Citizens’ Journal is proud to present the Coming to America series of immigrant related interviews conducted by Ventura resident Dr. Kathleen S. Roos. CJ publishes a new story each Sunday. These stories describe what life was like in their native country, the whys of wanting to come to America and what they have found here. It is the hope of each interviewee that those born in America, who have not had these experiences may reflect on what it means to be an American by these immigrants. Many have risked their lives and their families to come to America. Some have had an easier road, but the desire to be free, to make choices and what it means to become an American is a thread found throughout these interviews.
In current news today look at the young man Enes Kanter, the Boston Celtics basketball player speaking out about human rights and comparisons to China and the companies who do business there! He is from Turkey and Muslim and his family is paying a price for his decision to speak out. He is also taking a lot of heat from others here in the U.S. to risk his career to take such a stand. A very decent guy who makes a great example to Americans. He is well-known and appreciates the U.S. and our freedoms and deplores the atrocities in China and other parts of the world relative to abuse and lack of human rights. Most of these interviewees are not well known, or famous but their stories matter. All the varying perspectives of the interviewees are presented. Each one is their own story.
For the Citizen’s Journal readers who want to go back and view previous interviews we have included a list of those already published which can be located through the journal’s search engine box by typing in Coming to America, and the name of the Country. These include interviews from Cambodia and the Khmer Rouge through Cambodia: The Next Generation (installments 1-3), Oaxaca, Mexico (4), Santiago, Chile (5), Aligarh, India (6), Santiago, Cuba (7), Cambodia: years later told by an American dental professional (8), Jalisco, Mexico (9), Bagdad, Iraq (10), Bulacan, Philippines (11), and United Kingdom (12).
This week’s installment CJ is presents Mark Lai’s story from Saigon, Vietnam. Future interviews will include Plauen, Germany, Rimmanapudi, India, Great Urswich, UK., Helsinki, Finland, Tehran, Iran, North Korea, Riga, Latvia, and Dr. Roos’ story from her travel and experiences.
Interview with Adrian Elliott
Where were you born? Country, town?
I was born in a farming community in Northwest England, an area called the Lake District. It is very rural. I lived in Great Urswick, a village with a population of about 1,000 people. As a child, I helped on the farms almost every day.
I was born in the 50’s. My parents, with the after effects of World War II, worked long, hard hours to save for a home and the family, and were very frugal. They both worked for the pharmaceutical company (Glaxo), but also operated their own business selling milk and eggs, from the hens they reared. They worked both jobs so that they could afford to buy their home without taking a mortgage. These were the days when you didn’t buy anything unless you could afford it.
My father lost three brothers and his father during WWII. He, himself, left school at the age of 14, working in a butcher’s shop, before being conscripted into the Navy as a teenager. Whenever I asked him about the war, he would always say “war is futile”. I remember that quote to this day. My parents were quiet and very practical. All clothes were repaired – not bought new. I loved the outdoors, whether it was helping the farmers or hiking, birdwatching, fishing and camping. I am the oldest of 4 boys. We would take annual vacations to different parts of the U.K., not at all extravagant – staying in guest houses – and spending the time looking at historical and geographical sites. I remember that if it was raining it was pretty miserable. I appreciated my parents taking us away. I loved camping in my teens, and I have extended it into my adult life. During the COVID pandemic, I have taken the opportunity to camp in many of the US National Parks.
During WWII, my father lived in the heart of London, which experienced significant bombing. For much of the war, he was in the Navy on a cruiser. The sister cruiser, operating with them in the Pacific, was sunk. My mother lived in a shipbuilding town in the North, which was a target for the bombing. She was moved, like many other children, to other towns as a safety precaution. There was a great deal of bitterness.
I recall that the need for steel was so great during the war that they had taken out the railings at my high school. There were many examples where they had taken metal to support the war effort. The railings were never replaced, and you can still see the metal stubs. I also remember my mother talking about the fact that sugar, butter, milk, and other products like this, were all very limited or rationed. Our diet during my childhood years was limited, and rather plain, with a great reliance on potatoes.
During my time in Secondary School, called Middle School in the UK, in the town of Ulverston, I did the bare minimum to get by. I was not particularly prepared and ashamed of my performance. However, I studied hard in university.
Tell me about growing up in your country. Comparisons to U.S. if applicable.
My teachers in Britain were generally good, but the ones I remember the best were the biology teachers. They gave us a very good, broad education, and challenged us to think. I enjoyed the passion of these teachers. I think this benefited me years later. It gave me an interest in biological sciences and biochemistry, which I pursued at university, but there wasn’t a lot of work available in this field. I subsequently received my Master’s at the University of Manchester, in polymer and fiber science. The adhesives, plastics and composites later helped me in the automotive industry with Rover Group and Ford Motor Company.
Did you travel to other countries prior to coming to U.S.?
Growing up, I didn’t really travel anywhere outside of England and the annual vacations as a family were always within England. I don’t have a lot of fun memories about these vacations, it was just good to get home and be able to hike and fish with friends, and work on the farms. After graduation from high school, I started to travel far more with friends from school and college. Other European countries, particularly France, Spain and Portugal were the primary destinations, but the aquamarine waters and expansive sandy beaches of the Greek Isles drew me and many other baby boomers, who enjoyed the opportunity to go ‘au naturale’; something that seems particularly alien in American culture.
What were your experiences in school and college educational system in your native country?
I went to a small elementary school in an adjacent village, there were only six students in the class: two boys and four girls. Academic achievements were not my priority. The teachers were the ‘Old Guard’, very strict and sticklers for the rules, employing corporal punishment for minor transgressions. You could get hit by a cane or measurement ruler just for holding a knife or fork incorrectly. School did not really challenge me, and I didn’t work hard, but I was fortunate that due to natural intelligence I was awarded the book prize every year.
My lackadaisical attitude to education continued through secondary school, where a modicum of intelligence was not really enough to guarantee a place at university.
Tell me about your job/profession here as compared to your native Country. When did you come to the U.S.? Have you become a U.S citizen?
I came to the U.S. in 1993 and became a citizen in 2001. It seemed like a long process, first obtaining a green card. The whole process took 7 to 8 years. There was massive amounts of documentation and written work to become a citizen.
Why did you want to come to the U.S.? Or did you want to come to the U.S.?
It was never my intention to come to the U.S permanently. I worked in the U.S. (Virginia Beach) in 1983 for several months, and thoroughly enjoyed my time as a footloose and fancy-free guy in my 20’s. A couple of years later, I moved from the UK to Switzerland to work for Dow Chemical. On return to the UK, in 1993, I was asked by Ford Motor Company to come to work for them in the U.S. Having got married and had a child in Switzerland, it was my intention to stay in Europe. I would have stayed, except the offer from Ford Motor Company was hard to decline.
How do you perceive the U.S. today as compared to when you first came here?
When I first arrived to the US I lived in Dearborn, just outside of Detroit, and I soon integrated into the community. I was hired for materials development and application at Ford, but there were so many other opportunities. I would have been comfortable to stay in Europe and I have to admit the crumbling concrete infrastructure of Metro Detroit was a bit intimidating and off-putting. Although it was a major move for me, with significant differences between the U.K. and the U.S., the R&D facilities at Ford were impressive and it was a major opportunity. I was effectively told ‘here’s your budget (a significant amount), this is what we want you to do, go ahead and do it. Just a wonderful challenge and it gave me so much flexibility. I had access to all the equipment I could possibly need, and I was allowed to hire my own team. I initially developed composite materials and the joining processes for vehicle body structures, but in time encompassed lightweight metals, such as aluminum, and high strength steels. It was state-of-the-art work, and I was respected and rewarded. I hired great people. The work was published in technical journals, many of the applications and designs were patented, and I felt honored to be here.
Prior to Ford, I worked in an engineering process company called Furmanite International. I worked there for approximately 6 years, during which time (1986) I went to the US, as previously mentioned, and did a brief stint in Virginia Beach where I worked on sealants for the nuclear industry.
Are your parents and family here or in your Country? How does your family/friends perceive the U.S.?
My parents remained in England, and they would come to visit maybe once a year until about the year 2000. As they aged it became more difficult for them to travel. My friends like the United States a great deal and looked forward to annual visits.
Do you see parallels of things happening in your Country compared to U.S. Good and bad?
Yes, a lack of tolerance for mass immigration, and in particular refugees from war-torn countries. The issues at the US-Mexico border are a topic of great debate, but a major influencing factor for the UK and Brexit was the free flow of immigrants into the country and the immediate access to benefits.
Do people own guns in your country? Did they ever and/or were they confiscated?
You can own a gun in England if you are a landowner or you belong to a gun club. To own a gun, you must go through a strict vetting process and keep the weapon under lock & key. There’s very little hunting now – just on private land. I do not see the need to own a gun and feel that strict laws relating to ownership are essential.
How does the education system work?
You pay for your university education in the UK. I find the educational system there much better than in the US. On entering university, you pick a subject (major) and pursue it for 3 to 4 years. I pursued a science degree. You can potentially change the major, but not as easily as you can in the US. I think the UK has a good value system and recognizes good work. Even if the subject you choose is not ideal for you in England, you are still able to accomplish something. It is to better yourself, so you still have an opportunity in that field.
I currently tutor high school chemistry students in my spare time, because of a shortage of experienced teachers locally. I find that the teachers in the US don’t help the students to flourish. In the university, you can change subjects almost indefinitely, and so your education can drag on with no fixed time for graduation. There is the opportunity here to go at a slower pace, but I don’t think that necessarily helps the students. They don’t let you slow the pace down in England. I don’t think the schooling system recognizes how imperative and serious education is for the future of their children
How does the public health and medical system work?
I would say the medical system (National Health System) is okay, but not ideal, in England. Some of the population now supplements the public health offering with private insurance. Many good doctors are leaning towards private practice If you have general medical ailments, Britain’s public health system is fine but if you have something like cancer or broken legs or need a heart or kidney transplant or anything serious, it is not the greatest. It can take up to a year for some diagnoses and treatments and sometimes people don’t have a year.
Explain what you mean as freedom and liberty or the pursuit of happiness?
I have always felt that I was free in Europe, so I find it surprising when US citizens claim that they have more freedom. In the UK, I believed in free enterprise and was a strong supporter of Margaret Thatcher and felt of myself as a Conservative. I struggle in the US regarding the two (polarized) parties. Although a proponent of the corporate world and enterprise in general, I feel healthcare should be available to all, I am pro-choice, I am for sustainability of the environment and especially cannot condone drilling in Alaska. By default, I lean more towards the Democrats here. I feel free. I see freedom and I recognize that many, for instance in Afghanistan and Iraq do not have the luxury of freedom. Populations of most countries in the developed world have freedom, but there are always exceptions, such as much of the Chinese population, and especially the Uighurs. I don’t see ‘freedom’ justifying the Capital Hill riot: As regards to other significant movements, such as BLM, then they have a strong case, although I don’t condone violence.
Describe religions of your country? Is there religious freedom? Do you think that is important?
In Britain and most of northern Europe, there is religious freedom, but it is not really practiced anymore. Very few people go to church – probably equating to less than 10% in England. Of course, in southern areas of Europe, such as Italy and Spain, there’s much more religious practice, but not so much in the European Union as a whole. Religion doesn’t figure into daily life, and I feel most are agnostic and don’t feel the need for religion. The difference between here and the US I see people talk about religious practices here and I find a lot of hypocrisy. They may not be the nicest people, but they regularly attend church. I was brought up to be very practical, with no reference to religion, and could never mention things like fate. I was told, for instance, that accidents had nothing to do with fate, just an error on the part of an individual or group.
My father was born a Methodist, but he really didn’t practice it religiously. In later life, he would go to Easter socials but that’s about it. I’m an agnostic. I was surprised at people that go to church in the US. I find them hypocrites. I think church becomes a habit and they are not the kind and generous people they proclaim themselves to be. I don’t think we need religion to be fair or just. I think sometimes it’s used just as a crutch.
What things do you like most about the U.S.?
My career and being given so many opportunities. I was funded well, and I had a great deal of freedom to figure out what I needed to do. There was a great deal of recognition and the surroundings I had in my company were all supportive. There was very strong emphasis on technology. The freedom to do what you want, when you want. More significant opportunities here than most other places.
I love the beautiful scenic areas, particularly within the National Parks.
What thing do you miss about your Country?
When I return to England, I hate the immediate smell, noise and congestion in and around the airport, and the difficulty of commuting anywhere near the big cities., but when I get out into the country and visit little pubs and cafes, I miss that camaraderie. I love the greenery and the little cottages, the atmosphere and little cafes. Everyone is out walking around villages. The openness is just welcoming. I feel content when visiting my brother. The atmosphere ingratiates the community feeling. In the US, land is so available and vast. You just can’t take a bus somewhere or go downtown. I am in Florida near Cape Canaveral. When I moved here it was a new development, now it is sprawling humanity.
What do you dislike most about U.S.?
The residential sprawl that develops without thought to community centers, pedestrian ways or public transport. I dislike the materialistic attitude, without a great deal of thought for sustainability.
I dislike the attitude and actions of the police in general. They no longer seem to be here to serve the community – I blame the qualification standards for entry and inadequate training thereafter.
What similarities do you see between the two Countries and or other countries you have been to?
I see many similarities between the UK and the US. The UK seems to parallel and follow what’s trending in the US. Some of the differences relate to health care services. The UK has a National Health Service, and although a good standard, the wait for tests or vital procedures such as heart or cancer treatments can be excessive. Many friends are finding it necessary to get private health insurance to supplement the National Health System.
I find the U.S. a more materialistic society. In England we only spent if we could afford it. When I came to the U.S. I was astonished by how much people spend on things I don’t consider essential, and things they replace frequently. I remained frugal for a long time, but now I seem to be falling into that same materialistic way. I have just retired and when I go to the UK now, I’m willing to buy more and eat out more.
It’s so sad that in the U.S. so many are below the poverty line and yet the rest can just splurge and not save. The poverty line is less evident in the U.K. In the fast-food industry, you’re able to pay below minimum wage, while in the UK you are paid a more acceptable wage- although lower than many service jobs. Many of the lower paid roles have been taken by immigrants from Eastern Europe.
How does your country’s market economy work? Largest industry, agricultures imports and exports.
The economy in the U.K. is mainly a service industry with little heavy industry anymore, and relatively little in the way of manufacturing. We have OEMs (original equipment manufacturers) in the rail and aerospace industry, but we’re primarily a service industry. Post Brexit, British manufacturers and producers are finding it far more difficult to sell to the EU. Britain is no longer the heart of the financial world, but still has major financial services, with companies such as Lloyd’s of London, Barclays and HSBC. Pharmaceuticals are still of significance with companies such as Glaxo Welcome and AstraZeneca. Tourism is still important to the country.
Does your Country secure its borders? Do you think that is a sovereign right of a country to protect its citizens?
Yes, the UK has tightened up the border post Brexit. Although, there is a steady flow of refugees attempting to enter the country by sailing across the English Channel from France. Many are still being allowed entry, although more are being dispatched back to France.
A country has a sovereign right to secure its borders, but all countries have a responsibility to help refugees fleeing war or persecution. The difficulty is striking a balance that is fair and equitable. The different cultures existing in different countries is one of the most amazing and cherished things, and the thought of losing that rapidly due to mass influx of other nationalities would be sad. However, it has to be recognized that the world has always and will perpetually change as different races migrate from one region to another.
Can someone just come in from some country and take up residence in your country?
As part of the European Union, then Britain allowed this. Now, post Brexit, more restrictions are in place.
Can you describe some instances or personal experiences that happened in US that would be different in your Country or vice versa?
Being escorted back from Detroit to Canada at gun point by the TSA, after it became apparent that my wife’s Swiss passport had lapsed by a few days, after we had spent a few hours visiting the neighboring Canadian province. We were not yet citizens, but all other documentation was valid – US driving license, green card, etc. The heavy handedness of border guards is renowned, and this action was despicable, and would never have happened in Britain.
Zero tolerance in school for minor transgressions, results in detention or suspension without thought to how it impairs the education, or without trying to inform the individual how their actions were inappropriate. My boys, who were well educated, but lively individuals, fell afoul of the system at school on numerous occasions, and detention always resulted without the teachers trying to educate them as to why they were punished. This would not happen in Europe to the same extent. I believe that many teachers in the US are not in the career because they want to educate the young.
Are you glad to be in America?
I enjoy my life in America. I am happy and driven by the challenges. I am glad to be here. I would consider going back to the UK, but my wife is Swiss and there would be an equal chance of us going back there. There is no perfect place. The U.S. is an appropriate place, and our family is here. We have kids and grandkids, and it makes it difficult to move. For many of the reason already captured, the US could be so much more appealing. If the polarized views could be discussed and debated and compromise achieved, if education could be improved, and if sustainability was taken more seriously.