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Thursday, April 25, 2024

welcome back

welcome back
Photo: Ambulante Audiovisual

I like my job, from my window I can see almost all of Chinatown. 

701 Grant Avenue, fourth floor. Sitting behind my desk I catch a glimpse of "The Dragon Gate" which begins the largest Chinatown in the world. 

The large picture window behind my computer screen shows narrow Grant Avenue crisscrossed with lampposts that resemble green bamboo stalks topped by red pagodas. In the same corner, the same old man with his Erhu rehearsing the same melody as always. Tourists taking photos, browsing the shop windows and the prices of the menus. Bruce Lee, patron saint of minorities, gazes impassively from his mural at the red paper lanterns floating above the cars.

This part of the city resisted being evicted innumerable times and like a stubborn vermin it endured being exterminated, becoming another of the exotic attractions of San Francisco. 

After my job I have a hobby of wandering and getting lost in the small passages of Chinatown, perhaps involuntarily looking for some connection with the community, some affinity. 

I was five years old then when my mother and I boarded the Braniff bound for the Golden State. My mother, a very small, pale, frail, and thin woman, was just over five feet tall, but she seemed huge to me. We traveled shortly after my father's death and on the way I could still feel the condolences and the smell of white chrysanthemums. From my mother's stories and from some other confidence from a relative who came to visit us, I was able to put together the story of their marriage. My mother was the woman that everyone knew as the spinster of the family, at almost forty years old she had not yet married and the family no longer had any doubts about her future celibacy, she worked in the law firm of a lawyer uncle as an assistant, organizing papers, making appointments, receiving clients, I assume that she was perfect in that position given her excessive orderliness and perfectionism. 

He used to have his snack, which consisted of a package of vanilla cookies and a Watts fruit juice, at a bodega half a block from the office. There he met my father. He was in charge of his godfather's grocery store, godfather Man San. Apparently his crush was sudden and despite the rejection of my mother's family -which actually fueled the enthusiasm even more- they ended up getting married. The disapproval was not so much because my father was Chinese? My mother's family was more "Creole"? but because of my father's lack of spirit to overcome, he is a mediocre they tried to dissuade her. Their marriage was apparently happy while it lasted.

- Did dad make you miserable? I ever asked him.

-Your father? He couldn't make anyone miserable.

Many versions were woven about my father's death, I am inclined to adopt the least problematic, in which my father intervened in a fight between some customers who drank liquor in the back room? Generally, most wineries had a bar semi clandestine inside? he was hit by the spout of a broken bottle. He had not yet turned 50. 

-Mr. Lock? Good morning, my name is Víctor Huamán, a deep voice questioned me on the other side of the receiver. I used to not receive calls in Spanish on my office phone. 

-I've been trying to locate you, I'm passing through and I'd like to talk to you, it's personal, that slow voice kept saying without giving me time to respond. I made an appointment with him at Mr. Wang's restaurant, which more than a restaurant was more like a greasy diner with an empty fish tank on one side and its tables occupied, most of the time, by old men playing Mahjong. 

When I walked through the door of the restaurant, Víctor Huamán was waiting for me, of indecipherable age, with a kind face furrowed by some wrinkles, surely earned with a lot of effort, straight, gelled hair that tried to hide an incipient baldness. 

-Sorry for the inconvenience, I'm not going to take much of your time, this is very important to me, to us, he said as he watched me from behind small, almond-shaped eyes. When the committee found out that I was going to pass through here, did they candidly confess that they had found me searching “the internet”? He asked me to give you this, it's a diploma, he handed me a Manila envelope, please open it, it means a lot to us. «Sociedad Comunidad Hijos de Pamplona Alta» grant the following diploma of honor to Don Carlos Lock, in the absence of his father of the same name, in recognition of his contribution to our community. Signatures of Cesar Huaroto, president, Carlos A. Vásquez, director, Víctor Huamán, secretary follow.

While I was looking at the diploma, Víctor told me a story that he had undoubtedly rehearsed many times. Your father was our benefactor, he told me, he helped us a lot, first with the Chinese Charity and then he continued alone, he never stopped going on Sundays, he would arrive with his red car full of groceries from the store, he paid for my studies, We have your photograph in our club, he continued, and then he showed me some photos of the stairs they were building, of their organization of common pots, of their library. 

-Your father was a good man, Victor told me confidentially, stretching out his hand as he said goodbye, I saw him get lost in the impersonal agglomeration of Chinatown.

The days after Víctor's visit I relived the few moments in which my mother, nostalgically, remembered her land, there is much to do, she repeated, and on some occasion I seemed to hear her saying that my father spent Sundays with his "family of the hills," I think I heard her say.

My plane has just landed at the Jorge Chávez International Airport in Lima, I begin to perceive, again, an aroma of chrysanthemums, I think I hear a distant rumor, like a welcome, the welcome of my family from the hills.

San Francisco, October 2022.

You may be interested in: Looking out the window

Paul Lock
Paul Lock
Dad, a customary immigrant, with studies in Linguistics and Literature at the Catholic University of Lima (never taken advantage of) and almost always exhausted.


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