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Hardworking Immigrants (Unlike LAZY LEECHING Leftists)



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By Carol Morello
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, March 15, 2001; 5:51 PM


Qiren "Gordon" Lu, his wife and teenage son are 7,500 miles and 12 years

removed from the one-room flat with shared kitchen and bath that was
their
home back in China.

When the family arrived in this country with the proverbial nothing --
just
$150 in their pockets and Lu's scholarship to study electrical
engineering-even the middle-class comforts they now take for granted
were
beyond imagining.

But Lu, a computer analyst for Oracle, and his wife, Yuyuan "Lucy" Lu, a

data analyst for a health care company, have prospered in the buoyant
economy of their adopted homeland. They own a four-bedroom house on a
quiet
Fairfax cul-de-sac whose name is as American as Thanksgiving: Harvest
Mill
Court. They have enough money left over to have invested in rental
properties. And Lucy is already thinking about what she wants in her
next
home: more room and a backyard pool.

"It's been better than we ever expected," said Gordon Lu as he relaxed
in
his living room.

"I never even dreamed of having a home like this," added Lucy Lu.

Success stories like theirs are common on Harvest Mill Court, a
picturebook
slice of Americana, its two-story houses outfitted with picture windows
and
brass light fixtures. Much like Fairfax County itself, about a third of
the
residents on this Centreville street, part of a subdivision built seven
years ago, came from somewhere else -- Asia and Latin America mostly.

Immigrants have played a huge role first in planting and now enjoying
the
fruits of affluence in Fairfax. From the corridors of the high tech
giants
that ring Reston to the strip malls of mom-and-pop ethnic restaurants in

Baileys Crossroads, immigrants have had an integral part in the county's

economic good fortune.

Like generations before them, they were drawn here by the promise of
opportunity. But where their forebears flocked to America to build its
railroads, highways and urban centers, many of today's newcomers -- the
biggest U.S. immigration wave in a century -- are from the educated
middle
class. They come here fleeing not poverty but war, hyperinflation or a
simple dearth of opportunities for their talents and expertise.

With the fourth-largest concentration of high-tech companies in the
country,
the Washington area has attracted a broad range of immigrants: 1 in 6
area
residents was born in another country. No statistics exist on the exact
number living in Fairfax, but 2000 Census figures suggest a dramatic
rise in
minorities (though not all are immigrants, of course). The county's
Hispanic
population more than doubled in 10 years, to 107,000, or 11 percent of
the
total; another 127,000 residents are Asians, though no comparable 1990
figure exists to measure the increase.

In January, Fairfax officials released a first-ever poll of seven
immigrant
communities based on language: Spanish, Urdu, Farsi, Vietnamese, Korean,

Kurdish and Somali. More than 90 percent of the 918 responding families,
all
drawn from school records, reported that at least one parent or guardian
was
employed; 54 percent said both adults worked.

On average, respondents said they paid $980 a month for housing. Nearly
20
percent reported difficulty paying for housing or medicine in the
previous
six months, but a third said they were able to save regularly.

As America's immigrants have moved up the socio-economic ladder, ethnic
enclaves have given way to places like Harvest Mill Court, whose 30
houses
are home to people from nine other countries. The four-bedroom houses
are
jammed five to an acre, so yards are small, but the under-$250,000 price
is
right for families who want some elbow room and good schools at a
reasonable
cost.

The community also offers a feeling of security: On weekends, residents
leave their front doors open and let their children play hopscotch in
the
street. At Christmas, they sing carols door-to-door.

Harvest Mill Court has been home to Guruprasad and Poornima Vijayanagar
since 1993. They are almost accidental immigrants, having arrived from
India
in 1988 because Guru, a software programmer, was working for a company
that
had a contract in Michigan. India was not the technological powerhouse
it is
now, so the couple decided to stay in this country-where their two
children
were born-becoming citizens in 1996. Like his neighbor Gordon Lu, Guru
Vijayanagar works for Oracle now.

Though he comes from a well-to-do family with a big house and servants,
Vijayanagar said that in India he likely would only have had the chance
to
own ancestral land. Here, his 1,800-square-foot home is equipped for
comfort. The den is dominated by a 56-inch TV screen on which the family

watches Indian videos. They have two cars.

Vijayanagar, 39, beams with accomplishment.

"When I came, we had nothing," he said. "Now we have our own house, and
stability. It gives us satisfaction that we have worked and get what we
have
by ourselves. We're happy. We have enough income to live comfortably and
put
something aside."

But that affluence doesn't come cheap, they realize. The price has been
50-hour work weeks, with less time for family and friends.

"If you look at me, you'd say I have everything I want in such a nice
home,"
said Poornima Vijayanagar, 34. "But I can't reach out and touch people
like
I did in India. It's so hectic here, more mechanical. You're under so
much
pressure to keep up. It's not just work. It's getting your kids in the
right
schools and the right activities. In India, we had more time on our
hands
just to talk to neighbors."

Whatever country they come from, immigrants on Harvest Mill Court
frequently
leaven their gratitude and pride in their achievements here with
exhaustion
from the breathless pace of their two-income, middle-class life.

In Argentina, where Gloria Diehl's parents ran a butcher shop and
pizzeria,
her family had servants who cleaned, cooked, gardened and did the
laundry.
They left that behind 15 years ago when they started over in this
country,
opening a deli.

"I like living here," said Diehl, 35, a mother of two who works at a
clothing store to supplement her husband's income as an engineer. "In
Argentina, we were robbed hundreds of times. We lived with bars on the
windows, dogs outside and the alarm on. Here, you can leave your door
open.
That's the beauty of this country. If you work, pay your taxes and do
the
routine, you're happy."

Diehl's attitude mirrors that of many immigrants, according to the
recent
county survey. About 86 percent of respondents said their neighbors make

them feel welcome, and 90 percent said Fairfax feels like home now. At
the
same time, 97 percent said their native traditions remain important.

Shobha Reddy, a friend from down the street, pulls into Diehl's driveway
in
a Toyota minivan. A software programmer, Reddy emigrated from India in
1987
with her husband, then a student. She clerked at a department store and
put
herself through college.

"I worked for it," Reddy, 32, said of her shiny, late-model vehicle. "I
had
to. It takes two incomes to get a car like this. This is a country for
hardworking people."

Reddy's mother, still in India, was taken aback by her daughter's
lifestyle
when she visited here.

"I do everything at home," Reddy said, "feed the kids, clean the
kitchen-things like that. When I was on my knees scrubbing the floor, my

mother cried. She said at home in India I never had to do that. I come
from
a wealthy family. Women never worked."

Despite their reflections on how hard Americans must work to attain the
things they desire, no one on Harvest Mill seems to regret having
emigrated.
Some even find questions about money and material things beside the
point.

A man living at the end of the street, who for privacy reasons did not
want
his name published, said he's pleased that his job as a printshop
operator
allows his son to grow up in a comfortable suburban house. But the house
and
two cars are not why the man fled Vietnam by boat in 1981, just days
after
being released from six years in a re-education camp.

"It's not important to have a house or a car," said the man, a police
and
military officer in South Vietnam before the communist takeover. "The
important thing is freedom."


 2001 The Washington Post Company



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