of getting people visas to immigrate here when the people in question would not quality if the American immigration authorities knew the truth.
But assuming that they are legally here, this tale does go to show having lots of immigrants isn't all peaches & cream. This group of Russians may well sway enough people to keep us from getting the 2/3 majority needed to finance the retrofit.
Yet the USGS says there's a 2 out 3 likelihood of a major quake here within the next 30 years. If they succeed in stopping the retrofit and the quake comes--they will be responsible for eliminating the life savings of many people (in the sense that most Americans' equity is mainly the value of their home), and possible even for the injury or even death of some.
There are rational Russians here. We're friends with those. But the suspicious, paranoid, peeny wise-pound foolish Old Country mossbacks predominate.
On the whole I favor legal immigration. But our experiences here lead me to question the wisdom of bringing in ill-educated immigrants, of not expecting them to really learn English, of PC rules requiring many units to be sold at below-market rates (race mixing is fine--class mixing, not so fine), and not expecting immigrants to assimilate. For these certainly have not, and it's been decades for a lot of them.