Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald


Immigrants find mixed embrace in arms of Lady Liberty

Gato’s manager Magda told Gato that he should become less superficial. Gato was crushed so he attempted crafting verbal oragami for an election year message.

Like Sylvester Stallone starring in King Lear, Gato will rise up and be taken seriously.

Gato promised wine and food this week, but on a recent visit back to his old neighborhood the Ironbound in Newark, New Jersey, Gato was reminded prosperity does not come within arms reach without freedom.


Gato is as cynical about the 2004 candidates as a Chilean waiting for truth from Henry Kissenger about General Pinochet. But in places where English is barely spoken and FedEx Kinko’s stores are supplanted by mirrored stores with rows of phone booths selling international calls, Gato is reminded more stalwart principals steady the United States, despite the way political gusts blow.

This philosophical generator fuels a light that draws the withered faces of indigenous South Americans to factory jobs in Summit, New Jersey. It beckons Muscovite Russian girls to bartend at Polish joints in Chicago, women who would have no other viable option besides prostitution in a country where AIDS rates are outpacing Africa.

Referencing Newark, most New Yorkers or Princetonites in Madison tell Gato, “I’ve been through the airport.”

Gato wants to take you into his neighborhood beginning at the New Jersey Transit exit at the Path Train Penn Station.

Ferry Street, the main drag of the Ironbound, begins three blocks from the somber cement anti-car bomb cement barricades surrounding Penn Station, suddenly becoming colorful at Fornos Grill, a faux Spanish castle and cornerstone of Jersey family life, (for real people that is.)

Mornings, the Ironbound smells like other New York area neighborhoods, the smell of baking bread mingling with the stench of fermenting garbage. On Ferry St. old men with habits that have not changed since they left Lisbon 50 years ago gather on corners, blocking hurried commuters.

Rivera Bakery is Gato’s breakfast stop. This is a favorite place for former EPA director and Jersey Governor Christine Whitman as the many photos in Rivera of her attest. Some hard core Newark Democrats won’t come here because the owner is Republican; they go to Delicia’s,

Gato can only be McCain-Feingold when it comes to thin crepes wrapped up like a créme horn, filled with fresh strawberries and Kiwi. His cravings turn him apolitical when it comes to custard tortes covered with mountains of fresh berries.

In any case, Delicia’s on Van Buren and Warwick is better for noontime, serving authentic Spanish and Portuguese lunch fair.

The Ironbound is a smokers dream. Establishments are old-world European, and if you don’t light up, patrons might think you’re some health-freak real estate developer trying to condo-ize their way of life. Most have such good filtration systems, non-smokers won’t notice.

Otherwise, don’t complain about smoke there; remember Down Neck Newark is the stomping ground of the fictional Soprano crew. (Lenny, a regular at Adega Bar, is from the family the Soprano’s is based on.)

Gato began his last visit to the Ironbound eating Brazilian BBQ at Casa Nova on Ferry Street — $15 for 12 kinds of meat and all-you-can-eat salad bar.

Between $1.50 finos (beer) of Beck’s Dark, he was handed a pen by the owner. It seemed like just another premium with a business address until Gato noticed the script on top. Writing embossed above a faded image of the Statue of Liberty’s crown, simply said, “give me your hungry, your tired … ”

Austere airports have long replaced Ellis Island, but for newcomers, those words from that woman tirelessly holding the torch (on the Jersey side) still resonate over nasally announcements of arrivals and departures.

Casa Nova’s owner told Gato that he gave out these pens to remind customers who could vote that, “when they vote they vote for six other people in this country who can’t.”

Most of Gato’s first-generation friends graduated from Jersey City State. In a way, Gato’s diffused family circumstances were a blessing as Gato chose the road less traveled and more absurd, going out of state. A year from graduation, after a few years off from school, Gato’s friends are proud and stand as the only thing, besides the encouragement of the Badger Herald staff and Magda, (who owns 15% of all Gato’s work) that doesn’t drag him back to ‘Montclair State adult degrees.’

Many of Gato’s friends have lives that move much slower, with more uncertainty because they did not come to the U.S. with family.

Bianca, the staff of the Star Ledger‘s favorite lunchtime barmaid at Adega Grill, recently got married to an American DJ. Brazilians girls have a reputation of being gold-diggers, but Bianca will tell you she’s resisted that role and has turned down wooing from many wealthy New Yorkers.

Bianca is more excited, love aside, that she can begin college and is eligible for financial aid for the first time next year. Bianca has already purchased some books, even though she won’t be attending for another year. “You have to understand,” another barmaid tells Gato, “People like us never go to college in Brazil.”

Luis, another of Gato’s friends and a doppelganger for singer Christian Castro, left Ecuador after graduating from a university. He came to the U.S., volunteering for Habit for Humanity, the equatorial equivalent of an idealistic middle-class kid from Whitefish Bay.

Luis planned to return to Quito when his time with Habitat was finished. Instead, he received a phone call from his parents at the end of the summer, telling him not to return.

Five of Ecuador’s major banks had closed, and, with no financial insurance, they had lost their life savings. Overnight Luis had plummeted from our reality to becoming another day worker, standing on a corner at 5 a.m. waiting for construction work.

What amazed Gato most is Luis, never once in his misfortune, took out his resentment on the poor he built the house for as a Humanity volunteer. One of the life examples that ultimately inspired Luis to stay in the U.S. (without documentation), was the life of President Jimmy Carter.

On the subject of contemporary immigrants, don’t believe TV pundits from suburbs where VanDyke is an ethnic name, or academic work because academia does not produce scholars from people who live this life.

This is why Gato pitched a documentary to HBO on immigration and is now, following up the pitch with footage. (Sociology grad students, if you try to steal Gato’s idea, remember Gato knows Lenny.)

In the Ironbound, among those without papers, Gato learned some like Bush, some like Kerry.

Immigration will never stop; it runs New York, Chicago, L.A. more than Mayor Daley or Michael Bloomberg do.

In that voting booth, you that have the power to make decisions for people who are otherwise just a name in a New York Times human interest piece, these neighbors are often more committed to the American idea than most of us who take our U.S. Passport for granted.

Next week: Wine for beginners and those recipes Gato promised

Visiting New York? Stop by the Ironbound:

Riviera Bakery 124 Ferry Street, Newark, NJ 07105 (973) 491-9000

Delicia’s Bakery & Deli 167 Ferry Street, Newark, NJ 07105 (973) 465-9000

Adega Restaurant 130 Ferry Street, Newark, NJ 07105 (973) 589-8830

If he isn’t staying with friends, Gato stays in the four-star Robert Treat Hotel, across from the New Jersey performing arts center, for $89.00 a night for two people.

Robert Treat Hotel 50 Park Pl, Newark, NJ 07102 (973) 622-1000

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