by Jennifer Ho
We all have ghosts—of family members, of cherished memories, of occurrences forgotten by our heads but not our hearts. My ghosts are in Uptown, Chicago, among the strangers who have given pieces of my childhood back to me.
When I was a toddler, my family would drive from the suburbs to Uptown so that we could shop at the Vietnamese grocery stores. This was an important ritual for my parents and grandparents, as it was for many Vietnamese families. They were refugees. They’d lost their home, but Uptown was the next best thing.
We left Chicago when I was very young. I returned alone in my thirties, so I have no memory of this time except the one I have created. On Saturday and Sunday mornings, I see ghosts of my family everywhere. On Argyle Street and on Broadway, I see cars and SUVs with three generations of families lining up on the street waiting for a parking spot so that they can go in and buy the produce and meat and condiments that they had on their kitchen table growing up. My ghost sits in the backseat of the car, watching my dad as he curses impatiently and changes the radio station, my grandmother telling him to calm down, my mom saying nothing.
In Uptown I also see ghosts of my childhood on the west coast, 2,000 miles away but still all the same. We, the 1.5 generation who will one day proudly declare ourselves Vietnamese-Americans, find these grocery trips boring, a burden. We trail along behind our mothers as she pushes a shopping cart entirely too slowly, watching with exasperation as she examines the produce a little too carefully. When the shopping is complete, we ask for pizza but are forced to eat bo 7 mon or banh cuon.
A decade from now, we’ll come back to Uptown on spring break for brief nostalgia and a cafe sua da. And a decade after that, we’ll visit as often as we can because this was our home, and it is rapidly disappearing, a victim to the forces of money and time. But the ghosts will still be here, asking us to remember.
I’ve been looking for my grandmother here, on Argyle or on Broadway, in the faces of the gray-haired ladies shuffling along in their sandals on the sidewalk. It has been nearly forty years since she was last in this neighborhood, and only months since she left this earth, but she lingers around here, among the living.
About the Author
I’m Jenn, and Lawrence & Argyle is my labor of love. My parents are Vietnamese refugees. Despite limited English skills, little money and multiple barriers to success, they were dedicated to our family’s well-being. They did for me what most parents would do, and I wear their struggles as a badge of honor.
I’m a proud American. I created Lawrence & Argyle to honor my peers and their families who have been through similar circumstances, as well as the people who are still trying to find a home in our country. This is not a perfect place, but I believe that we can make room for any person seeking the best opportunities for themselves and their loved ones. Each quarter, Lawrence & Argyle donates half of its profit to an organization who creates those opportunities for immigrants and refugees who are new to America.