Real Americans

This story is not what you may think from the title, so please read it before you judge it.

We have a fairly large piece of property with close to 200 tall trees on it, and of course over time things happen to some of these trees. Due to the drought we’ve experienced the last several years, we had a couple of quite large trees die recently. These trees are somewhere between 40 and 50 feet tall, and one of them broke off at the ground in a recent windstorm. Luckily for us, the tree didn’t come crashing down and break anything. It simply fell against another tree next to it and was leaning there precariously. Earlier this year, several tree service people had come by and left me business cards in case we wanted help with pruning, topping, or removing the trees. After a couple tries, we finally got someone to come out and take down these two large dead trees. He was a young man named Arnold along with his father-in-law.

These two men were really polite, and my wife was quite impressed when she interviewed them the day before the start of the job. I was out at a meeting and couldn’t be here when they came over to look at the job. Anyway when they arrived on Friday morning, Arnold wanted to talk to me to make sure we were all clear on exactly what they needed to do. After some conversation, they got started on the daunting task of trying to take down these two very large trees, one of which was precariously perched against the tree next to it. Arnold was very concerned about damaging a small bush that was in front of one of these trees. He told me he didn’t want to make my wife upset if the bush got damaged. I laughed, and I told him that my number one priority for this task was their safety. My second priority was to avoid damage to structures, and after that came the bush. He said he thought they could probably get the tree down without hurting the bush, but he was genuinely concerned.

After our conversation I went in and worked for a while. About 30 minutes later I came out as I wanted to check on their progress. I was amazed as Arnold had already taken off about the top 30 feet of the tree. He had climbed up into the tree with ropes and began cutting sections and pushing them off while his father-in-law was cleaning up down below. I stood there for a few minutes astounded at their progress. When Arnold came down, he saw me out there and asked if everything was okay. I told them I was just amazed and in awe at their progress. Anyway we got to talking while his father-in-law was pruning the small branches and cleaning up the smaller debris. I asked Arnold where he was from, and he replied that he was from the islands. I said, “Hawaii?” And he replied, “No, Samoa”. He told me that he was born in Samoa and moved over here with his parents when he was a teenager as there wasn’t much work for anyone in the islands anymore. He told me that they were looking for a better life.

As our conversation went on, I asked him what brought him to Utah. He told me that his family had settled here as they like the culture and the lifestyle. We joked about the cold winters as that would be quite different for an island boy to get used to. Anyway, I asked him how he got into the tree cutting business. Arnold told me that he had originally come over here as a teenager through a Job Corps program to become an electrician. However, when he graduated the program, the US was entering the Great Recession of 2008. He told me there was no jobs at that time in electrical work for a new guy that had no experience. So a friend of his had told him about some jobs in the timber industry up in Oregon. He told me he learned about tree removal when he worked for the logging companies in Oregon. And after a while, he decided to come back to Utah and see if he could start a business here taking care of trees. He and his father-in-law own this tree removal service.

A couple of hours later I went outside again and saw Arnold high up in the tree that was next to the broken tree. In fact he was high up in the tree upon which the broken tree was leaning. The broken tree made a triangle with the tree that was supporting it and the ground. Arnold was probably 40 feet in the air, and he was cutting off some chunks of the broken tree. They were lowering these broken pieces down to his father-in-law on the ground with a rope system. I just watched this for a few minutes with my mouth gaping in amazement. Pretty soon Arnold came scrambling down the tree, and he and his father-in-law were having a conversation about how to get the rest of the tree down as it was sitting behind a fenced in area where we kept our garbage cans. There was some room to angle the tree out between the other tree and the fence, but the space was fairly narrow and small.

Arnold decided to cut some pieces out of the bottom of the tree so they could get it to lean at a more steep angle against the other tree. So his father-in-law is holding up the high end of the tree with this rope system, but he is essentially standing under the top end of this huge tree. Then I see Arnold go behind the fence area, and he is underneath this large tree. He began to cut some 1 foot tall chunks from the trunk. He would then kick this chunk that he had cut out of the way and push the trunk over forming a steeper angle. The whole time he was doing this if that tree slipped he would’ve been crushed. It’s possible his father-in-law would’ve been crushed as well if he couldn’t run out of the way in time. The tree would fall in the direction that he would’ve had to run as there was a fence on the other side of the trees.

After about 30 minutes, he had removed enough of this tree trunk for his father-in-law to lower the top down to the ground without incident. (I am getting to my point in this story now.) Watching this work made my stomach turn as I was just hoping I didn’t have to see one of these two nice men crushed under this huge tree. Their skills were just astounding, but what was more astounding to me was the bravery that they were both showing. To them they were just doing their job. To me, I was watching in awe and hoping that they were not going to be killed.

Make no mistake, this was an extremely precarious and difficult task. At any second, that tree trunk could have slipped over, and the tree would’ve crushed Arnold under it. There was probably over 30 feet of trunk left when they were finally lowering it to the ground. I’m sure it weighed close to a ton. These men worked very quickly, and they were both extremely polite and courteous. They were both just genuinely good people working at an extremely difficult job.

Yes, they were immigrants. They came here for opportunity. Arnold came here to be an electrician, but due to circumstances beyond his control he is now essentially a logger. And he is a very good one at that. We have just come through an election in which we as a nation have essentially told the rest of the world that we don’t want immigrants here anymore. The election has essentially told everyone here and abroad that we consider immigrants to be inferior people, that we think they’re criminals, and that they are dangerous and cannot be trusted. The winning candidate has portrayed a plan to somehow label the Muslim immigrants, and segregate them from everyone else. He wants to build a wall on our southern border to keep everyone out.

I’m writing this because as I watched these two men work, I thought about the ramifications of this election. I have been thinking about this for some time, but watching these men worked drove this home to me in a way that I just have to express now. America has always welcomed immigrants. In fact, yesterday we celebrated Thanksgiving. That holiday came about from the Native Americans welcoming and helping the first European immigrants who settled here. And over the next 150 years we systematically slaughtered the natives. Those that were left were forced onto reservations during the 1800s. We, the immigrants, took their land from them. So I guess I can somewhat understand from a certain point of view the opinion of so many people who don’t want immigrants here anymore.

However, we need to remember who built this country. It was built by generation after generation of immigrants. First came the English and the Dutch. These were the people who settled the original 13 colonies. Germans came after, and in the 1800s we saw waves of immigrants from Ireland and other places in Europe as well as China. In fact we brought many Chinese here to help build our railroads. It was dangerous work, and it was almost impossible to find citizens who are willing to do this work. Many of the Chinese who survived stayed and became Americans. The Irish did the same as did the Germans, the Poles and the other Europeans.

n the 1800s France gave us a big copper statue which sits in the harbor between New York and New Jersey. That statue holds a tablet that has a saying. That statue is what we call the Statue of Liberty. Lady Liberty’s tablet reads:

“Give me your tired, your poor,

Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,

The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.

Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,

I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

Lady Liberty has been welcoming immigrants to our shores since 1886. For me those words have deep meaning. Those words fit so well with the principles upon which our great country was founded. America is supposed to be about opportunity for all. It is supposed to be about giving everyone a chance to succeed. How many generations have come to our shores looking for the same opportunity as my tree guy, Arnold? Maybe we have always looked down upon these immigrants when they first come here. There is much evidence in our history that we have.

But for me, Arnold and his father-in-law represent the best that is America. They represent those who had very little who came here looking for one thing – opportunity. They came here for a chance to build a better life for themselves and their family than they could have in their native land. They didn’t come here looking for a handout. They came here for a chance to show us that they would work hard. They came here like all the others before seeking the freedom and opportunity that we have always represented. They came here to give their children more than they could have in their native land. And they do work which others here don’t want to do because it is too hard, too dangerous, and too grueling. They do this work happily with a smile on their faces. They show up on time, and they do this work with no complaints or grievances. They are glad for the opportunity that the work gives them.

We’ve heard a lot of talk in this last year in the campaign about “Real Americans”. Well, I know who the real Americans are. Arnold and his father-in-law are the “Real Americans”. They came here to do what many generations before them have done: to simply grasp onto the opportunity that America offers and to attempt to raise themselves up higher than they could have in their homeland. They have given much to come here. And they work hard. And they do the jobs that others will not do. Yes, these immigrants are the Real Americans.

3 thoughts on “Real Americans

  1. Right on!! I leaned quickly in my business that if you wanted to become at all proficient, you had to work as hard, as fast, and as skillfully as the Mexican cooks on the line. No one was going to put up with my priveleged white girl culinary school BS. People who come here to work, work HARD, and we would be in deep trouble if immigrant labor suddenly disappeared. It’s hard to imagine that Trump would be a bad enough businessman to not realize that, but I guess he just doesn’t get it. Thanks for posting.

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  2. Tim – well said. I deeply appreciate your thoughtful thoughts on this topic. Trump and what he represents is so abhorrent to me and your essay expressed in such a beautiful way- exactly why. Thank you. Let’s keep fighting for and welcoming those who want to come here and work hard and be a part of our community.

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