Footlong Veggies and Dreams

Submitted by Monica Grover

“I just got a call this morning to come back home to India,” said my friend who owns a pizza/sub shop in Washington, DC. “Life is hard here,” he said. “The quality of life is so bad. People come to the US to pursue the ‘American dream’ but what ‘dream’ is that? The first opportunity I get I’m going back to India. Maybe in 5 year’s time.”

He works hard. His eyes look tired. He seems frail. His experience saddens me because it reminds me about my parents’ experience of working at their grocery store in Maryland trying to make ends meet, and the experience of so many immigrant families living in the US.

He opens the pizza/sub shop in the morning and begins his day sprinkling cheese on the personal pizza rounds he sells to the noon lunch rush crowd. Yesterday, I saw him scrubbing off stains collected on the white-tiled walls that accumulated from french fry grease splattering from the fryer. Occasionally, I see him standing outside smoking a cigarette observing the downtown passers-by rushing to and from their destination. Everyone seems to be in such a hurry. If I could read his mind, I’d imagine he thinks that the pace is much faster here than at home in India and he’s tired of the hustle.

He hears stories about other Indian immigrants going back home to enjoy themselves, leaving a struggling US economy behind to experience a better life in India that includes limitless time with family and friends, little work stress, etc. His father passed away a month ago and he paid his respects by shaving his head. He hadn’t seen his family in years since he moved to the US and wasn’t able to go home to the funeral. He misses his family.

I brought him doda sweet-cake from Gurgaon, India last January when my work sent me on an assignment and he was so thankful to me for that. He said the doda reminded him of home and was the best sweet-cake he had tried in a very long time. He really misses the smells and tastes of India.

He’s waiting. He’s waiting to “make it,” I think.

I go to the pizza/sub shop in my building regularly to get my usual. A footlong veggie on wheat. Toasted. The vegetables are the freshest sandwich toppings in a 2 block radius of the building I work in. And the price is right. I wonder if selling pizza and subs will make him rich. In five years, will he have “made it?” Will he go back home to India one day a rich man? Is making it rich what achieving the “American dream” means? To that, I repeat his statement, “What dream is that?”

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