Walking About Town: Who Belongs?

5 Sep

I walked out of my apartment at 9pm the other night and my ‘hood was bumping. Where I lived in Oakland was surprisingly quieter. People were always walking the lake or hanging around 14th Street, but 9pm on a Monday night is pretty dead. There is a McDonald’s and a Subway nearby, but I never went. I had several small, independently owned stores and restaurants available to me, usually closing by 9pm.

Where I live now, I walk outside my door and I’m confronted with a flood of neon lights. I live across the street from a Taco Bell, Pizza Hut, Jack in the Box, Albertsons, Starbucks, Rite Aid, Home Depot, Office Depot, and Kmart. There are some little gems nestled in between all this, like El Campeon restaurant and carniceria, Lupita’s pupuseria, and a panaderia.

If you go further down the main street, you pass several auto shops and car dealerships, brightening the area with their massive lights. It reminds me of Broadway Auto Row in Oakland. Except there is a lamborghini dealership in my new auto row. As I make my way to the gym (first time in a month!), there are several sporting good stores, from Play It Again Sports to a ski and snowboard outlet to upscale shops like YogaWorks and RoadRunner. There’s even an archery outfitter. When I finally arrive at the gym, I cannot believe that there must be around 100 people exercising at 9pm.

I’ve never owned a car nor had to drive regularly. I insist on continuing to walk as much as I can, but I was a bit trepidatious walking in a place not known to be pedestrian-friendly. I shouldn’t have worried. Because of the large Latino population here and a nearby major bus line, people of all ages are walking around all the time.

We in Orange County love our cars and our big box stores, playing sports and looking good.

Thank god for immigrants. The best food, inexpensive goods, stores that are small and independent. Whole families walking around. They are what keeps the city I live in from being overrun by corporate branding and sheer consumerism. They are also who make me feel safe and at home.

In observance of Labor Day, I dedicate this post to all the workers who are excluded from labor laws and rights in this country and who don’t actually get to celebrate this holiday. They are largely immigrants: domestic workers, farm workers, taxi drivers, restaurant workers, day laborers, guestworkers, workfare workers and formerly incarcerated workers. They keep this country running and deserve the same rights.

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