Globalization Created My Family, Jobs, Possessions, Pets, Food, Entertainment…and Cultural Backlash

If not for world-wide globalization trends since the 1990s, my family, and several of our job opportunities would not exist. Four out of seven members of my immediate family (including my two dogs) were born outside the United States.

We are part of a global trend. The ways earthlings now travel, create families, work, consume, communicate, entertain, eat, clothe and transport themselves are all, at least in part, the result of globalization.

The percentage of Americans with passports, 42 percent in 2016, was the highest it has ever been. In 1990, only four percent of Americans had one. Then globalization kicked in, and by 1997, the number ticked up to 15 percent. American passport-holders continue to rise steadily, increasing by four percent from 2015 to 2016. American citizens traveling internationally are increasing dramatically: from 23.4 million in 2002 to 38.3 million in 2017, an increase of 40 percent. Americans Studying Abroad Have Doubled Since 1999.

One out of four US children, according to the 2010 census, had a foreign-born parent. If present trends continue, that number is sure to increase. One third of Europeans may be foreign-born by 2050. Like it or not. we are all global creatures. There is no turning back without dire consequences for everyone. Prices would go up and employment would go down dramatically if the global supply chain and integrated economic system were disrupted.

Even President Trump, the loud promoter of “America First,” had a foreign-born mother and two foreign-born wives. His own family would not exist without America’s liberal immigration policies, which he seeks to reverse. (Click.) He and liberal Democrats agree that the US should negotiate better trade deals, particularly with China, but no viable candidate for president is saying we should halt the trend toward economic globalization. It would be like trying to push back the sea.

Yet one can understand why immigration is a hot-button issue in the US. The foreign-born population is the largest it has been since 1910, at 13.7 percent, the US Census Bureau reported. That’s just slightly less than the historic peak in the foreign-born population — 15 percent — between 1890 and 1900, when tensions over immigrants were high, leading to scapegoating, especially Italians, Irish, Catholics, and Germans.

The World Is Flat

In my lifetime, globalization has replaced the Cold War as the central organizing principle for understanding the world. (More.)

In 1991, the Cold War ended. Russia and the United States opened to each other. By 1995, the Internet was penetrating national boundaries. Thomas Friedman wrote a best-seller called “The World is Flat.” In 1997, my wife and I adopted an infant from Russia. That window was slammed shut 15 years later in 2012 due to political differences between the two countries. I often wonder how our lives would have been different if that window never opened. We would have been deprived of a beautiful son, who has turned into a fine young man.

In 2004, my older son started working as a sound engineer on cruise ships. For eight years, he traveled the globe, to more than 100 countries, and while on a month-long sound-system installation assignment in Singapore, met his future wife, originally from the Philippines. For two years, they kept in touch mainly via Skype and instant messenger. Then he got a job in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, and invited her to join him there, where many Filipinos work. She had a ready-made network, and so did he, because it just so happened my wife and I were teaching there.

In 2013, they were married, and in 2015 their son Theo was born in Dubai. By 2016, while many of Matthew’s peers were just beginning to recover from the Great Recession in the US, he had saved enough money from working on ships and in Dubai for a down-payment on a house. So he secured a job back home and moved his family to North Carolina. His wife communicates daily with her relatives in the Philippines by online chat and video. They remain a virtual presence in her life and that of her son between annual visits.

In the midst of the Great Recession, in 2009, my wife and I moved to Turkey, where we had jobs as teachers. Our younger son was partly home-schooled and attended a Turkish school part time. We had a wonderful two-year adventure. Then in 2011, we moved to the United Arab Emirates, where we also taught, until 2017.

Multilingual Dogs

While there, we adopted two Salukis — Arabic desert dogs — who are tri-lingual — they understand Arabic, English and dog. We visited dozens of countries in Europe, Asia, and Africa. In late 2017, we returned to North Carolina, with the dogs, who — including their stopover and walk around Amsterdam — are quite well-traveled. They have stepped foot on three continents.

I may be silly to include these two dogs as member of my family born outside the US, but the point is that dogs and cats routinely travel internationally these days. KLM has special services for animals, and a whole website, Petswelcome.com, devoted to transporting pets. Could this be possible in any previous era of history, before the modern trend in globalization? I think not.

At dog parks in Burlington, Winston-Salem, Pittsboro, and Chapel Hill, NC, I meet people from all over the world — mostly from Latin America, but also from Spain, India, Nepal, and the Philippines. Retired old-timers love to regale me with stories of their international military adventures, cruises, stopovers in foreign capitals and exotic lands. My next-door neighbor spent years traveling the globe as a textile and carpet designer.

In the former mill town of Burlington, NC, my wife, a teacher of English as a Second Language, has found an extensive population of students born in other countries eager to learn English. In Alamance County, there are certainly tensions among immigrants, minorities and the police, and resentments in the deeply-rooted community, despite the clear economic benefits of immigrants, documented or undocumented.

Far Broader Identities

Globalization and technology are changing communities and individual identities. Ask my parents who they were, and they would have quickly answered “American, Southern, North Carolinian” and the small town they lived in for 60+ years. Ask me who I was, and I would say “American,” the places I’ve lived, then based on DNA tests and Ancestry.com research, think about my Scottish, English, Irish, Swiss, Dutch, Celtic, Viking, Anglo-Saxon, Southern European (Iberian Peninsula) and African heritage. Birthplace of Humanity? South Africa and East Africa, Kenya, Both Lay Claim

My grandson will think of himself as American and Filipino, with a complex mix of European, and Asian heritage.

Globalized Media

My grandson at his home in North Carolina routinely watches Filipino television. My younger son for years was obsessed with Japanese Anime cartoons and Korean video games. My wife and I routinely stream British and European television series, international movies, seek out foreign perspectives on the news. It is easier and cheaper to access than ever. No longer is America an isolated fortress. But with local newspapers dying, national and foreign perspectives are easier to access than intimate knowledge of the places where we actually live. Tip O’Neill’s famous aphorism, “All politics is local,” no longer rings true in the era of social media friendships and globalized media.

International Foods and Consumer Products

From a quick trip to our kitchen, I notice that the olive oils we purchase in Burlington are from Spain, Tunisia, and Italy, the sesame oil is from Mexico, the tilapia is from Costa Rica, the fish sauce is from Thailand, the garlic is from Bolivia, the bananas are from Ecuador, the sardines are from Poland. The package of sugar says only that it is distributed in Buffalo, NY, the coffee packages say only they are distributed in Illinois, but I rather doubt sugar cane is grown in upstate New York and coffee is grown in southern Illinois.

Our electronics are mostly manufactured in China, Korea, and Japan. Most of our clothes come from Asia. There is no sense to “buy American” movements any longer, because few appliances or automobiles are made entirely in the US. Smart phone batteries and the Green Revolution may well be fueled by cobalt mined by children in the Congo, CBS News and CNN have reported.

The US is now largely independent of foreign oil, due to fracking and shift to renewables. We could withdraw completely from the Persian/Arabian Gulf without too much short-term domestic economic disturbance. But do we really want China, Saudi Arabia and Iran controlling the Gulf oil supply for the rest of the world?

International Travel Is Now Commonplace

All 11 of my close relatives — three siblings and eight first cousins — have traveled abroad. Two of us have lived overseas. A niece and her husband who found the housing market where they lived in San Francisco to be outrageously pricey, decided to invest in a vacation property in Portugal. Other younger relatives have studied or taught in Africa, Asia or Australia.

Entrepreneurial friends speak of weeks-long assignments overseas to install software, train customers or help set up franchises.

I fantasize about teaching for something like Semester at Sea and beating my son’s record of visiting 100 countries. My wife and I fantasize about retiring for part of the year to Mexico or Ecuador, where we could probably live on social security alone.

This would have been unheard of, mind-boggling, in my parent’s generation, the notion that, as William Shakespeare wrote in The Merry Wives of Windsor, “the world’s mine oyster.”

Backlash

And it is still mind-boggling to the people who feel they have been left behind by this revolution. In high school social studies classrooms in Alamance County, I encountered students who surmised that the US has 90 percent of the world’s population. They were shocked to learn the US has four percent of the world’s population.

They are firmly rooted in North Carolina and the South, like I was when I was their age, but my sons had traveled far more widely by age 21 than I had. Several students in Alamance County come to class humming this song:

Many students have never been out of the state, much less the country. One student argued that Vermont is a large state, and New York is a small state. Another purposefully mispronounced the countries of Niger and Nicaragua as a racial epithet. Others pointed to Latinos in class and cracked that they are good in phys ed, especially “climbing fences” and asking loudly if “they’re legal.” The local sheriff, seeking an immigration crackdown, referred to Latinos as “taco-eaters” who should be deported. This caused a demonstration and delivery of tacos to the sheriff’s office.

When a Native American student volunteered his heritage, a Caucasian student cracked that he had never met a Native American before. “I thought we killed them all,” he laughed.

When I asked a history class “why we speak primarily English and not Spanish in the United States?” one student blurted out, “because we are WHITE.” He was unaware or inattentive to how Spanish, not English, almost became the world’s language.

These students and their parents are old-fashioned, traditional Americans. They listen to American country-music, not globalized media. They don’t like “foreign” food. and have no desire to visit a foreign country until they have thoroughly visited the United States. They resonate to “America First” in all its forms. They consider themselves patriots. The highest form of patriotism in their minds is joining the military, being willing to fight and, if necessary,  kill and die for one’s country and way of life.

If they could learn what they have in common with immigrants, perceive a far wider world, and realize that their historical pain and sacrifice are the same as  their immigrant neighbor’s historical pain and sacrifice, some bridges rather than walls might be built. Public schools, at their best, are exposing students to the enormous diversity of America. Through them, maybe the nation won’t disintegrate into tribal cultures and economic enclaves like other failed empires.

Two-tiered Society

In over-crowded and under-resourced schools, in dilapidated buildings more than 60 years old, you can understand the resentments on all sides. I visited one school in Graham, NC with more than 20 nationalities represented on a world map in the lobby.

It seems that Alamance County, and many parts of the US, are creating a two-tiered society: maybe 20 or 30 percent of the population is college-educated or college-bound students. They are globally-aware and ready to take advantage of all that globalization has to offer. They will likely hire undocumented immigrants to look after their children, and to fill low-wage jobs in their businesses.

Then there is the 70 or 80 percent of the population that knows little of life outside their own enclaves except through public schools. In previous generations, they would have worked at the local mill, manufacturing plant or factory. They are likely to spend most of their lives working for an hourly wage, or for salaries that will not afford their children a chance to attend college. They don’t know or have much interest in their own genealogy or ancestry prior to arrival in America. As far as they are concerned, that’s when history began. They think global history is utterly boring, so far removed from their lives and irrelevant. And yet global history and culture, along with automation and market forces, are radically changing their prospects.

Rise of Nativism

If this picture is accurate not only of certain parts of North Carolina but in much of the US and Europe, you can understand why there is a resurgence of nativism around the world. The fears of these people are valid in some respects. Certain trends in globalization are scary, threaten values and ways of life.

Nationalism, racism and tribal identities are clearly on the rise, deemed still important as traditional identities and a sense of belonging seem to decline.

Globalization and economic interdependence are here to stay. But whether they have a mostly positive or negative impact on the 21st century remains to be seen. There are signs to make us hopeful and apprehensive.

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My son Matthew, his wife Lovely, and my grandson Theo. 

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