Summertime in the city brings about an all too familiar urban heat wave. Smog conquers the urban skyline while the pavement becomes hot enough to scramble eggs. Indeed urban summertime would not be complete without the BBQs, summer jams and, of course, the local neighborhood kids dancing around a freshly spewing fire hydrant in order to avert sunstroke. Indeed, children, like water, bring life and as they frolic in joy around a stream of cool water there is no denying that summer has really hit the city.
Whether one resides in the United States or Canada, one cannot deny the ever increasing presence of newly arrived immigrants and/or refugees. Indeed they are our doctors and surgeons as well as our taxi drivers, butchers and local convenient store owners. Undeniably, it would be ignorant for one to assert that there is not the presence of a genre of pseudo-proletariat within both countries as many qualified immigrants do arrive on this side of the pond–as in like manner in Europe–and unfortunately do not have the opportunities to apply their qualifications in their mastered domains. One should not be surprised if the man or woman behind the wheel of his or her cab actually does have a doctoral degree or is even an accomplished architect, engineer or doctor.
Whether having lived in NYC, Cairo, Amman, Kuwait City or Montreal, there is no hiding the fact that I have encountered many stories of socio-economic struggle. Some individuals are forced into predicaments they never deemed would become their careers; some picked up the butcher knife never to put it down after thirty years while others sat in a taxi and never got out. The sacrifices of immigrants are a chronicle of trials and tribulations and hardships. Arriving in a foreign land and not being able to integrate is only one facet of the tangled web being woven.
Leaving behind loved ones and starting in a place where the main language is not your first language is difficult enough. Trying to find a sense of community and people you can trust can be discouraging. My parents arrived in this land as immigrants and as the son of immigrants it can be so hard to fathom the difficult stories of how they were to find their way.
Being a qualified doctor, professor or engineer selling newspapers and cigarettes on the streets is a reality that has occurred to many fathers. Shoveling snow to earn a few dollars to buy a loaf of bread and a quart of milk is still a reality and it is so difficult for a second generation child to fathom what his or her parents went through for them to have the opportunities they may have today.
Do immigrants drive the majority of our cabs, cut our meat and run our local convenient stores? Possibly and possibly not, it simply depends where you live. Aside from the immigrants there is the struggle of the locals, families that had immigrated centuries ago from Europe who, to this day ,also struggle to find equal footing in this dog-eat-dog nexus. “Bodega Sunshine” was written with the intent of narrating the angles, the perspectives, the tribulations and the hardships faced by everyday people who start and run these small businesses, bodegueros – as they may be alluded to in Spanish despite the fact that bodegas are now run and established by peoples of all races.
It is irrelevant if one is residing in East Harlem’s Spanish-speaking El Barrio or Montreal’s Point because the struggle is here and it is there and the stories are very similar and overlapping, constantly paralleling each other. Undeniably, the local convenience store, depanneur, bodega or corner shop is a rather small establishment that stocks a range of quotidian items from candies to groceries, toiletries to alcoholic and soft drinks as well as calling cards. Moreover, they go beyond the influx of calling cards by means of also potentially offering wire transfer services or even money order transaction hence connecting loved-ones from one side to another in a world so difficult to survive and live comfortably in.
Bulletproof glass panes, buzzers that ring clients in and security cameras are what illustrate how dangerous the business can be. Indeed, the desperate to desire to rob and shoplift from it and undoubtedly there is a weapon under the counter on the other side. The genesis of the bodega is unknown however it simply parallels the ideal of the “General Store” that marked its presence in a rapidly urbanizing Europe. The bodega itself came from a community of Latin immigrants who established themselves in New York City in order to find a better life and a better financially stable future.