Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Eric and the American Dream

"You're a brave man, whoever you are.
Coming so far, expecting so much.
A salute to the man
On the deck of that ship!
A salute to the immigrant stranger.
Heaven knows why you make
Such a terrible trip.
May your own god protect you from danger.
Is it freedom or love
That you pray for
In you guttural accent?
Too late, long gone.
A salute to a fellow
Who hasn't a chance.
Journey on."
-Ragtime

Waiting for the X2 bus on saturday night, I got to talking with a young fellow waiting next to me. I picked up that he had an African accent, so I asked where he was from. Eric was from Benin. He looked to be about nineteen or twenty. He had received his permanent residency papers and had been living in DC for some 6 months. He had won the visa lottery back in Benin, left his poor village and came to the US to work and study. He was presently washing dishes and was set to begin a training program soon.

Eric told what it was like to come here, to pick up and leave his world behind. To leave his family and friends behind so he could pursue his dream. He told me that in the beginning he would cry himself to sleep because he missed his family. We talked about his life there and his new life here. Of course, he remarked, he missed the food from home.

His story is the quintessential American story, and I was moved. My own great-grandfather made the same tough decision to leave Austria-Hungary over a century prior. I told him how brave I thought he was. I beamed as I wished him well on his journey and his dream.

 Journey on, Eric. Journey on.

3 comments:

John Brown said...

Paul -- Thank you for this moving piece. Best, john

Paul Rockower said...

Thanks John, much appreciated. Moves even a bit better when I fix the formatting :)

Abba said...

Let me get my Kleenex....