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After Work: The Delicious Edge

…Many of these hard-working, earnest people come from even further south, Mexico, San Salvador, Guatemala and other places that have sun, sand, and palm trees, but limited prospects.

Their presence, once you leave the paved roads, gives South Florida a distinct, other country aspect. Rain leaves ruts in the roads. Poverty leaves rusted-out pickups on cement blocks in the yards. Look closely and you’ll see the skinny dogs and heart-breaking wide-eyed children. The dogs yapping, the kids giggling.

But poverty can’t crush pride, not all of it. Which is why you’ll see Central American men in ones or twos, strolling up the main roads toward bright lights on Saturday. They’re in freshly washed and starched jeans; so starched that kneeling probably wouldn’t be an option. Their shirts have the rakish arrow piping at the pockets and pearl snaps. The hats, oh the hats, gleam. The crease is just so. The width of the brim flatters the faces…

In this generous, welcoming – and most welcomed – column, Dona Gibbs tells of the migrants from south of the border who help to keep a clean smile on the face of Florida's rich quarter.

Okay, South Florida’s got a lot going for it: sun, sand, palm trees, ocean, and golf. All magnets for sun-starved people from grey climes.

Yes, it’s a magnet for the rich, the well-to-do and those less-well-to-do. And because even the less well to do may not want to cut their own hedges, scrub their own floors or polish their own cars, it’s a magnet for other folks in search of work.

Many of these hard-working, earnest people come from even further south, Mexico, San Salvador, Guatemala and other places that have sun, sand, and palm trees, but limited prospects.

Their presence, once you leave the paved roads, gives South Florida a distinct, other country aspect. Rain leaves ruts in the roads. Poverty leaves rusted-out pickups on cement blocks in the yards. Look closely and you’ll see the skinny dogs and heart-breaking wide-eyed children. The dogs yapping, the kids giggling.

But poverty can’t crush pride, not all of it. Which is why you’ll see Central American men in ones or twos, strolling up the main roads toward bright lights on Saturday. They’re in freshly washed and starched jeans; so starched that kneeling probably wouldn’t be an option. Their shirts have the rakish arrow piping at the pockets and pearl snaps. The hats, oh the hats, gleam. The crease is just so. The width of the brim flatters the faces.

All week long. Cutting back the ficus. Shoveling out the stables. Spreading the fire ant killer.

Now it’s Saturday night, and time for a big plate of rice and beans that a smiling cook will hoist in front of them after they’ve downed a couple of cold ones.

Work, work, work and maybe a little money to send back to the wife and kids.

This is a part of Palm Beach County tourists don’t see. Not unless they look closely.

Maybe it’s a grim sketch of life of a certain segment. Maybe it’s a hopeful one.

I choose the cheerful outlook.

America. We’ve been called the great melting pot. That might be accurate over the long term. And I mean the long, long-term.

Right now in many places, we haven’t melted. We’re only a little gooey around the edges. Sometimes, gooey in a delicious way.

I look out for little signs. Such as markets and grocery stores.

Unless there’s some economic reason for doing so, i.e. customer demand, grocery stores don’t rush out on some gourmet whim to stock ethnic products.

I complain and complain about our behemoth Florida chain. Yet I shop there week after week, pushing my cart and loading it up with essentials.

Things are changing.

Take the fresh herb section for example. There are always packets of pristine culantro.

No, not cilantro. Culantro. It’s an herb that has a nodding acquaintance with cilantro but is far more pungent and used in marinades, salsa and flavoring meats and stews throughout Latin American, the Caribbean, Thailand, India—and now South Florida.

Then in the freezer section there’s dulche de leche. Oh the rich, brown sugar, milky flavor. Once known only to Latin Americans, dulce de leche is now a mainstream ice cream flavor.

Chimichurri? If you don’t know what this is like slathered on a steak, come visit me. Parsley, lemon juice, garlic with a little olive oil all conspire to give each taste bud a blast of freshness to counter the richness of the beef.

Red beans, black beans, pigeon peas, white beans—there’s another world there.

If I want to put chorizos in the stews, they’re there. Yucca, I can get it. Plantains, third bin. Ginger root? Common as chives. All from other cultures once foreign.

Those proud men sauntering along in the soft light of a Saturday night? Appears many of them have already sent for the mamacitas and the niños.

And we’re probably all the better for it. Sure, they’ll need health care. And they’ll want the protection of minimum wages. They’ll want education.

Some will get in trouble. But in years to come, some might discover cures. Invent things. Run for office. Change things, maybe. Make the world better. And some will hang out in the alley—drinking beer and yearning for what might have been.

Just the way we have. All of our history. And it’s not lost on me that many of these people have a Mayan heritage. And theirs is a history in American longer than 99 percent of South Floridians.

Postscript: Allow me my romantic notions. Immigration is a hot issue these days, but I’d like to add what to me is an enchanting image.

I wheeled my cart (trolley) around the corner of the large chain supermarket to the sushi bar. Now a sushi bar in a grocery store would cause most Japanese to giggle or gag. But there it was.

Two Central Americans (or I guessed them to be, by their height an cheekbones) were making sushi. Freshly cut tuna. Roe. Cucumber. Little pinched piles of washabi. Thinly shaved ginger. They were assembling it all into cartons for mini-lunches.

I stopped to watch. They carefully went about their tasks. They looked up and gave me their approximation of a sushi chef’s booming ‘Hello.”

Then they bowed.

And that is the gooey edge. I think it’s delicious.


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