Living in America

Meet the neighbors

I'm looking for something else, but I talked to my manager just last week to see when they would need me again. He couldn't give me a date, but he told me to keep trying back to see what they got for me. So that's what I'll do. My girlfriend's a nurse in Bethesda Hospital, in a rehab center, right here by the capitol. She's my high school sweetheart. Seven years for us.

I left the East Side last month, just to try to find somewhere to stay. The East Side is kind of bad too. We're just trying to find somewhere comfortable until we can afford a house. But with the things that have been goin' on with our car, I can't say we'd stay. It came down to somebody scratching racism on our car, that's pretty serious, you know. I don't know what I'm gonna do about it.

If somebody's got their own personal thought about somebody's ethnic background, that's sort of hard to get over. It doesn't make me feel good at all. I'm just trying to take care of my family. There's always people out here, and they're always talking. I don't know if it's Chinese or Hmong, but they talk around me, and go, "ha, ha, ha," and I always think they're laughing at me. A new neighbor and stuff, you try to talk to people, but I don't know if it's that they don't understand English or don't want to be bothered or what.

But I found out they do speak English because of what they wrote on my car: "Fuck black people." They understand that much.

 

Pwote Malafa

I live in Midway, but I've worked as a program aide in this low-income high-rise, since 1990. I came from Cameroon, to go to school, in 1982. My sister went to school so I came and studied business administration.

I have not been back to Cameroon. I miss it a lot! I have family there, and we call, and send e-mails, and I send some money back. Cameroon is a stable country, but it's ruled by a dictator. So they have problems, and you have people coming here every year for political asylum.

When I first started working the neighborhood, it was mostly Hispanic, a few blacks, and then some whites. The Hmong community, it wasn't really here, but the last five years, it seems like it's more and more. Of course, now every time you look around, it's kids around this neighborhood. That's the Hmong community now.

Most of my best friends are from other African countries. It's different sometimes with the black Americans. When I first came, with some minorities, you have all these negative ideas, when you watch too much of the media you believe what they tell you. I happen to work with three of them, and they are nice people and you learn that they are the same like you. One of my co-workers has a boat, and we had a picnic last year. So I do socialize with some of them.

Of course, I experience racism from white people here. When I drive down the street, I always pass cop cars and look in the rearview mirror, because they are going to make a U-turn and follow me. Another time I was carrying my TV I had just bought from Best Buy, across the road to my apartment, and this guy, an older cop, saw me, and he's passing by, and makes a U-turn: "Is that your TV?" You know, I'm like, "Yeah, it is, here's my receipt." That kind of thing.

 

Yer Lee

We live on the East Side now, but we lived here seven years ago, my family and myself. We needed to find a place big enough for all of us. There's 11 of us.

I haven't been over here for a while, but I still come to hoop. I'm 28, and I used to be way better than this. I can't keep up with the kids anymore. The cigarettes, drugs, and the beer. I'm still healthy though, maybe more than any teenager. I still beat 'em.

We lived here for eight years, I grew up here. My folks are from Laos, and I'm Hmong. We came to the state in '85. I had to wait in a camp for eight months. I was about seven or eight, really. We'd just sneak through to the camp by bus, to Thailand all the way through. We moved to Thailand because of the war, and to that place, the camp. Just to safety.

We came right to here, by that big green church over there. In wintertime, too. I didn't know what snow was. I didn't go no more than a block, because I'd get lost. Every house looks the same, seems the same, is the same. I got lost a couple times. Two weeks I was in school after that. I was freaked out, I was lost. I speak English now, so it's cool.

Mostly I learn English from the street, or from hanging out with friends, or TV. I dropped out of school, I farm. My parents, and my sister, they farm for the farmers' market, so I help out for change here and there. My sister has a garden in Rosemount. That's basically what our people do.

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