This I Believe: New Roots
Our new Vietnamese neighbors covered their front steps with blue carpet and placed pots of yellow flowers on each step. It was ugly. When I fetched the morning paper, I looked the other way. A young Buddhist monk tended a garden at the foot of a large Buddha in front of the small building that had been the corner grocery. He wore silk pajamas and a pony tail. One day, when I didn’t see him, I snuck up to the garden — an entire village of miniature Buddhas surrounded by flowers. He came up behind me so quietly I didn’t hear him. I hid my fear by pointing to his garden and smiling. Now when I pass on my walks, he nods, I smile. I’m not afraid of him. Nor he of me.
On the neighborhood parkway, I watch people running, walking, cycling. I wait for the young Somali who glides like a cheetah. What kind of music does he hear as he runs? Drumbeats? Usher? At Walgreen’s, I chat with the clerk. We seem to be the only ones speaking English. A father and son talk in Croation. Two Hispanics discuss toothpaste in Spanish. Two women in saris speak in a language I’ve never heard. The clerk has worked at this store as many years as I’ve lived in the neighborhood. Nearly forty. Already?
When I moved here, it was a white bread neighborhood. Everyone spoke the same language, had the same skin color, dressed alike, kept similar houses. That began to change, as did my belief of what make a life rich, when my son, now in his thirties, started kindergarten. Catholic Charities had moved families of Vietnamese boat people into an apartment complex on the edge of the neighborhood. It didn’t mean anything to me until my son came home excited about his new friend, Phoutassant. He felt bad for the boy because he had to learn so many letters to print his name. By the time they were teens, the Frisch’s Big Boy, once a hangout for young men sent to fight in Vietnam, had become the Mekong Delta Restaurant.
People of other nationalities moved into the apartment complex. Strange food appeared on grocery shelves. Immigrants bought houses. Like some of my neighbors, I considered moving. One church became Vietnamese, another Mexican, the grocery the Buddhist temple, the high school the Americana Center. We stayed. My daughter, in college now, told me new friends felt sorry for her because she had a roommate from Sierra Leon. She didn’t understand. What was there to be sorry about?
This I believe, those people who put down new roots in our neighborhood soil taught us much. We are richer because of them.
The Vietnamese family moved away. The blue carpet and yellow flowers are gone. An Iranian couple moved in down the street. A Pakistani owns the liquor store. In a neighbor’s yard, yellow and purple flowers spell USA. I admire his work.
If you enjoyed this essay, please consider making a tax-deductible contribution to This I Believe, Inc.