Needed: Horatio Alger

If I was their PR man, I’d take a different approach. Many immigrants, millions of them not here legally, appear to loathe America as much as America’s Left does. Why else would they parade the Mexican flag, boycott American products and decry American capitalism — all while demanding their rights?

The truth is most Americans sympathize with the plight of immigrants. This is for the simple reason that most of us trace our own origins back to immigrants.

In the 1840s, in the midst of the Irish potato famine, my grandfather's grandfather came to America. He settled in Pittsburgh as a simple laborer, but his son went on to be a foreman in the mills, and his son, my grandfather, became an accountant for the Mellon family.

In the late 1800s, as my grandfather's grandfather was clawing out a better life for his family, Horatio Alger was writing stories about the American spirit. He told rags-to-riches tales about men of humble origins who, through sheer grit and determination, went on to capture the American dream.

This hopeful American spirit is still alive and well for millions of Americans, including many immigrants. Here are three immigrant stories I've written about in the past.

One fellow's father was a prosperous merchant in Beirut, Lebanon, until civil war broke out. In 1977, while I was a carefree teen, he was dragging dead bodies into the street and setting them on fire. It was the only way to get rid of the stench, he told me.

It took four years for his family to escape. They were penniless when they arrived in Cyprus. A few years later they made it to America. Each of his siblings took work as busboys, dishwashers or maids. They gave every penny to their father. When he saved $20,000 the family opened a bakery. Today, their company employs more than 60.

Another fellow immigrated to America from India when he was 28. Though he was a professor at a technical college, he could find no professional work in America. He took work pumping gas, washing dishes and cleaning offices.

He scrimped and saved and eventually bought a “mom and pop” convenience store. He worked seven days a week, running the store and serving sandwiches. He sent his sons to excellent schools, and both are now doctors.

Over the years the property where his convenience store sits grew in value. A few years ago, he was offered more than $5 million for it. But he didn't sell. He still works seven days a week, running the store and serving sandwiches.

Another fellow entered America illegally. In 1980, as civil war raged in El Salvador, he was an engineering student. The military suspected him of supporting leftist Guerilla forces — the military felt this way about all students. They demanded he fight for them or he would be killed.

Like thousands of young men, he decided to flee. His mother sold her car and her furniture. She raised enough money to get him to America. He tried and failed three times before making it inside.

He sold oranges on the street, worked construction, worked in restaurants. He saved his money and gradually mastered English. In 1986, he was granted amnesty by President Reagan.

Today, he owns a successful cleaning business, while also working as a waiter at two restaurants. He routinely logs 80 hours a week. He and his wife of 20 years have a beautiful home. The oldest of their three sons is in college, studying to be a doctor.

Americans are suckers for modern-day Horatio Alger stories. We still root for anyone who asks for nothing but an opportunity to get ahead. That is the traditional American spirit.

It's agitating enough that many Americans have lost this spirit and loathe their own country. But it's especially agitating when non-citizens, many of them not here legally, begin to embrace the same tone.

Like I said, if I was a PR man, I'd have taken a different approach.

Tom Purcell's weekly political humor column runs in newspapers and Web sites across America. His email address is; his web address is

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