Growing up in West Philadelphia, I had a Puerto Rican a year behind me in elementary school and a Chinese restaurant on 52nd Street, where my family went for dinner Sundays. When I switched to a Quaker private school, I had a German exchange student and the nephew of a Central American dictator, with whom I had a fist fight – not over political differences – in 1956. (The most damage inflicted came from a right cross I landed on the chin of the stone wall behind him.) Globalization-wise, that pretty much covered it.
As a workers’ comp. lawyer in Berkeley, I have represented people from Cambodia, China, Croatia, Egypt, El Salvador, England, Eritria, Ethiopia, Fiji, Germany, Greece, Guatemala, India, Iran, Iraq, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Japan, Lebanon, Mexico, Nigeria, Pakistan, the Philippines, Russia, Samoa, Sri Lanka, Turkey, Vietnam – and that’s without checking my "Closed Case" cards.
Last year, I got my first Mongolian. He was a brain-injured illegal, who worked for an unlicensed, illegally uninsured Russian. From the woman who acted as his interpreter, I learned there is an active pool of undocumented Mongolians who work off the books for crooked Russians in the Bay Area. She explained the attraction from the employer point-of-view. The glory days of the United Soviet Socialist Republic had left Mongolians speaking two languages: Russian and Mongolian. That means (a) they can take orders and, (b) if something goes wrong, like they fall off a ladder onto their head, they will have difficulty complaining to anyone that matters.
This week I had the deposition of a client from Nagaland, whose primary language is Naga. Truly. You can look it up. (I know I did.) Nagaland: an independent, self-governing, mountainous state in northeast India, whose fauna includes elephants, pangolins, leopards, and bears. It has a population of two million people, from over a dozen tribes, each of which has its own language, but who communicate among each other in Nagamese. (I will have to check with my client if "Naga" or "Nagamese," as Wikipedia would have it, is correct and get back to you.) But here’s the weird thing. Ninety percent of the population is Christian! And seventy-five percent is Baptist!! That gives Nagaland the highest concentration of Baptists of any state in the world. (Our own Mississippi is second with fifty percent.)
You learn something every day.
Causes Bob Levin Supports
Comic Book Legal Defense Fund, ACLU, PEN, Berkeley Emergency Food & Housing Project.