We are living in an ever-changing world. The youngest baby boomer turned age 50 on January 1. Many of the old haunts that boomers remember are gone, replaced by glass and steel. Some of the old dialects, too. And, as we look across America, we are seeing greater diversity that we should embrace, as veteran journalist Mort Rosenblum writes.
Enyoy! (Nope, not a typo) Happy New Era!
Moving from Tucson to New York a half century ago, I traded menudo for matzo ball soup, invariably plopped down by zaftig yiddishe ladies who commanded: “Enjoy!” That was new to a guy used to a softly spoken, “Buen provecho.”
Back then in Arizona, Jews were rare enough to be weird. A redheaded prick at Tucson High once tried a little Biblical persecution until he noticed my Mexican pals lurking beyond me. Anglos were the aliens in a valley inhabited for millennia by now-vanished tribes and settled by Spaniards in the 1600s.
Tucson took shape in 1775, a year before America declared independence. A mud fort and town wall held off Apaches, “native Americans” with attitude and arrows. Until 1853, it was part of Mexico. By 1970, the aliens had moved in.
Bulldozers plowed Tucson’s old adobe heart, obliterating the only city wall in North America along with the plaza, the presidio and blocks of century-old houses. Town fathers wanted a convention center to attract Eastern Visitors who, they presumed, would not appreciate a bunch of poor Mexicans.
In recent years, rich people from elsewhere, backed by a Canadian-born attorney general, a Californian governor, and symbolized by a crackpot sheriff from Massachusetts whose parents emigrated from Italy, have been hounding Americans with Arizona roots that run centuries deep.
But, I realized today, birthright is safe in a new era. Real Tucsonans know who the “aliens” are, and they’re not going anywhere.
At a Carl’s Jr., counter people chattered away in the colorful border tongue I learned growing up. (When I coached grade-school baseball, one kid told me: “Coche, el me pusheo.” Coche really means car, and Spanish has its own word for push.) The “j,” a jota, takes a long hard trip from the back of the throat. A more comfortable “y,” as in yanqui, colonized the dialect as English oozed in.
When my burger arrived, a woman set it down with that old New York specialty that is now cliché in a cross-cultural world. But it came out: “Enyoy!”
(Feature page photo of Mort Rosenblum by John de Dios)