“We come on the ship they call the Mayflower. We come on the ship that sailed the moon. We come in the age’s most uncertain hour and sing an American tune.” ~ Paul Simon
I’m in unfamiliar city, traveling around and making pictures. It’s sorta perfect. Yesterday, I was in an Uber car. The driver had the radio on. We listened to a news report about the election, and he got upset when the topic of race came up. So, I asked him to turn the radio off, and we talked as he drove through his adopted city. Miguel is an immigrant from the Dominican Republic.
Miguel told me about his father, who moved to Boston when Miguel was 9-years-old. He came here looking for work, and he found it. He found jobs nobody else wanted. He washed dishes. He did janitorial work in an apartment building. Miguel’s father saved money and sent it home to his family. Eventually, the family had enough saved up and joined Miguel’s father in Boston.
Miguel is a Latin singer, but he doesn’t perform in Boston. I learned this when I asked if he was singing later. Miguel works in Boston, driving Uber and doing other odd jobs. His work life affords him the flexibility to pursue his music career in Miami and back in the Dominican Republic. He is currently recording his next single and shooting a music video. Miguel works every bit as hard as his father did, pursuing the elusive American Dream. Miguel and I parted ways when he dropped me at my next photo shoot location. I wished Miguel well and told him I’d look and listen for his music. He smiled at that.
Later, after my last shoot, I got to thinking about Miguel’s life, and I realized his story is our story. People from all over the world come here seeking a place where they believe opportunity exists. It’s that belief I’m wondering about tonight. Is America still that place where good things can happen, or have we run out of juice? Has that realization turned us into a pale shadow of our former selves? Is our country turning into an angry place where we demonize “other” people and fight for scraps? I hope not, because I believe those “other” people are our salvation. They always have been. I believe our country’s strength is deeply embedded in the DNA of diversity. The people I’ve met on this trip, including Miguel and his father, are examples, but there’s a lot more.
First there is the wicked-smart Austrian cancer researcher I photographed yesterday. And then there’s her cancer-researching husband, who is African-American. They were wonderful together. I made some pictures just for them when they told me they don’t have any “baby-bump” photos. I emailed them to her this morning.
Then there’s the computer science / technology leader I photographed that afternoon. I couldn’t place his accent, so I asked where he grew up. His reply, “Israel”.
I ended up eating dinner last night in a crowded bar. Halfway though my salad, a young woman with wild red hair shuffled through the crowd and squirmed into the empty barstool next to me. I heard a heavy Irish accent when she ordered a glass or wine before cracking open her laptop and pounding away at the keys for 15 minutes. She got a little careless and tipped her glass right into my salad bowl. Looking at her with mild exasperation, I said, “Don’t get the Caesar salad. They put too much dressing on it.” She laughed and bought me an expensive Irish whisky as compensation for running my dinner. A little while later she asked me to look at what she was writing. It was her resume. She moved to Boston a year ago. She is staying with her extended family while she looks for work. She says the job market is tough, but she isn’t giving up. After reading her resume, I shifted into my former hiring-manager mindset and suggested a couple changes. She was thankful and offered to buy me another drink, but I declined and said good night. With that, she went right back to pounding on those laptop keys.
I was planning to walk the two miles back to my hotel, but a heavy rainstorm had blown in while I had my back to the bar’s window. So, I opened the Uber app on my phone and ordered a car. Three minutes later Edwardo pulled up in his nice Toyota Camry. I smiled when he told me he’d just moved from Haiti. His plan is to work and send money home so his wife and kids can join him at some point in the future. The lights of Cambridge shift and sparkle behind raindrops on Edwardo’s window as his “American Dream” unfolds like a road map in front of me.