Young Americans

Nine scenes from the lives of new Minnesotans

But that's not why Julia hits the dance floor whenever the DJs cue up Gloria Gaynor's "I Will Survive." She prefers caprice to cheap irony. Graduating from high school in a splintered nation, she discovered that Ukrainian, not Russian, was suddenly the preferred language for those trying to go to college. As for Chernobyl, "My mom was scared; people were saying all the children would get sick and die in 10 years. But when you are a teenager you don't worry about your health."

At 22, she's still not worrying, peppering her conversations with laughter and a giddy incredulity ("What, you don't like Boney M?!" she says, after professing admiration for that particular 1970s Euro-disco demigod) that makes her almond eyes open wider. It is the sparkle of the charmed, of someone aware she is on permanent clemency. "In the Soviet Union, if you get your diploma as an engineer, you are going to be an engineer for the rest of your life. People don't change. Here, change is normal," she says. This summer, Julia is doing a management-systems internship at United Health Care. In the fall, she'll go back to the U for her senior year, and resume her part-time work as a customer-service rep for Norwest Banks. Does she know what she wants to be doing five or 10 years from now? "Sure," she says. "I want to travel." (Britt Robson)

Rishi Ragoonananis

Rishi Ragoonananis the seventh and youngest batsman in the lineup for the International Cricket Club. The ICC is one of the oldest and most amiable teams in Minneapolis's 20-year-old cricket league, and with a record of 2-5, includes some of the most gracious losers. Rishi is not one of them. In Trinidad, where he lived until last year, he served as captain of the Marabelle Senior Comprehensive School's club and he tried out for the under-18 national team; playing in a recreational league in the U.S. represents a rather precipitous step down. "I love cricket," Rishi says. "At home, all I do is play cricket. I live in front of the field and I play every day."

In Trinidad, Rishi hoped to become a professional player--however long the odds against it--but upon leaving school, the more immediate probability was a job clearing cane on a small family sugar plantation. The word "plantation" itself might be misleading, though; Rishi's father works the plot his father left him alongside a few hired hands. While Rishi's grandparents were born in Trinidad, his great-grandparents--or great-great-grandparents, maybe--were themselves migrants. "After the end of slavery, the British brought [East] Indians to work the fields as indentured laborers," Rishi explains. "My family's been there now for like 1,000 years." Which explains the traces of Rishi's Afro-Caribbean patois--or what he calls "the broken English" he spoke before entering secondary school. While Rishi paces the boundary of the field in marshmallow-like leg pads, waiting for his turn at bat, he sings along to a dancehall tune with a Guinean spectator: "I'm a black man living in a white man's world."

While many of Rishi's teammates have already established themselves in the states--Systems Analyst seems to be the most common job description here--Rishi works long hours as a chef at the Hickory Hut while attending Normandale Community College as a full-time student. He studies computers there and also acting; he recently appeared in a skit "about two guys in a bar, talking about broads and ho's and stuff."

"Everyone else comes here, they want to be a doctor or a lawyer," Rishi says, smiling. "I want something else."

Then a man named Charles goes down to the Cavaliers on a fly ball, and Rishi steps up to the wicket. The bowler takes his hurried steps toward the batter and releases the heavy red ball with a snap of the wrist. Rishi strokes it into the air where an infielder makes a catch; in a sport where a single player's at-bat can last a few hours, this is more than a modest disappointment. Rishi shuffles back to the sideline, nodding his head. Tomorrow, it's back to work at the Hickory Hut. No cricket until next Saturday afternoon. "That bowler is shit," Rishi says then, and he covers his face with a still-gloved hand. (Michael Tortorello)

Virgilio Brodas Ramirez

This past Christmas Eve, Virgilio Brodas Ramirez was sick in bed when he learned that back home, his father had died. An Indian from Guatemala's altiplano, the elder Brodas was a gentle man who worked ceaselessly but was never very productive. When Brodas was small, his father fixed watches and clocks in the hamlet where the family lived in the mountains outside the town of Chichicastenango. His mother and grandmother grew corn, beans, and squash and scraped together the money to send Brodas and his siblings to school. No road connected the village to the town five miles east; the region was too poor and the trip would go straight down one mountainside and up another. But that was okay with his father, who was perpetually uncomfortable with the macho standards set by the crilollos.

In 1982, paramilitary death squads killed one of Brodas's brothers. Feeling endangered, the rest of the family moved to a city. There, his mother opened a small store. But his father never worked again. Instead, he walked the streets looking for bits of gold and silver he could sell. In 1985, Brodas fell in love with a woman from Robbinsdale. She had, he says, the most distinctive outlook he'd ever encountered: She was the same person no matter where she was. They got married and lived in Quetzaltenango for about a year before moving to Minnesota, a decision that was wrenching for Brodas because it meant leaving his family.

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