The immigrant advantage

Working at Olive Garden, Mr. Bhuiyan couldn’t believe how his colleagues lacked for support. Young women walked home alone, sometimes in 100-plus degree heat on highways, having no one to give them rides. Many colleagues lacked cars not because they couldn’t afford the lease but because nobody would cosign it. “I feel that, how come they have no one in their family — their dad, their uncle?” he said. They told stories of chaotic childhoods that made them seek refuge in drugs and gangs.

Mr. Bhuiyan concluded that the autonomy for which he’d come to America, while serving him well, failed others who had lacked his support since birth. His republic of self-making was their republic of self-destruction. “Here we think freedom means whatever I wanna do, whatever I wanna say — that is freedom,” he said. “But that’s the wrong definition.”

A second dimension of this in-between-ness involves the role of government. In this era of gridlock and austerity, many immigrants have the advantage of coming from places where bankrupt, do-nothing governments are no surprise. They often find themselves among Americans who are opposite-minded: leaning on the state for economic survival but socially lonesome, without community backup when that state fails.