Thursday, April 07, 2005

An unexpected evening

It was your standard Tuesday night. I'd come home from work, picked up my laundry, and was sitting around messing around online. Having not eaten all day, I decided to mosey on down to the little Latin restaurant I'd discovered down the street from me, since it looked pretty good and authentic and I love Latin food.

So I moseyed, for what was supposed to be a quick dinner by myself followed by a rapid return home. This was, however not to be...instead, I was going to get another one of those memorable nights that have become a hallmark of my existence.

I found myself strangely outnumbered in the restaurant. The clientele appeared to be mainly made up of working class guys, and everyone spoke Spanish. I ordered my dinner and a Presidente (a Dominican beer - which clued me in to the fact that this was a Dominican hangout). I finished the first beer was about to order myself another one, when one of the guys in the restaurant asked me if it would be ok for him to buy me a beer. I thought for a second then agreed. The beer appeared, my food appeared, and all was well. And then another beer came.

At this point I decided to be friendly, and approached the group of guys. We started chatting. Now, it was fairly clear that most of them had a rudimentary knowledge of English, at best. So when I asked one of them how long he had been in the States, I expected to hear a year or two. Not seventeen years. And this was the moment when I realized that I had stumbled into the quintessential example of an immigrant community.

To cut a long story short, we were there until closing time, chatting, drinking beer and in a way, learning about each other's cultures. It's amazing how little someone can learn about the US when they spend their entire time in New York City, as part of a Latino community that not only sticks together linguistically, but even divides itself on national lines. It's amazing how little a little gringo from the midwest can understand about the life of immigrants in America.

America is a country of boundless opportunities. It is also a country that is so frequently misperceived abroad, particularly in developing countries, that a certain body of folk-legends has arisen around its mythos. As I learned on Tuesday night, they'd like to go home to their beautiful countries, because New York is expensive and their lives are tough, but they can't go home. They can't go home, because no matter how tough life is here, they make enough to send some home, where a little goes a much longer way, and where as a result, people think that America is the land of endless wealth and bounty.

To quote one of my favorite children's movies: There are no cats in America and the streets are paved with cheese...


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Much love for Fievel.

11:48 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Very nicely done. I am enjoying your Blog more and more.

2:25 PM  

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