I stopped at the Panera Bread in Oakland Sunday, on my way to the PFLAG meeting. I wanted to grab a quick cup of coffee and some WiFi. The restaurant was crazy busy with college students and regular patrons, so I knew it would be a struggle to find a quiet corner. Luckily after a few minutes of searching, my efforts paid off. I found a young couple sitting quietly at a small table, and another just finishing up, heading for the door. Satisfied, I quickly sat, having found my little niche in the restaurant.
I decided to make a quick trip to the restroom, which was all of five minutes. Upon my return to the table, I was dismayed to see that my area had been besieged with a hoard of children and their parents, speaking in a Spanish not typical to me. The children seemed to abound from everywhere. I stood stunned by the sudden disruption to my world.
Taking my seat amongst the chaos, I was determined not to be deterred from my thirty minutes of coffee and Internet, but for whatever reason I couldn't seem to take my eyes of the children or their parents. Suddenly, I found myself intrigued; fascinated by their being. Attractive couples with beautiful children straight of out "Parents Magazine," enjoying each other without a care. For a moment it reminded me of the days when my children were small, and we would all gather, spreading our own brand of public chaos.
I started to listen intently, determined to catch one word of English, so that I might secretly share in their celebration. Suddenly I was able to glean, "Happy Birthday" from one of the men, and with a satisfied smile, I was at the party (at least in my head). I spent the rest of my time watching and listening and wondering what their lives must be like, and where they must have come from. The children ranged from infants to what seemed around eight years old. The children were speaking fluent English but the parents were talking only in Spanish to each other, and the children.
As I left to go to my meeting, I started wondering what it was like for my Grandmother, immigrating with a 2 year old son and pregnant friend, from a port in Austria in the early 1900's. She was coming to join my Grandfather, who had already established himself here and was working and living in a small coal mining village.
I wonder what birthday parties were like at my Grandparent's house; it's funny, I never thought to ask my Dad when he was living; he probably would have said, "We didn't know what a birthday party was!" I am guessing they weren't donning beautiful clothes, using WiFi or ordering Lattes; they were probably going about their daily chores of gardening and mining, and dinner was potatoes and cabbage, just like every other night. I wonder how many times my Grandparent's questioned their decision to come to the United States, or how often they longed for their homeland, or how many tears were shed at their kitchen table at night, after the kids (all twelve) had been put to bed?
I think there is something to be said for the fact that regardless of how awful we think things have gotten in our Country, (how terrible the health care, how outrageous the price of gasoline, or how intolerable our politicians and the crime rates), people continue to come to the U.S., looking for their "American Dream." A dream that might only be in their heads, but a dream to them, worth fighting for. Worth leaving their homeland and native tongue, their way of life and everything familiar, all to give their children something better than they had.
It was nice to be reminded of the "American Dream," at least for a few minutes. It's easy to lose sight of the struggles that my own Grandparent's and those that came before us, faced. I'm not sure how much the price of coffee or a boat ride has gone up since my Grandparent's came through Ellis Island, or how much the economy or politics has really changed over the years, but one thing I am sure of is that a picture is still worth a thousand words, even if it's in your head.