Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Un Bistec Con Queso, Por Favor

I checked out the site for an article on the Philly cheesesteak "English only" sign. Seems the owner of a South Philadelphia cheesesteak stand wants customers to speak "English only" when ordering. However, his real "beef" is more concerned with the changing demographics of the community, not with how somebody orders his meaty cheesy sandwiches. He ran his mouth, as people sometimes do when emotions get in the way, and made some very unkind remarks about his customers, in particular the Mexicans. South Philadelphia is not the same as it was long ago, when the food stand first opened, and he is very upset. I understand how he can feel that way. To see things change can be so hard to take, especially for someone who remembers what the "old neighborhood" used to be like.

When first I learned that "Brooklyn Avenue" had been renamed "Avenida Cesar Chavez" I was very upset. Certainly he was a great man deserving of such an honor and more, but by taking away the street name, those in power were cancelling out the memory of the old Boyle Heights neighborhood and its founders. Here was yet another piece of history to be quickly disposed and forgotten, more pieces of our heritage added to the list of "What used to be here?" that is steadily growing. Why couldn't they rename one of the numbered streets like 1st Street or 3rd Street? And why is it only renamed "Chavez" until it passes through Chinatown? Beyond Broadway, the street is still named "Sunset Blvd." Interesting. In protest, I choose to call it "Brooklyn Avenue" and I know many other people, who also honor the memory of Cesar Chavez, do the same thing.

I was born in Boyle Heights and grew up on a street that crossed between Brooklyn Avenue and First Street. The old electric street car stopped at the end of my block and took us downtown along Brooklyn Avenue. I remember the delis, the cream sodas, the bakeries with their wonderful New York style cheesecakes & fresh rye bread, and the department stores. They are all gone, replaced with small businesses, kept tightly locked behind shuttered doors and chains at night. One of the last remaining pieces of the old neighborhood was the street named Brooklyn. It broke my heart when its name was gone.

Reading the story about the "English only" sign got me thinking. (Oh no, here she goes!) First, I was angry at his lack of compassion for the people in his neighborhood who, like his own family, entered the United States as immigrants. Then I felt sorry for him, because I understand how it feels to see your neighborhood change so drastically. Finally, although I disagree with the "English only" sign, he has the right as an American to express himself, however cruel and hurtful he may sound. No matter how much he wants to keep them foreigners out. And his customers, though they may be Mexican, Canadian, Vietnamese, or from some other place, have the right to patronize his cheesesteak stand---or not.

1 comment:

Anali said...

It is an interesting issue. I feel that the owner is basically racist and this is how he is dealing with it. The last that I heard, he was being investigated by the state for possible discrimination in public accomodations. It will be interesting to see how this turns out.