The University of Iowa

A lesson in cultural respect

May 12th, 2011

The following commentary by Matthew Wolf appeared in the Daily Iowan opinion section. Wolf, a UI junior, is in the International Studies B.A. program.

In light of a fierce national debate on immigration, with states cutting services to immigrants in an attempt to make ends meet, it is fitting to share a story of acceptance.

I recently spoke with a middle manager who works in a factory in the Midwest. He explained to me that his factory employs a substantial number of immigrants, and although the factory has had issues in the past with some people using false identification to work there, a large majority of them are legal immigrant workers simply trying to earn a living. Few have large circles of friends, and many of them just associate with their family.

My acquaintance told me that, to help make his workplace more welcoming, he went out of his way to learn a few simple greetings in their native languages: “hello,” “how are you,” and “goodbye.”

Although learning to say hello and goodbye in one language is not too difficult, he learned greetings in Korean, Russian, and Swahili. His employees have responded very positively and greatly appreciate his gesture, even offering to teach him other phrases, such as asking after their families or what they are having for lunch.

It is very easy to see how simply learning to say “hello” to the foreign student in your class or the neighbor down the street can help spread a positive image of the United States as friendly and hospitable. More importantly, it would allow those immigrants to share their positive experience with family and friends from their countries of origin, helping to dispel myths about American intolerance and imperialism.

Wouldn’t you believe a good friend’s opinion about a country over that of some news channel?