|"American Tragedy" by Philip Evergood|
New York City is crawling with immigrants. My wife and I popped into town for a long Valentine’s Day weekend and let me tell you: foreigners everywhere. From the moment we hopped into a cab at the airport — “I’m a tall man!” the driver laughed, in a thick accent, as I tried to jam myself in the seat behind him — to our last breakfast Monday morning at an Italian bakery on Bleecker Street, the American values that our president lauds and his supporters venerate are corrupted by alien cultures. Thank God.
Our older son suggested we meed him at Jing Fong — Chinese, don’t you know. The first of 16 eating establishments visited over four days. Of those, 15 were ethnic — French, Jewish, Ukrainian, Georgian, Thai — a whirl of flavors and dishes, from pate to pig’s ears, fare likely to strike terror into certain sheltered red, white and blue hearts.
While the food at Jing Fong was excellent, the enormous dining room was almost empty. Maybe because it was 3 p.m. But Chinese restaurants and Chinatowns across the country are seeing a drop in business, due to fear of the coronavirus. A laughable concern, but far above most fears related to outsiders, since there actually is a coronavirus. Not a rational reason to avoid a Chinese restaurant, but then I’ve never heard rationality lauded as one of the cherished American ideals we are trying to recover in our return to greatness.
We slid over to the Tenement Museum on the Lower East Side. In 1988, a pair of women looking for a building to showcase the torrent of immigrants into New York stumbled upon 97 Orchard Street, an 1863 tenement that had sat empty for more than 50 years; cited for fire code violations in 1935, the owner chose to evict rather than renovate.
We signed up for the “Hard Times” tour of rooms that belonged to the Gumpertz family, Jews who came here from Prussia in 1873, and the Baldizzis, immigrating from Italy in the 1920s. Neither family were what Donald Trump would call “the best people.” Both received public aid. But they lived and loved and struggled toward middle class comfort, symbolized by the faux broadloom rug in worn linoleum on the Baldizzi kitchen floor. Heartbreaking.
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