I was grading a stack of student assignments — specifically, feedback on readings, which I make them do on the theory that it helps them prepare for discussions of the texts — when I ran across a particularly saddening passage in response to “The Multiculture,” an essay about Torontonian multiculturalism, which I’ll only paraphrase here:
If I were a Torontonian, I would look at foreigners in two ways. In one way, I’d see them as invaders, because they would be speaking foreign languages and bringing foreign customs to my land. But I would also see them as bringing new life into my country, just like in Korea, where I can see so many Japanese signs in some neighborhoods, because of Japanese tourists. It makes me feel like I’m in another country. On the other hand, immigrants are developing the country because they’re making a living and having a better life after they flunked in their homeland.
And yeah, the emphasis is mine.
Here’s what my response was to that little bit of the sentence:
Why do you assume this? Do you assume all foreigners in Korea came here after “flunking” in their home country? Is “flunking” the only reason people would ever have to go abroad, and do you really think the only people attracted to Korea — the only people who would ever actually choose to live here — are those who “flunked” in their homelands? What an insult to your country!
It’s a quite sad and perplexing self-contradiction, this: so often people who say they love their country and are proud of it, also speak of it in this subtly disparaging way.