This morning in San Francisco, I check out from the hotel and walk to Bodega, a place I discovered last time I was here. I walk past a Chinese man swinging his arms slowly and deliberately, celebrating a secret of health us Westerners will never know. It is Chinese New Year, and I pass bigger groups celebrating and children singing. My phone takes a picture of a forest of phones taking pictures.
I get to the corner hoping the place is still in business. The sign outside asks “Can it all be so simple?” The place is open, so at least for today, the answer is yes. I take a seat at the bar, and I’m flattered when the owner recognizes me even if it’s only my second time here. I ask her if her sister made it to New York to study – but no, she is trekking around Columbia after helping out at the bodega every weekend for the past few months. I get a coffee and a hibiscus mimosa as I ponder the menu.
The man next to me turns out to be her cousin, Amir. He took a plane to San Francisco from Iran yesterday after hearing an executive order might get signed banning people with visas from seven countries to enter the US. The order was signed two hours before his plane landed. He made it through immigration. The fact sheet arrived on the immigration officer’s desks right after he passed through, and the next man in his queue, coming from Turkey, did not make it through. Needles and eyes.
Now he is planning to get a job, and get a lawyer to find a way to bring over his wife and 4 year old child who are now officially banned from following him for 120 days or more. In Iran he does business strategy and teaches at University. It hits home really hard that we are not that different, him and I, and how undeservedly lucky I am that I won’t ever be faced with such a horrible choice to make. Paria, the owner, chimes in, saying that she’s a Iranian Muslim who came to the US 15 years ago with her family, and they all can’t believe what’s happening right now.
The church bell chimes a song over Washington Square Park and breaks the spell, telling me it’s eleven o’clock and time to get going to the airport.