In and around Washington, the capital city of this nation of immigrants, America's latest arrivals are welcomed by many and tolerated by most.
A Washington Post survey of 1,319 residents of the Washington area disclosed generally accepting and often favorable opinions of recent immigrants who have settled here.
Unlike cities such as Miami, where even the subtropical thunder cannot drown out the sound of Hispanic, Anglo and black cultures clashing, residents here view immigrants positively.
The survey results suggest that uncertainty and latent hostility may lie just beneath those attitudes, however. More than two of every five residents agreed with the statement that there are "too many immigrants in the Washington area." But it was an uncomfortable view that troubled many of those who expressed it.
"There's only one problem with them," said James Exum, 50, a waiter who lives off Minnesota Avenue in Northeast Washington. "They keep people raised and born here out of work."
That view -- that they take jobs from Americans -- is not supported by evidence. Nevertheless, the survey suggested that receptivity to the new immigrants is largely a pocketbook issue. Intolerance increases as incomes decline. Foreigners do not worry area residents. Competitors do.
Still, there is more good news than bad in the numbers:
Nearly two out of three persons surveyed said immigrants have made Washington "a more interesting place to live."
More than four of five -- 83 percent -- said immigrants work harder to get ahead than do other people. And two of three said immigrants are filling jobs others don't want, rather than taking desirable jobs from residents.
About nine of 10 said they would prefer to send their children to a school with immigrant children rather than to one where none of the other children are immigrants.
More than two of five -- 44 percent -- said that immigrants are more likely than other people to be good neighbors; only one of five said they are worse.
One of three residents said that immigrants have made the area a better place in which to live, and two of five said they have made no noticeable difference. Only about one of five said immigrants have made Washington a worse place to live.
Relatively small numbers acknowledged negative or hostile views of immigrants. Only one in five said immigrants are more likely than other residents to be involved in drugs or crime. About one in 10 said immigrants "will never become good U.S. citizens." A similarly small minority said the children of immigrants are hurting area public schools.
Two-thirds of all those surveyed -- 68 percent -- said they had encounters in the past year with an immigrant who had trouble understanding English. But only one of three said they were particularly bothered by the incident.
"Language is the biggest problem," said Sandra Allison, 39, a school teacher who lives in Hillcrest Heights. "I went to the 7-Eleven store and the lady had a problem with the change. I felt a little frustrated because I was frustrated. Then I thought how I would feel if I were in another country trying to make it . . . . Someone else had to hold the door open for everyone else who came here."
Others complained of unintelligible encounters with taxi drivers and restaurant servers. Perhaps that's why 66 percent of those surveyed said the government should provide English classes at no cost to any immigrants who want them. Significantly, however, a somewhat larger percentage opposed offering classes in immigrants' native languages in public schools.
"This guy made a U-turn from the right lane right in the middle of the block, and didn't look at all" said Jackie Cooper, 32, of Capitol Heights, recalling an accident that occurred just four days earlier. "He had a brand-new '87 Taurus and now it had a big dent in it. I just felt numb."
Cooper said his car was not seriously damaged. "I let bygones be bygones. It was just ignorance on his part." His attitude toward immigrants also appeared undamaged. "They've been good for us," he said. "They've given us different ways of looking at things; you get another perspective, and that makes a good difference."
The survey showed that area residents appear to tolerate immigrants -- until they pose a threat to their jobs or their paychecks.
More than half of those surveyed said that immigrants bring down wages. And three of five respondents with household incomes of less than $12,000 a year said there are too many immigrants in the Washington area. But among those with household incomes of $75,000 a year or more, only one of four expressed a similarly negative view.
Income alone, however, did not explain all differences in attitudes. The survey generally found that blacks of all income levels were slightly less likely than whites to express positive views of immigrants. Blacks also were more likely than whites to have a neutral opinion of immigrants. One example: About one of five blacks said immigrants have made the Washington area a better place to live, and half said immigrants have made little difference. But more than a third of all whites said immigrants have helped this area, while slightly more than a third said they have had little impact. Significantly, about equal percentages of blacks and whites claimed that immigrants have hurt the area.
More than two of five respondents who said immigrants take desirable jobs from area residents also said that immigrants make the Washington area a worse place to live. But less than one of six -- 15 percent -- of those who said that immigrants merely fill jobs that others don't want said the same thing.
Exum has been tending bar and waiting tables in the Rayburn Cafeteria in the House of Representatives for seven years. He makes something less than $20,000 a year; it's the best-paying job he's ever had. Exum doesn't fear that he will lose his job to an immigrant. And he doesn't believe immigrants have lowered wages in his line of work. "But they could," he said.
Few respondents -- even those most fearful that immigrants threaten their own economic well-being -- said they had been hurt personally by immigrants.
Eloise Benham, 61, lives a dozen miles from Exum in a part of Fairfax County that is separated by more than geographic distance from Northeast Washington.
Benham's view of immigrants has been formed, in part, by her association with Zoila Cornjo, a Salvadoran immigrant who is her maid.
"The immigrants that I know I'm very impressed with," Benham said. "Other people aren't willing to wash dishes. They are. Other people won't clean toilets. They're willing. Other people won't sweep floors. They're willing. These people are not only willing, they're delighted."
Benham said she helped Cornjo become a legal resident when Benham discovered, to her dismay, that Cornjo was an illegal immgrant.
Cornjo is married now and has three children of her own. She comes to clean the Benham home once a week. Benham saves the Sunday comics for her to take home to her children. Their relationship, rooted fundamentally in noncompeting self-interest, appears to be something more than their respective circumstances might otherwise have allowed. "She's just a lovely person," Benham said. "I'd turn over my life to her."
About one of six area residents said they or a member of their household paid an immigrant to do work for their family in the past year. Immigrants were generally viewed as hard working. Four out of five respondents said that immigrants are more likely than other people to work hard to get ahead.
That impression is confirmed by about three in 10 of those who work alongside recently arrived immigrants. More than half -- 55 percent -- of those questioned said they have worked with an immigrant.
The poll suggests that Washington area residents believe that each major immigrant group to come to this area in the past two decades has generally made this area a better place to live -- or, at worst, made no noticeable difference.
One group did generate disproportionately high negative ratings: Iranians, perhaps because of some perceived association with the current regime in that country. Twenty-eight percent of the respondents said Iranian immigrants hurt the area.
Depending where one looks, most neighborhoods in the Washington area would appear closer to an ethnic salad bowl than a melting pot. About half -- 56 percent -- of all residents said there are immigrants living in their neighborhood, but only about one of eight said there were "many" immigrants in their area.
Slightly more than half said they know immigrants living in their neighborhood, and slightly more than one out of three -- 36 percent -- said they consider an immigrant here to be a "close personal friend."
Most people with school-aged children said their children have attended a school with at least a few immigrant children, and half said that their children have immigrant friends.
Joyce Powell, 39, of Northwest Washington came to this area 13 years ago from Jamaica. Her three sons followed two years later.
She has not faced overt discrimination because of her nationality, Powell said. No ethnic or racial slurs, not even insults cloaked as jokes. "Even if people have had that feeling inside," she said, "they haven't shown it to me."
Her boys, now age 26, 22 and 21, played with nonimmigrant children in the neighborhood. "They get along better with Americans than with their own," she said.
There have, however, been problems.
"All their girl friends are Americans . . . , " Powell laughed. "They need to love their own people, too."
Washington Post polling analyst Kenneth E. John contributed to this study.