The New America at the Laundromat

There are a few places where I like to go to people watch and reconnect myself with the ever changing population of my urban neighborhood. There are some places that are thriving with life, freshness, and diversity. The Laundromat is one of these places where one can keep their finger on the pulse of “the New America”.

Few places in this country allow you to see the real grit and hardship of people. The fights they choose to pick in public, the dirty laundry they bring in, the things they keep themselves busy with while waiting for their laundry to spin…

A tragic but telling story unfolded before my eyes a few months ago. Dozens gravitated to the laundromat on a Friday night, slowly trudging in with huge bags of dirty laundry. A Pakistani mother in law/ daughter in law dragged a week’s worth of clothing, bedsheets and cloth diapers. A single African American mom fed her kids Cheetos and Mountain Dew for dinner while her hands worked almost disconnected folding clothes while keeping her eyes glued to the TV monitor above. Some brought in carts, while others dragged cotton bags across the busy streets. Around 10:00pm, two gang members rushed in chasing a teenage boy of a different color. The boy had no shirt and was running at full speed. He came for refuge, but what he got was a beating. Dozens of us stood in shock as the two boys beat this boy to the ground. Blood gushed from his nose and after about 30 seconds some other men stepped in and starting yelling. The two gang members sprinted off, banging the glass doors on the way out, and the rest of us stood in shock, some trying to mind their own business, while others looking wide eyed trying to memorize the culprits’ features so that we could report them to the police.

The Somalian woman across from me paused her phone conversation, as she stood motionaless in a purple polyester burkha with her phone tucked into the side of her hijaab next to her right ear. The Latino twins that were previously enamored with the telenovela playing at maximum volume on the TV mounted on the wall, stared at the bloody teen while their popcicles dripped on the floor, mouths hung open in shock. After about 20 minutes, the cops showed up, took the boy’s story, and took him off to a safe place. We all breathed a little easier.

Some call my community in Chicago a melting pot. I’d call it more of a stew pot. Everyone is thrown together, but people often keep separated. Indians over here, the Orthodox Jews over there, The West African Muslims over there. Living in a community where many people are FOBs (fresh-off-the-boat), sometime the FOB mentality never goes away. People recreate a community where their ethnic group is safe, protected, and free. When outbursts like this occur, you can almost feel the stereotypes of other ethnic groups being reinforced and prejudices forming. I almost wonder if our little ethnic communities are more harmful than helpful. Are they breeding grounds for prejudice, fear and stereotypes? I think about that boy and realize the impression he made on all of us at the laundromat. Will we harbor fear and anxiety about ethnic groups that we are afraid of? Or will we let it go?

6 thoughts on “The New America at the Laundromat”

  1. Jessica ..very insightful observation .I appreciate your article .Your stew pot image is very correct. To eye witness this incident with the boy and gang members is very disturbing to me and to have all the different cultures of people there is very interesting . We are of all cultures all over the world . I believe enriching our lives of the differences and becoming friends with them. What does disturb me is the domination the gangs do to harm others and this desire for peace among others so close in proximity but yet the separation. Good that law enforcement is there and the boy was taken to a safe place.That is the desire of all of us in this world is peace with our fellow man… it easy to write the words of desire ..but the wisdom to write what is actually happening is a gift. Thank You Jessica

  2. Well-written and interesting post. Really makes me think about the divisions between communities in Cape Town. 18 years after apartheid, we are still so divided by ‘race’, culture, language and socio-economic position.

  3. You mention the ethnic backgrounds of everyone else; the Pakistani women, the Somalian woman, the African American woman and the Latino twins, yet you failed to mention the ethnic backgrounds of the criminally abusive thugs and their victim. What were they?

    1. Hi James,
      I refrained from mentioning the ethnicity of the troublemakers purposely. I didn’t want anyone to read into the story or think that I was trying to make a case against these different ethnic groups in our neighborhood by spotlighting these individuals’ wrongdoings.

      My hopes for this blog is that it would highlight the shock that many recent immigrants go through when they come to the US and how they end up making judgments about other groups based on situations like this.

      1. Sounds a little too pc.

        If a particular ethnic group or various ethnic groups have a significant higher percentage of crime than others in any given country or environment, then it is very logical and reasonable for people to be wary.

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