La Vida Loca

They are, one and all, living the crazy life. It’s in the music, on the faces and in the way all the people at a typical street fair writhe and wriggle like a giant snake shedding its skin. On Mexico Street, yesterday is a fleeting memory and the future is a harmless speck on the horizon. All that matters is the now, the moment, this song, this beer, this chance to celebrate. Here, they dance and drink to everything, make the inconsequential big and the plain beautiful. The stout older man, wearing a UCLA football jersey, is celebrating the start of the college season. Not that this son of an illegal immigrant cares about American football; only the fact that UCLA is the school where his kid is enrolled, the first in his far-flung family to get an education. Getting that kid into school is the result of his life’s work, and because of that, he loves that damn school as if he were going to school. In a way, he is. The entire family is, and too bad if that’s a burden for an eighteen-year old to shoulder.

Deeper into the crowd, there’s a girl stomping her feet and waving her arms to the sounds of a local band on stage. Next to her stands a guy with a tattoo on his neck and a smile on his face, holding a little fella way up high above the massive crowd. Holds him high, way up high above all the things that might drag him down to the pavement. This is the street of romance; these are the people of passion. It is so very much unlike their neighbors.

On America Street, there is no music. Just tired folks standing under the Coca-Cola sign, drinking Coors and keeping counsel with themselves. There’s an old man wearing a placard and passing out leaflets, carrying on a private crying party over the shame of Gays or the plight of the taxpayer. They want this street to themselves, they do not want to share the space. But if they have to share, they’ll cram all the people on Mexico’s side down to the far end and pay the police to erect a human barricade. If they can’t keep ’em out, at least they can make sure the Mexicans stay in their little corner, next to the porta potties and far away from the center of town.

It used to be that way.
But now Mexico dominates the street, with pinatas and bands and swirling margaritas. Everyone wants to go there, everyone wants to have fun, and the sad old people watch America Street–all stale Apple pies and exploding Chevrolets–shrink into an afterthought. It may as well be part of the asphalt between Mexico and Ireland, where young blond boys dance in circles around fathers while mothers stand guard with strollers. On Ireland Street, the college kids stand three-deep on bus benches, clutching plastic cups, stomping their hooves and singing with all the strength in their beer-soaked hearts. This is the street of romance; these are the people of passion. This is what America Street should be–one long block of loud, happy drunks singing songs, one family sharing a celebration. It remains a street divided. Two cultures, one street, one country. Together, yet separate. So very separate.

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