They are a pretty young couple. He is a thin, blond Dutchman in his early thirties. Yasmina, his younger wife, is a honey-skinned beauty, and all curves. The day I met them, she was wearing a short, tight silky dress over a black push-up bra that was doing its job quite well, indeed. She is Pakistani by way of Toronto. They have come to seek their fortune in California.
Peter, the Dutchman, is working for a local software company. He is a language specialist in a generic sense, if there is such a thing. He began an advanced degree in Sanskrit, at Oxford. He did not finish because he could not “raise” the 35,000 pounds ($50,000) required. He spent a couple of years in India studying Sanskrit with a guru. When I asked him why he had not sought admission to an American doctoral program that would have supported him, one way or another, as is the custom, he gave me an answer I did not quite understand. It was something about changing priorities and about the infernal American demand for scholarly publications. Peter and Yasmina met at Oxford, where she completed an undergraduate degree. Or maybe not.
A Muslim by birth, Yasmina drinks wine with gusto, a sure sign of aristocratic upbringing. She speaks English perfectly and very fast. Peter discusses wines with much competence. His parents own a winery and vineyard in the heart of Burgundy, where land prices rival the cost of San Francisco real estate. Yasmina does volunteer work for a peace group while she awaits her work visa. (I did not try to elucidate the visa issue.) They both like the money Peter is making but they deplore Silicon Valley’s lack of talent for leisure. Peter is longing for European six-week vacations and extended weekends. When he has made his little hole here, he is determined to establish a European lifestyle. Yasmina can’t hide her annoyance, nor does she try, at the lack of a national health system, like they have, up north, in Canada. She did not actually say so, but I am guessing she thinks it outrageous that there is no dole to support an educated married young woman while she awaits a visa. She should at least get some pocket money, she thinks. (Being a feminist, she resents having to depend on her husband, of course.)
Peter and Yasmina are both dripping with contempt for President Bush. When she talks about the President, Yasmina loses her good manners. She hates him as if she knew him. And his policies, and his vitality, and his folksy manner, and his simplicity. She and her husband have made their choice: They would rather hear a devious speech with impeccable grammar than straight talk with occasional lapses of syntax. If someone created a council of sophisticated cosmopolitans to depose the President, their names would be among the first on the list. You know that, beneath the surface, they are on a mission. Since fate and economic necessity, and the economic sluggishness of Canada and Europe, have deposited them on our shores, they might as well have a go at civilizing America. They will teach us to become more refined, more complex, more attuned to nuances.
Yasmina, born in the terrorist cesspool of Pakistan and reared in a country that pretends to defend an area the size of the US with armed forces of 55,000, would gladly advise the next administration on national defense. (The current administration is hopeless, of course.) Peter would help her, naturally. It’s tempting to dismiss Holland as a charming old whore, except that weakness corrupts. Who can forget the (unionized) Dutch soldiers under UN command who turned over thousands of Bosnian Muslim men and boys to be slaughtered by Serbian butchers in Srebrenica? Peter has an additional project in America; he would simply like to show Americans how to really live. He is from Amsterdam, where 17th century architectural jewels lining up the canals are occupied by prostitutes’ shops because there is no other economic use better able to pay the rent.
As Yasmina and Peter explain to me their plan to improve America, they are interrupted by a loud noise outside. Jesús is using his leaf blower to clean the neighbor’s yard, although today is a holiday. Yard maintenance is his second or third job. During the week, Jesús works at a hardware and construction supplies business. He raised himself to the skilled position of door framer and installer. This is not a slim achievement because the work requires precision and a visual sense of dimensions. Jesús left school in Mexico after the third grade. American non-metric measurements still give him trouble. (As they do me.) How he learned them at all is a mystery because he sure as hell does not read English. He can barely read Spanish.
Jesús’ wife works the night shift in a cannery. They raised their two children by taking turns so there would always be a parent at home. They recently adopted a third child, a little girl who is a distant relative. Jesús has many private customers who have told him they would gladly invest in any business he started. He does not say no, but he wants to keep his medical benefits as long as he has a child at home. He is doing fine, anyway. He and his wife own two houses. They used to have three but the county forced them to take down one, that they rented, because it violated some code or other. He is a good friend of mine so, I offered him a loan to tie him over. He thanked me affectionately but declined. “We are prepared,” he said.
Jesús and his wife have plenty enough money to move back to Mexico and live there forever without lifting a finger. They are not even thinking about it. He loves this country. He wants his children to be 100% American; he wants American grandchildren. The family speaks Spanish at home and attends a Catholic church in Spanish. They eat Mexican food every day. (But so do my children and every other Anglo kid in California.) They listen to corridos and rancheras on the radio. Yet, they are American to the core. This country made them, or they made themselves in this country. California is the best place to be Mexican, Jesús says, besides, here, you don’t have to choose one or the other.
Every one of Jesús’ customers gives Jesús a gift without knowing it. Everywhere he goes, he asks questions, in Spanish if possible, in English otherwise. In this fashion, he is quickly getting himself a first-rate political education. He never misses a chance to do someone a good turn. In a couple of years, when his first two children are out of the house for good, Jesús will work less and he will have time to run for local office. He laughs a lot; he has exquisite manners; he is a very good-looking man with smiling black eyes. Many women will vote for him just because of this. All the men who know him, and many who have only heard of him, will also vote for him because he is a good and strong man, and a perfect American.
Peter and Yasmina will most likely not have a chance to vote for Jesús. They will probably have floated back to Canada, or to Europe, where the gentle-born don’t have to work so hard. If, by some miracle, they are still here and have American citizenship, they will still not vote for Jesús: With his experience of the real world, the son of a bitch will probably come out a Republican!