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And who is behind this classic American success story? Well...two Taiwanese immigrants, David Sun and John Tu. And a stroll through the company's semi-chaotic two-story headquarters ("management by shout and grab," Kingston people call it) is like a visit to a real-life version of Disneyland's "It's A Small World" ride. American salesmen consult with Chinese engineers who chatter at Vietnamese testers who banter with Hispanic assemblers. Kingston's 1,300 employees are divided roughly equally among the four groups.
"Southern California is at the forefront of today's immigration," says marketing director Ron Seide. "The same thing that made the United States strong at the turn of the century--the flow of immigrants that built the east and the industrial midwest--are part and parcel of Southern California's success. Without immigrant influence, their ideas, their intellectual capital, the high-tech industry--which is the best thing California has going for it--wouldn't exist."
Seide (who hails from Cleveland and is sometimes referred to as "the Anglo interface" by his polyglot colleagues) recalls that he was stunned by the sheer energy radiating from Kingston's work floor on his first day in the job. He has no doubt that it is generated by the immigrants.
"You've got to have a lot of gumption, get-up-and-go, guts, whatever you want to call it, to pack up your belongings, jump into steerage, and start a new life 5,000 miles away in a country where you don't speak the language," he observes. "It's a self-selecting process. And then they bring it into the workplace. It's infectious."
Kingston works at the center of a tightly knit cluster of independent companies, sharing capital, know-how, and markets. Kingston designs memory boards, which are manufactured by a partner in Taiwan, assembled by another partner down the road in Orange County, and sold by distributors all over the world.
"We operate as a virtual corporation," Seide says. "That's very central to the way Asian companies are structured. And no American could have imagined it. This company is literally an immigrant's dream."
So: Who is going to pick the lettuce and tomatoes? Who is going to design the computers? And, of course, the questions don't stop there. Without Ethiopians, who will be the parking attendants in San Jose? Without Haitians, who will drive Miami's taxis? Without Filipino nurses and Pakistani doctors, who will care for the ill in inner-city and rural hospitals? Without Mexicans, who will build houses in North Carolina? Yes, North Carolina.
"If it were not for the Latin American population here, we'd be in a terrible fix," says the vice president of a large Raleigh construction company. "Unemployment is down under 3 percent here and has been for several years. And when we advertise for workers, we don't get Americans, we get Mexicans. I don't know where they come from. But I do know they believe in a day's work for a day's pay, and we like that."
In a sad indication of today's political climate, the construction man doesn't want his name used: "I don't care to get caught up in any political backlash over anything. There are some things that are politically sensitive, and one of them is immigration. I saw what happened in California with that proposition." In the United States these days, it is potentially controversial to say that you like your workers, if they happen to have been born in the wrong place.
And in the United States soon, it may become more expensive to buy a shirt or build a home, more difficult to hire a babysitter, next to impossible to operate a vegetable farm. Office rents will rise along with janitors' wages; so will the cost of a dinner out, as bus boys, waitresses, and cooks get more expensive. Maids and gardeners may become a thing of the past, along with career women. High-tech research and development will stagnate. Who could have guessed that "pragmatism" would be so extravagant?
Contributing Editor Glenn Garvin's latest book, Diary of a Survivor: Nineteen Years in a Cuban Women's Prison, co-authored with Ana Rodriguez, will be published this spring by St. Martin's Press.