Monday, September 19, 2011

An Asian Dream Transplanted: God Bless America

On Saturday, I went to a birthday party to celebrate our grandson's 11th birthday at one of our local parks. My oldest son, Miguel had elaborately orchestrated a typical park party, a piƱata full of candy, chips, salsa, guacamole, chile beans while my eldest, Fernando fried up some diced beef and chicken for some tasty tacos.

We found ourselves in the middle of a park surrounded by Asians, Cambodians and Vietnamese families who had spread themselves along a walkway, sitting on rugs, carpets and blankets. Barbecue grills were smoking madly and the men were doing up all kinds of goodies from stuffed sausages, kabobs, to who knows what.

At first glance, one would think these were just families out for a weekend get together at the park, but on closer inspection each group was selling food and fresh vegetables! I recognized a few, bitter melons and ginger but the rest remained a mystery to me. You simply wandered up to the group, surveyed what they were cooking up, pointed, and asked "how much?"

While we were there, several Asians, individuals and small groups, approached our table to eye what we had to eat! They probably assumed we were "selling" too! "No, no", I would stammer and smile, "This a Birthday Party."  It was a bit embarrasing, since there seemed to be no real way to know if any gathering was private or public.  "Ok", I shouted over to my son doing the cooking, "tell the next people who come by tacos are 2 for $5.00!" We all laughed. "Do you think they had a meeting to organize this gathering, or did it just happen?" I asked Miguel.

The women, the matriarchs who ran each concession, sat on the ground, mostly barefoot. They spoke little English, but had memorized "one dahlah", "two dahlah" quite well. My eldest had tried excitedly to describe the scene to me earlier in week but I could not imagine it. He lives nearby and says this goes on all week long! It was like embarking on a trip back to an Asian marketplace in some village in Viet Nam or Cambodia, but transported here to the middle of a park in my home town!

Families laughed and enjoyed each others' company, their kids running around and playing in the playground. One man made delicious snow cones with incredible and mysterious flavors and toppings. I found a red Lima Bean in mine. Now, who would think of putting Lima Beans in a snow cone? Amazing combination and it worked. He had brought a video projector, and a large poster board leaning up against an empty bucket of soy sauce turned upside down, and played musical videos. The music was soothing. As the day wore one, the music changed to Cambodian and Vietnamese Rap!

In jest, my son Miguel said "Let's ask the guy if he has any Vicente Fernandez, Cornelio Reyna or Tigeres del Norte." We laughed.

At one point, I noticed two things: We were the only Mexicans in the park and two, we were the only ones drinking alcohol.  As I sipped on my Tecate, I scanned the park and saw people drinking only water and sodas! Had the families been those of Anglos or Mexicans, someone would probably be drunk by now and raising hell. Here, there was only comaraderie, peace and harmony. I felt as if they had let me into their world.

I thought of racism, the racial hatred and suspicion of foreigners so pervasive in our country and I wanted only to go out to welcome them to America and thank them for bringing a glimpse of their ancient cultures to us.

I kept looking to the street, expecting to see a cop car, or maybe a code enforcement vehicle rushing up at any minute, with guns in hand, to demand seller's permits or some damned thing like that and closing them down.

So please, please do me a favor and don't tell a soul about this. Let them be?

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