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Scarface and the Passion of New Immigrants to the United States
By Harrison Barnes
Scarface is a 1983 movie about a man who comes over as an immigrant from Cuba to Miami in the 1980s. Between approximately April and October of 1980, there was a mass exodus of Cubans to Miami. During this short period of time, over 125,000 Cubans made the boat journey between the United States and Cuba. This movement occurred due to a massive downturn in the Cuban economy. The boat lift quickly began to have negative implications for President Carter when it was discovered that many of the exiles were people who had been released from Cuban mental health facilities and jails.
The lead character in the movie is Tony Montana, played by Al Pacino. Montana comes over to the United States from Cuba with a checkered past. He arrives in the United States with nothing, and he gets his green card by killing someone in a refugee camp, which allowed him to gain favor with someone who is able to expedite his admission to the United States.
His first illicit job in the United States involves picking up some drugs in exchange for cash. He was working as a short-order cook before this point. The small diner he was working for was across the street from a fancy nightclub. He watched the Ferraris and Porsche’s roll up at night and watched men exit with beautiful women. This was the lifestyle he wanted for himself.
And when he was offered his first job, for like $5,000, he told the man offering him the job that the money wasn’t enough. He managed to get himself awarded an even more difficult job. The man who offered him the job laughed when he gave it to him. He believed that Pacino was sure to die. But Pacino took it anyway.
Sure enough, when he showed up at the job, all hell broke loose. His brother was strung up and cut up with a chainsaw, but Pacino remained tough. Pacino eventually managed to kill everyone and left a hotel (where the deal was) covered in blood and gunfire.
That night, he delivered the drugs and money to the head drug dealer (whom he had not met before). The drug dealer took him out to dinner and Pacino was there looking like a goof in an unbuttoned shirt, talking in ways which were entirely inappropriate, and so forth. Pacino asked the head drug dealer’s wife (the beautiful Michelle Pfieffer) to dance. She said okay.
She told him he’s a pig while they are dancing. “You wait, you see. You’ll be mine,” he told her.
“I’d sooner be dead than wind up with a boat person like you,” she told him.
He did eventually marry her.
And as the two were dancing that night, one of the drug dealers looked at the head drug dealer and asks:
“Why would you have anything to do with that piece of garbage?”
“Because a man like that will do anything for you. He’ll never quit. He’s that loyal to the idea of success. He’ll die fighting.”
This is an incredible scene because it’s true. Montana is so dedicated to the idea of success that he will die fighting for anything. He desperately wants success and knows that he needs to fight and pay the price to get it. Montana ends up becoming obscenely successful and wealthy.
Scarface is a fascinating movie because it shows the power of our will. In effect, it is also a story about everyone in America because we are all “boat people” to some extent who have come to the United States from other countries in search of something. The difference between us and Montana is how hungry most of us are. When new immigrants come to the United States, they are extremely hungry. Decades later, their children generally don’t follow in their footsteps. The children of new immigrants are typically less successful than their parents, and the children of the immigrant’s children are even less successful.
I am going to say something a lot of people will find offensive, but I am going to say it anyway because there’s some truth to it. When my father was growing up and in school he remarked to me that the hardest working kids in school were typically Jewish. This is something I’ve heard others say before. Many of these kids had parents who were recent immigrants in the suburbs of Detroit where I grew up. Their parents had grown up during a time when there was a lot of anti-semitism and they pushed their kids to work extremely hard in school. Newer ethnic groups typically do not have an “old boy” sort of network to rely upon and, therefore, their parents may push them to overcompensate in other ways.
When I was growing up, this was not necessarily the case. The hardest working kids tended to be Asian in my school. The second hardest tended to be the Jewish kids, and the third hardest working, as a general rule, tended to be the white Christian kids.
I do not think there is anything racist about what I am relating. I also don’t think there is anything discriminatory about what I am writing. I think there is a pattern in what I witnessed and was completely obvious in the schools around me. The children of newer immigrants to the United States tend to work harder (as a general rule) than the children of people who have been in this country for a longer period of time. I’m not sure the observations I have should be made on religious or racial grounds—indeed, they are likely more appropriately placed on “recent immigration” status. More recent immigrants and their children tend to, as a general rule, be people who are more interested in working harder than people who are more established.
A couple of years ago, I was getting a haircut on Mission Street in San Marino, California. San Marino is a relatively wealthy suburb right outside of Los Angeles. The suburb has the distinction of having the best school system in Los Angeles and one of the best in the United States. There is a white barber there who has been cutting hair on Mission Street for probably at least 50 years. San Marino used to be a predominately Catholic and Protestant neighborhood. Now, San Marino is at least 50% Chinese, and the population of Chinese keeps growing. The barber and I were speaking one day and he made the following observation:
“Before the Chinese started moving here, all of the white kids in the San Marino schools used to get As and Bs. Now they all get Cs and Ds.”
I had heard other people say this in San Marino before and something similar to this. This is not a racist statement in my opinion. The truth of what he was saying could have been phrased without using racial overtones:
“As a generality, recent immigrants to the United States work much harder than people who have been here longer.”
This is true, I believe, and I don’t think there is anything prejudiced in saying this.
Sitting on my desk right now is the résumé of a Russian woman whom I don’t think has been living in the United States more than a year or so. I interviewed her about six months ago for a position with our company. She is an attorney and has passed the bar exam. When I interviewed her, I realized she didn’t speak English very well and would probably not be a good fit because her position required her to interact with the public. Nevertheless, in the six months since I interviewed her, and after having interviewed probably at least 25 people for the position she is applying for, I cannot stop thinking that she is the best person I interviewed for the position.
“I never fail at anything,” she said.
“I work as hard as possible for you and company,” she said.
“I really want job,” she said.
“I am extremely loyal,” she said.
I contrast this with many of the “native” Americans I have interviewed who have showed up for the interviews and asked me all sorts of questions about what I could do for them. They often acted coy and have had numerous jobs. They talk about leaving one job after another due to some dissatisfaction with their boss or the need for different experiences. They just don’t seem hungry and I know they likely won’t do all that well. This is something I see all the time. An employer wants to hire people who are hungry and want to work hard.
I emailed the Russian woman last night to see if she was still available to work. She hardly speaks English but is the best fit I have seen. I know that she wants to succeed and will do better due to this.
We want to hire people who are hungry.
Maybe your parents are recent immigrants to the United States. Maybe your parents’ parents were immigrants to the United States. At some point in your past, there was likely someone who came to this country and wanted nothing more than to succeed. This is something most people have when they get here. They are escaping a class system of a different country or conditions where they could not rise in their own country. Perhaps they were surrounded by poverty. Perhaps they weren’t allowed to work in their chosen profession. There are any number of things that may have held your relatives back in their home country.
People generally don’t pick up and immigrate to another country if things are good and they have a lot of opportunity where they came from.
Are you interested in emigrating to any country at the moment? Most Americans never leave America to seek greener pastures elsewhere because this is where they believe the greenest pastures are.
You need to rekindle the spirit of your ancestors and get hungry. People who come to this country are hungry to succeed. They are also excited to succeed and do great things. They want to take on the world and become someone. This is a spirit that far too many people end up losing somewhere along the line. Usually, once a family has been here awhile, the successive generations end up getting lazier and lazier for some reason. This is just what happens. These families talk about how their relatives did great things in the past but never do any of those great things themselves.
You need to get the spirit of the new immigrants to this country and get excited. You need to create a legacy now and realize what tremendous opportunities you have. These opportunities weren’t available most likely wherever your relatives came from 10, 50, 100, 200, or more years ago. They were excited for what you have now. You should be, too.
Recent immigrants exemplify the benefits of willpower, passion, and excitement in the way they work so much harder for their goals than the people who have been here for most or all of their lives. Like most Americans, you need to rekindle the spirit of your immigrant ancestors and become hungry for what you want. The entrepreneurial spirit that brought people to America has often faded over time. Adopt the fire and work ethic of new immigrants in order to achieve your goals.
Click here to read more of such interesting articles from our CEO A. Harrison Barnes.
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Articles By Harrison Barnes