Listening to a Wonderful Immigrant Story in the Walmart Parking Lot while Everybody Was Stocking Up on Bottled Water


I was sitting in a Walmart parking lot, a few days after COVID-19 was declared a pandemic by the WHO. It was back when stores weren’t yet limiting the number of shoppers. People were still hoarding toilet paper and making a big deal about how people were hoarding toilet paper, and there wasn’t much of it left in the stores by that time. I had a list in my pocket of things to buy, but I stayed in my car for a while listening to NPR as I watched shoppers file out with their carts piled high with their necessities—bottled water seemed to be a must-have that day. I was in the middle of a Moth Radio Hour and I wanted to hear the end.

The edition playing that day was called “When We Were Young,” and in the second segment, “Sandwiches & Neighbors,” Oanh Ngo Usadi tells about her family of seven leaving Vietnam as refugees when she was twelve. They ended up in Port Arthur, Texas. and she introduces us to their landlords, Mr. Water (not so nice) and Mrs. Water (much nicer). “Water” wasn’t their actually surname, but that’s what Usadi’s family called them. She shares how her father opened a sandwich shop to give McDonald’s “a run for its money” and how they were introduced to the significance of April 1 (the hard way) and how a trip to Costco brought about an unexpected affirmation. And that brings me back to Walmart.

I didn’t have a mask with me, because we weren’t doing that yet, but I had in my head all the reminders to wash my hands and not touch my face. Regardless, I found myself wiping my eyes as Usadi reached the end of her poignant story.

You can listen to the entire episode at The Moth site, and I hope you do. It starts with “Is Love Wild, Is Love Real?” from a man who grew up outside London. His parents were Pakistani Muslims who didn’t believe that love was a useful ingredient in a husband-wife relationship. As he is looking for love anyway, his mother is looking to set him up in an arranged marriage. Enlightenment comes by way of Bruce Springsteen.

And the third, and final, story is “Kid Religion.” In it, the speaker tells about his time as a child in western New York, attending a small Methodist church. His mother, a “labor lawyer from a Catholic Puerto Rican family in the Bronx,” volunteers to teach his Sunday-school class and gets fired for how she answers a question. Years later, after developing a relationship with a girl in a school play, he comes to believe that his mother’s answer was the right one.

If Usadi’s narrative makes you want to hear more about her life, you can read her memoir, Of Monkey Bridges and Bánh Mì Sandwiches: from Sài Gòn to Texas.

[photo: “Walmart,” by Mike Mozart, used under a Creative Commons license]

4 Ads for Your 4th

Here are 4 new advertisements in honor of the 4th of July. The first one actually commemorates the 4th. The others actually don’t. But it’s not July 1, so I needed 4 of them.

4 de Julio
Who knew that Honey Maid makes documentaries? This one’s about American immigrants. “When you first come here to America, you’re kind of like invisible. You don’t seem to be noticed, but at the same time you see that they’re looking at you.”

Hello Pizza
Last year, Brazil’s CNA language centers put English learners in contact with senior citizens in the US. Now they’re having them answer phoned-in pizza orders from the States. By staying on the line, customers can get their pizzas free. It’s a win-win with double cheese.

Are We There Yet?
You can use this to each your kids how to be annoying in five languages. This one came out late last year, but it’s new to me, which leaves me wondering: Have you seen it yet? Have you seen it yet? Have you seen it yet?

Great Chinese Names for Great Britain
“This was the first time in history that a country had invited the citizens of another to come up with names for its major landmarks.” What say we pop over to the Street for the Tall, Rich, and Handsome?

By the way, just in case you’ve never heard it asked before: Do the British have the 4th of July?

Of course they do. What else would come after the 3rd?

International Cities and International Schools, by the Numbers

What makes a city international? Is it the foreign cuisine? The languages spoken? The diverse cultures celebrated? One barometer is the number of foreign-born residents, and the top city, Dubai, is winning by a landslide. With 82% of its population born outside of the United Arab Emirates, Dubai is well ahead of the next city, Miami, which has 51% of its residents foreign born. Following is a list of the top-10. (All figures are dated 2002 or before.):

  1. Dubai  82%
  2. Miami  51%
  3. Amsterdam  47%
  4. Toronto  45%
  5. Muscat  45%
  6. Vancouver  39%
  7. Auckland  39%
  8. Geneva  38%
  9. Mecca  38%
  10. The Hague  37%

The authors note that 7 of the top 25 cities are in the Middle East, due to large guest workforces and the drawing power of religious centers. They also mention some “surprises,” mega-cities that didn’t make the top 25: Tokyo and Seoul, with about 2% each (ranked 92 and 96); Sao Paolo, 1% (100); Jakarta, .9% (105); and Mexico City, less than .5% (109).

Of course,the world’s expats include children, and while many attend typical, national schools, others get their education at international institutions. According to ISC Research, the number of international-school students worldwide has grown to over 3 million, attending over 6,000 institutions in 236 countries. Providing the education at these schools are over 290,000 staff. It’s probably not surprising that the country with the most international schools is the United Arab Emirates, as its national population mirrors that of Dubai, its largest city, with the country having 83.5% of its residents foreign born. Here’s a list of the top 10:

  1. UAE, 372 schools
  2. Pakistan, 349
  3. China, 327
  4. India, 317
  5. Japan, 219
  6. Spain, 183
  7. Indonesia, 173
  8. Germany, 170
  9. Hong Kong, 165
  10. Thailand, 161

The number of students attending international schools has tripled over the last 10 years, but not all of the current number are expats. In fact, the great majority, 80%, are local citizens. And as more and more people raise their children outside their passport countries, as more and more locals seek the best track for the world’s best universities, the demand for international schools is increasing. ISC Research’s prediction is that the number of international-school students will grow to 6 million in the next 10 years, and the number of schools will reach 10,000.

(Lisa Benton-Short, Marie Price, and Samantha Friedman, “Global Perspective on the Connections between Immigrants and World Cities,” part of a research project funded by the GW Center for the Study of Globalization; Andy Sambidge, “UAE Population Hits 6m, Emiratis Make Up 16.5%,” ArabianBusiness, October 7, 2009; Suzi Dixon, “International Schools: Now more than Three Million Children Get a Global Education,” The Telegraph, March 23, 2012)

[photo: “Flags,” by misskprimary, used under a Creative Commons license]