Tag Archive: immigration

  1. My Popeye’s Order, My Heart

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    When I moved off-campus junior year, I was excited by the prospect of frequenting New Haven’s diverse eateries. I imagined the city as my tasting platter, though in fact my budget limited me to Mamoun’s and Basil and attempts to light my gas stove. Each feebly cobbled-together meal came to represent my march towards a nebulous adulthood, causing me to slow down and savor the caloric bites all the more.

    Indulgence! is how I will remember college. Yale itself was a guilty pleasure. My parents had reluctantly allowed it, and they sensed, rightly, that I would choose all the indulgent paths: the English major, an extracurricular that doubled as my steadfast academic scapegoat, a career for energetic masochists — ahem, if The News Industry is a burning building (and it is), I’m giddily running into the fire.

    On a clear night last October, I found another deplorable passion, one that required less energy but offered almost equal satisfaction. In short, I found Popeye’s Louisiana Kitchen™. The glowing white and red sign on Whalley Ave. at once whetted my easy appetite and stirred my Canadian pride. I have been to the restaurant over a dozen times, and my order is always the same.

    Chicken Tenders

    I crave things that make me feel like I’m somehow cheating; wanting to be a journalist makes me feel like I’m skipping past a generation in the immigrant narrative. I imagine that, when my parents brought my five-year-old self to Canada, they expected me to be “practical,” to choose the healthier option. The salad on the menu taunts: You were supposed to be the moneymaker, a lawyer or doctor. Let your kids be the dumb artists with no stable future in sight. But no one goes to Popeye’s for salad, and I guess I didn’t come to Yale to fit into some racial myth. As Eddie Huang, renowned glutton and the model to my minority, writes: “Asians like myself ate our hopes and dreams by the grain burnt at the bottom of a seasonal stone bowl,” or in this case, perennial Popeye’s take-out box.

    Cajun Fries

    Good metabolism is a cheater’s tool. My dad, who is as slender as a plank, will eat entire bags of Lay’s chips without glancing down at his girth. He also inadvertently tested into the most prestigious university in China. I’ve inherited only half of this genetic power, which means that I stay up late and rush assignments and finish all my fries, expecting few consequences and getting mixed results. We Yalies love to tempt fate, as if striking gold once meant we’ve got all the world’s luck on lock.

    Barbecue Sauce

    Sometimes we really did feel like nothing could contaminate our dining hall spa waters. I walked with friends through Gothic courtyards at all hours, stayed long past closing time in the JE buttery. We humored each other’s absurdities — classes and friendships alike were a stumbling race towards our closest approximations of truth. Sometimes, like on the first real day of spring, Yale is exactly what we were sold as precocious high school seniors. We have lain in hammocks, met personal heroes, put out student newspapers. Nobody deserves this. When you get an extra packet of barbecue sauce for free, the proper response, after examining the expiration date, is gratitude.

    Imagine if every time you headed towards the exit, somebody asked you, “What are you going to order next time?” What are you going to do next year? It used to be that when I reached the last tender of my order, I felt dread. The food would soon be gone, the fatty bits of joy so quickly consumed and the container flung into a trashcan. But as a senior, I’ve learned to separate my anticipation of loss from the singular joy of a full combo before me. In these remaining weeks, I won’t think about closing time: midnight on weekdays, 2:30 a.m. on weekends, May on my college life. I’m just going to indulge.

  2. Ain't never gonna rain

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    A hitchhiker (Klara Wojtkowska GRD ’13) thumbs for a ride on the highway. A heroin addict (Lila Ann Millberry Dodge GRD ’14) shoots up, screams profanities and coos with pleasure. A male soldier (Cosima Cabrera ’14) raves about killing men, women and children in Iraq.

    All of this, within the first seven minutes.

    What is “the river don’t flow by itself no more”? It consists of a continuous stream of stories from different people who — for better or for worse — interact with an unspecified part of the Mexican-American border. In the midst of these wandering humans is Coyote (Ari Fernandez ’15), a guardian who waits for the mythical Desert Prophets to save the land.

    I admit that the play’s nonsensical start led me to think that I was about to watch one of those shows that is so caught up in its artsy-ness that it forgets to say anything meaningful. I was pleasantly surprised to learn that wasn’t the case here. Wojtkowska, also the director and playwright, is a large reason for why this potential mess makes sense. She constructs the dialogue with spoken-word sensibility; her characters shout onomatopoeia, conjure vivid stories, ramble with their world-weary philosophy and mix real life with symbolism. At first, all of this craziness will go through your ears like boiling hot water. But soon you’ll find that each word works to create a layered commentary on humans and the borders — both external and internal — that we make.

    The strip of highway that dominates the stage is the barrier that separates countries and people. In the course of the play, actors playing multiple characters — a common theatrical device made into a thematic one here — demonstrate the ineffectiveness of borders. For example, Ronald Apuzzo’s character becomes, among many things, a border patrol officer and a giggling schizophrenic. And Luz Lopez ’16 jumps the gender line by playing a male ex-Mormon who has sex with strippers and smuggles immigrants. Bit by bit, the personal borders dissolve until the characters’ stories collapse into collective loneliness, fearfulness and insanity.

    The play’s bizarreness easily lends itself to ironic humor, even though the humor is more successful at highlighting human absurdities than producing laughter. In one instance, the murderous soldier insists that “hitchhiking is illegal in this country” and that he “is a law-abiding citizen.” The oddness translates into set pieces that aren’t extravagant, but rather simple and effective in conjuring up a Mexican-American border marked by bareness and a history of violence. Vacant shoes nearly blot out the river — blue chalk outlines drawn onto the stage — as if the disappeared and the dead haunt the water itself.

    In the midst of this surreal world, Fernandez stands out as Coyote. She may not be overly expressive, but her optimistic eyes and her attempts to connect with people through her lollipop, her colorful chalk and her smile really make her endearing. It’s sad, then, when we notice how she witnesses more and more of the human madness and pain.

    “the river don’t flow by itself no more” is a play of effective mixtures: of the strange and the familiar, of the political and the personal. Within the screaming, random musical numbers and simple characters lies an understanding of human yearning. It is also, as Wojtkowska states in the program and manifesto, an anti-play. But even as it avoids coherent narration or even a satisfactory conclusion in its crackpot space, it never forgets the turmoil of the real world. It becomes that turmoil.