Guest post: Only us humans here in Waltham
Sara so often possesses an eerie sense of what her friends really need. And as it turns out, I really need this blog post. As Sara said in her introduction of me, I am "working" on immigration issues. Really, I am not. Really, I am "feeling" immigration.
I have all these 'ideas' in my head, sure. But on the matter of "immigration" -- on the matter of actual immigrants who are now my friends -- I find my ideas obscured by feelings. These are big feelings. There's love. There's empathy. And where my country is concerned, there is a deep sense of betrayal. A country that uses collected tax dollars to "raid" and to tear children from their mothers and fathers is not a place I recognize. I can see life and, too, the United States, through the eyes of my immigrant friends now. For this, I feel blessed. When I do look out of their eyes, though, I see an ungentle, Gestapo nation. But I am getting ahead of myself, all worked up. That's the thing with feelings, you know. Ideas are safer somehow.
During yoga class, everything seems so calm and clear and I am sure that I will sort out all these feelings. I will write my 4th (and best) book about the 'issue' of 'immigration.' Probably, though, I will be compelled to write a book that is, in part, about the experience (my experience...) of waking up in a global city. Waking up, spiritually, here, in this place; Waltham, Massachusetts; a corner of the earth reshaped by immigration, saving me from certain death in a soulless, white suburbia. But then the yoga instructor whispers: "Namaste," and my certainty and important purpose vanish. They are lost in the mundane mix of picking up milk on the way home, worrying about that e-mail I never answered from work, getting the boys to basketball practice, getting the boys to finish their homework and brush their teeth.
It's true, though, that a little over a year ago, I found myself gloriously wide awake in the world -- in a global city just over the border, just beyond the invisible wall around our affluent corner of suburban Newton. Life has not looked or felt the same since I fell hopelessly in love with the streets, the smells, sounds and most of all, the mass of beautiful, humanity just over the border in Waltham. This gritty little city of brick and work and, most interestingly, immigrants from everywhere, captured my imagination and opened me up. I so desperately wanted to be in and of this world. I felt good here. I decided, then, that I would write another book about the "tribulations of triumphs of modern immigration." I see now that perhaps a 'book' is my vehicle for learning how to live, learn and love – for 'feeling' life, for being 'in' life, connected to humanity. So many people I know measure their success by the degree to which they can isolate themselves from 'humanity' -- from the sometimes chaos and unpredictability and work-in-progress that is Waltham, Massachusetts.
Immigration, to me, is no longer an 'issue.' It is an unstoppable human phenomenon. Human beings uproot. They move not just themselves, but their games, their music, their symbols, their ways of loving and living and eating. They fall in love. They work. They build. They repair. They cook. I’ve heard people say (and I have said it) "They work so damn hard," and generally it is true. But now that "they," or at least several "immigrants," are fully intertwined with my life, as I am intertwined with theirs, I see this isn't about the "hard work" that "they" do or the long hours "they" work. It is not about "them," or "us," but about "we." Immigrants who build, who repair; don't just "work." They shape the landscape. Immigrants who cook in the back kitchen aren't just collecting paychecks. They are feeding their fellow human beings.
Maybe immigration is the force that possesses the power to move each of us to higher places, to open our eyes to things we never saw before, to enrich us beyond our imaginings. It is, perhaps, the stunning human phenomenon that grants us the privilege of understanding that there really is no "they," and there is no "us," even though I framed it that way in the preceding paragraph.
I’d like to share some words from a 30-something immigrant from Mexico. Someday, maybe they'll make it into my book, for which I have a working title: Where The World Moved: Waking Up In The Global City.
Next, I need some of that elusive crystallization required for a proposal. Luckily, I’m going to yoga tonight in Waltham. In the meantime, meditate on what Pedro has to say (Moody Street is the eclectic main drag in Waltham, a traditionally white ethnic enclave, reshaped [artfully] by immigration):
"Moody Street has this outside face, see? You got the Tempo Bistro Restaurant here, where all the white people from the suburbs come and eat? And it's all fancy but if you look in the kitchen, it's all Spanish people cooking. Do Americans -- you know, white people -- do they ever look in the kitchen?
The French-Cambodian place on Main? I know you white people eat there. Well, next time you do, pretend you got lost goin' to the bathroom and walk in the kitchen instead. You better know Spanish if you wanna talk to anyone in there. You better know how to say, "Hola, donde esta el bano?" Because it's all Mexicans in that kitchen.
The Spanish are even making the pizzas now. The Italian place by the river? I know a Jewish guy owns it. But he has a Guatemalan cooking.
. . . Don't you see us on bikes? Like in snow and rain? And it's not because we’re having a nice time riding in that weather. You see white people riding around in little biking outfits, having fun. Well, the Spanish you see on bikes, sometimes you see grown men like me on kids' bikes because that's what they found in the trash. They're goin' to work. On every street in the rich towns, you can see us. In the heat, there's a Mexican or a Guatemalan or a Dominican strapped in one of those huge leaf blowin' machines. And that's the daytime job. They go out and clean offices or whatever other shit job at night. Do you know that about us? A lot of us don't do nothin but work. Like nothin'...
Sometimes I'm just here, hangin' out and I see a white person and there's something about the way they look. It’s not like they look at you and they are saying, 'Go back to where you came from.' It’s like, they look through you, like you aren't there, standing right in front of their face.
I'm different from the others, maybe cuz I'm legal, cuz I got my papers. I'm not afraid a nothin. I'm not hiding in no shadow. I never hid in no shadow. Even when I was illegal, I made myself stand out. So I look at Americans right in the eye and say, 'How ya doin',’ buddy?' Maybe just so they'll look up. And the way they don’t really look at us, it doesn't affect how I feel about myself. But I kinda feel sorry for them, the stupid *$#*s, because when I try to look into their eyes, it seems like they see nothin'. They don't see me, they don't see the guys in the kitchens or blowing the leaves out of their backyard. It's like some white people -- the Americans -- it's like their eyes are dead."