The Line Of Immigrants

There’s something life-affirming about entering an immigrant space. That’s why, whenever I return from a long trip, I crave a stop at a local farmer’s market to shake off my jetlag and my dullness.

This morning at the Cupertino market, a pear-shaped Indian-American was covertly biting into a jujube to test its value-proposition. Two south Indian women, both shaped like a butternut squash, kvetched about finding no kenaf (gongura) leaves at the stalls.

A circuit of Chinese, Japanese, Indian, and Korean-Americans had grown roots by a stall selling vine-ripened tomatoes, flat beans, green peppers, winter melon, bitter gourd, okra, and broccoli flower.

“Where’d you get that lemon grass?” I asked of a reedy Chinese-American surveying okras. “There!” the woman snapped back, pointing to a nearby table. I was about to turn towards the lemon grass in slight irritation when I saw a smile grow in her eyes and she and I recognized, simultaneously, our common Asian heritage in which a smile must steep, even if only for two minutes, before it can be delivered.

Together the two of us began colluding for attention from the stall vendor. But the array of rooted customers in front of him crackled in irritation: “Hey, wait, the line begins here!” Bags in hand, I trudged to the end of the line and awaited my turn, chafing at the rudeness of immigrant-Americans on the matter of lines. In the countries we came from there were no vertical lines, only horizontal.

Before I headed home, I stopped to buy grapes. “I want the sweetest,” I said to the vendor. He pointed to the big, purplish black things in a basket. “But these have seeds,” he said. I popped one in my mouth and bit in. The skin was thick. Grape syrup sloshed over my tongue. Sweet. Sweeter-than-honey sweet. Then I hit seed, that stuff of life.

“That’s perfectly fine, I’ll spit the seed,” I said to the young man, handing him two dollars for a pound of the blackest grapes most redolent of all immigrants, old and new.

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