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You know what this country is? It's a store owner in a changing neighborhood who learns to make change in Spanish. It's me, trying to speak to a Haitian, finding a middle ground between my French-Canadian and his Haitian Creole and our common English. It's an Irish-American priest learning a few words of comfort in Tagalog.
It's messy, it's rude, this America. It sorts things out on the street corner and in libraries; it hammers out compromises unseen by the people who think they're in charge.
I write in English, for English-language newspapers, but in dreams, my father speaks to me in French. I never talk to the saints in English. I can swear in Spanish and flirt a little, and I learned how to root for a boxer in Spanish by sitting next to Puerto Rican guys at the fights.
My mother's side of the family arrived in Massachusetts in the 1600s. Some of them fought in the Revolutionary War. One of them married a woman of the Narragansett tribe, in Rhode Island, where he helped build ships used in the slave trade.
It's a messy doggone place, America, everybody bouncing off each other like the balls on a pool table, and always some new language in the neighborhood.
A deli closes. A bodega opens. Down at the church bingo, they start to call the numbers in Spanish. A few years ago, I watched a Russian kid fight in the Golden Gloves. He had the Star of David on his trunks, and his brother stood in the crowd, among the Puerto Ricans, screaming encouragement in Russian.
I'm an American. I'll have the taco pizza and a side of French fries.
Marc Munroe Dion is a columnist for Creators Syndicate.