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Alison Berkley: The Princess’s Palate

Alison Berkley
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado

I was at Miami International Airport last week and the security guy goes, “You have Barbara Streisand eyes.”

And I go, “What?” thinking maybe he said, “You’re carrying way too many drug supplies.”

“Your eyes … you look like Barbara Streisand around the eyes.”

“Oh, thanks,” I said, breathing a sigh of relief. “I hear that all the time. Thanks for saying ‘around the eyes.’ I always thought her nose and lips were kind of ugly.”

“Yes, her nose is very … pronounced,” he said.

He was a tiny, effeminate little man (come on – what straight guy thinks about Babs?) and also had an accent that suggested he was a native Spanish-speaker. In that part of the world he could have been from just about anywhere. All I can say is, thank god for him he’s in Florida and not Arizona. If he were from Arizona, and he walked out of the house to maybe go have a lemon drop martini or buy another pair of Hugo Boss panties without his papers, he might just trip over his shoelace and get deported.

On the first leg of my trip to Trinidad, I had an overnight stay in New York, where the Asians at the nail place were speaking Spanish. Then I was in Miami the very next day where I ate at a Japanese sushi restaurant in the airport where the Japanese waitresses where conversing with their coworkers in Spanish.

Do we detect a trend here?

At the sushi bar, a couple at the next table captured my attention. She was maybe 100 pounds with thick, sandy blonde hair that reached the small of her back, effortlessly hip in dark jeans and a gold T-shirt. He was attractive but a lot older, clad in expensive looking shoes and a watch that I’m guessing cost more than my car.

As I watched her carefully pry the rice from the rolls with her chopsticks and eat only the small pieces of fish inside, I noticed she ordered in an American accent and talked to her man in fluent Spanish. I wondered if they were coming or going, passing through or just on a quick weekend getaway (both had their suitcases in the restaurant with them). I wondered if one or both was fortunate enough to have been born in the U.S. and able to carry that coveted passport, to travel freely wherever they wanted to go whenever they wanted to go.

Not everyone is so fortunate.

A few years ago, my brother fell in love with a girl from Costa Rica. He can come and go as he pleases, as long as he renews his tourist visa every 90 days by leaving the country. Sometimes that means nothing more than taking a bus ride across the boarder into Nicaragua, maybe spending the day in the colonial city of Grenada and coming home. But the same was not true for his fiance.

Bringing her into the U.S. for a visit was not possible. There is no entry into the U.S. for someone who is not wealthy or does not possess any assets or a business that would require them to return home. In other words: No poor people allowed.

He tried everything. He spent more than $8,000 on an immigration lawyer who filed applications for a work visa, and then a fiance visa before it became apparent the only way for her to enter the country was for them to get married. They broke up before that happened. Maybe if she could have come to visit, just to see what it was like, things would have been different.

I assumed it was poverty that kept her out, but that’s not always the case. In the book “Committed” by Elizabeth Gilbert of “Eat, Pray, Love” fame, we pick up where we left off. In Chapter 1, Elizabeth’s Brazilian boyfriend gets detained in Dallas for six hours before being thrown in jail for the night and then deported. He was living in the U.S. on a tourist visa he renewed every 90 days just like my brother does, by leaving the country and then coming back.

Here’s the part I don’t get: Didn’t everyone in this country come from somewhere else, at some point? With the exception of Native Americans, aren’t we all technically immigrants or at least descendants of immigrants? Aren’t we supposed to be land of the free and home of the brave? As far as I’m concerned, if you’re brave enough to do what it takes to get across the boarder undetected you deserve to be free just like my ancestors did when they came over from Russia. They probably crossed the Atlantic in the basement of some old rat- and disease-infested boat. They were poor, illiterate and didn’t speak a lick of English.

Look, I get it that there’s a problem with people coming into this country illegally, but I’d rather live among illegal immigrants than racists. Maybe it’s time for American schools to start teaching their kids Spanish. Maybe it’s time to require not just U.S. history, but history of all the Americas. If someone offered me $1 million to name the president of Mexico I’d be a very sorry girl.

As Americans, we take so much for granted.

Maybe it’s something about the West that breeds a vaster ignorance than you’d find in more densely populated parts of the world. Maybe all that space between the desert and the mountains and the giant sky creates an illusion that there really is some kind of boundary between us. But when you encounter a tri-lingual Asian person waiting on you in an airport restaurant or doing your nails for a measly 10 bucks, you have to ask yourself who the ignorant one is.

I may not be fluent in Spanish yet, but starting today, the words “Felipe Calderon” is now part of my vocabulary.


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