Those of us who live in New York are startled and appalled to read and hear of the anti-immigrant sentiment pervading and trumpeted by the GOP. The fervor, i.e., the rage against immigration seems to be most virulent in low-population states without many people from elsewhere.
I’m not going to get into how false the antagonism is, since so many sane people have pointed out that creating rage in their base seems to be the sole campaign strategy for a dying party.
Instead, I’ll give you this personal little tale about immigrants, in a city whose functioning would collapse without them. Not to mention that everyone here is an immigrant. Everyone I know is, except for the woman who artfully cuts my hair: she is an Apache.
I have my particular routes when I go out. One route takes me into what I call The Woods, because it amuses me greatly to call them The Woods. They’re not woods; they’re the nicely foliated — flowers, plants, trees — interior park of a eight-building residential complex. I enjoy walking through it because…well, why not? Flowers, plants, trees…shade on sunny days.
I consider the path I turn onto a secret passage — but that’s me, amusing myself again. It’s not secret, although it doesn’t look like anything more than a quick way to the rear service entrance of one of the buildings.
One afternoon a week or so ago, I turned onto my secret passage, a conventional, if narrow, sidewalk. As I approached the service entrance to the building, I noticed a couple of men standing on the curb. Behind them was a row of well used boxes and bags filled to the brim with the kind of tools used for construction and renovation. In the parking space next to them was a contractor’s van.
This is an ordinary sight in a residential neighborhood, where apartment renovations proliferate especially after the COVID restrictions. Many buildings like mine barred any apartment alterations during the worst of the virus. Now, everyone is renovating, all at the same time.
But I noticed the men anyway and, in a flash, thought to myself, “Albanians.” Maybe it was the men’s physiognomy combined with my awareness that Albanians were working in the construction business.
A curious tangent about New York’s immigrants: each wave of new immigrants flows into sort of starter jobs and businesses more or less according to ethnicity. For instance, when I was a child, neighborhood candy/newspaper stores were Jewish owned. Twenty years ago, I realized those stores were now owned by Pakistanis. The fluidity and multiplicity of ethnicity here is immensely exciting.
A few years ago, I noticed that Poles were doing fine work in renovation, and had begun to employ young Albanians. So that’s perhaps why I made a quick, if unverifiable, identification of the two guys standing with their tools.
I walked past them, past the contractor’s van and then smiled. In front of the van was a Mercedes SUV. Its license plate read “Ilbanian.”