An hour ago, I stood at the customer service desk of a department store and waited while three women, who spoke a language I did not recognize, returned a shopping cart full of bedroom goods. Pillows, sheets, blankets. They were, I would guess, not native Americans.
My grandparents were immigrants. They all came funneled through Ellis Island from four points in Europe. Spain, Switzerland, Finland and Greece. None of them spoke English right off the boats. They brought their treasures with them. A small suitcase, the clothes on their backs and whatever money they had saved. None of them were highly skilled professionals. I’m telling you that because I think that immigrants are okay.
The three women at the counter acted like they were afraid of being cheated by the store or they were out to cheat the store. I just know that I had to wait while they finished up their business. I thought to myself, “These women certainly aren’t acting like they are Americans.”
Last week, I got a copy from a pharmacist in Illinois. He had a thick accent and a name that indicated that he was a Bengali from India, probably Mumbai.
After all of the business was done, he said, “What are you doing the fourth?”
“Pardon me?” I didn’t understand.
“The fourth of July,” he said, “Independence Day.
“Oh, that fourth,” I said. I hadn’t realized. It had crept up on me. “I don’t know, man. Probably have a picnic on the beach or something.” The fourth of July had become just another day off. I was not really charmed by it.
“What are you doing?” I asked.
“All of it. A parade in the morning, a town picnic in the square, a baseball game.”
“Who are you going to see play?”
“Me. I’m playing. I pitch for the Red Birds. I was a cricketer in India. I threw a wicked googly.”
“Maybe I’ll go to the fireworks,” I said.
“Oh, for sure. I will take my wife and kids for the first time. This will be their first fourth. I am a citizen now and am sponsoring them.” There was a lilt to his voice. Like a man who had lived a long time with his family half a world away.
“Well, I wish you a great fourth,” I said, thinking, “He is certainly acting like an American.”
“The same to you, my friend, the same to you.”
After that phone conversation, I made it a point to find out about the Fourth of July parade in Galveston. My daughter-in-law, Ivana, has been here for only six weeks. My son-in-law met her in Afghanistan. They both worked for KBR. Their six month old son is an American citizen, born in Macedonia, with a USA Passport. That leaves Ivana on the outside.. for a little while… Frosty (my son-in-law’s real name) is sponsoring her and has hired an attorney for the job.
Next year, Ivana will be a Yankee, but this year will be her first fourth. We will make it memorable. We’ll do the parade, the picnic, the beach and the fireworks. People will say about Jim Plagakis, “He’s certainly acting like an American.”