THE DRY CLEANERS
‘No starch on the shirts,” I say to the clerk. She smiles and says, “No scratch from de sheets.” I shake my head. “No, no starch on the shirts.” She nods.
I have no idea what will happen to my shirts, although my sheets may come back on hangers and button-downed. This is because I don’t speak Vietnamese. I also have a failure to communicate with Tex-Mex and Chinese waiters, Uber drivers from Algeria and talking on the phone to “LeRoy” in Pakistan who’s trying to fix my computer. Now I must prepare to speak Kurdish.
As you know, President Trump is pulling out most U.S. troops from the Kurdish-Turkish border, allowing the Turks to invade the Kurds’ territory. Trump is abandoning them despite the fact the Kurds have been doing most of the fighting against ISIS. And we promised those allies we would stand by them “as long as the rivers flow and the desert blooms in the spring” (translated from the Kiowa, Comanche and Cleveland Indians). Of course, today the rivers flow with coal sludge and the desert is blooming with fracking, but it’s the promise that counts.
We know what happens next: Kurds who face torture and death, because they fought alongside the Americans, will come here — along with their immediate families and their cousins, in-laws, next-door neighbors, the guys who translated, drove for us, loaded crates or have a good immigration lawyer. (Texas has more refugees than any other state, and most of them come to Houston.) Then they go through the usual red tape for asylum seekers, giving us the quote, thanks to Miss Muffet: “Kurds and wait.”
Earlier arrivals were the Haitians from the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. After the devastating 2010 earthquake hit Haiti, the U.S. added Haitians to the Temporary Protected Status designation that allowed them to stay in the U.S. for up to three years. They are still here, although the Trump administration is trying to move them home, with much protestation.
Through the years, immigrants left their teeming shores following defeats. Germans, Czechs and Irish. After our own Civil War, thousands of defeated Southerners followed the GTT rule — Gone To Texas. The Yankee invasion began about 1970.
If God hands you a lemon, make a margarita out of it. The Mexican Revolution of 1910 sent numbers of Mexicans to Texas. Hundreds of thousands of anti-Castro Cubans came to the U.S. And when the Hungarian Revolution of 1956 collapsed, we received many Magyars (that’s “Hungarian” in Hungarian). Behind them were the Serbs and Croatians. The South Vietnamese, defeated by the North Vietnamese, arrived.
Texas has hosted refugees from Katrina, perhaps a quarter of a million. One estimate found 40,000 stayed in Texas, giving us a lot of good halfbacks and chefs. We still don’t know how to handle the hundreds of thousands of Central American peasants seeking asylum. Maybe we should be named “America — the land of losers.” But we did say give us your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning for a pizza franchise.
As for the Kurds, there are between 25 million and 30 million of them, minus the 14,000 who were killed fighting ISIS (which means there were 14,000 American military who weren’t killed). No one else speaks Kurdish but the Kurds, and in Houston they will fit right in.
Houstonians speak at least 145 languages at home, according to a new analysis of U.S. Census data. More than a third of Houston residents who are older than 5 speak a language other than English at home. In Harris County, 2.2 million residents speak only English at home while 1.6 million people also speak another language. Of those, 1.3 million residents speak Spanish. We have thousands who speak Vietnamese, Chinese and Indian languages. More than 15,500 Houstonians speak French at home and 8,915 speak German. Just 2,202 Houstonians speak Italian. More than 19,700 speak a variety of African languages at home, but only 445 people speak Afrikaans. Slightly more people, 460, speak Danish. Just 60 people speak Slovak. The Welsh must feel lonely. Only 25 among us speak Welsh.
So get ready for the next wave of foreign newcomers, and more ethnic restaurants. You want your sheep with or without fleece? Or try our takeout mutton, Ewe-Haul-It. We have Sniper’s Surprise washed down with a Molotov cocktail. But don’t order the Trump’s Rump Roast Revenge. Oh, and check your sheets for buttons.