I have been using Mi Oficina as, well, “mi oficina.” It’s a great place to study, stay connected with part of the Latino community in Concord, and to have meetings with people.
Mi Oficina is in a strip mall that may be only a few miles from Walnut Creek, but life here could not be more different. The food is obviously different. Lots of corn meal, and the cokes come from Mexico. More rice. Less potatoes. Lots of beans and pork. Well, no pork at the Afghan grocery store. But the freshly baked Afghan bread is to die for. The Korean Restaurant across the street arguably has spicier food than the Mexicans on this side. But it is all good!
The people and what they eat is definitely one clear indication of the international connections active in this place. In Mi Oficina, the row of computers against the back wall is often filled with people who are making video calls to all parts of Mexico and to other parts of Latin America.
On the back side of Mi Oficina there is a store that just ships packages, or remits money orders, to international destinations. The list of banks and countries that is posted on the window indicates some of the banks and where you can send money or stuff. It must have over 100 entries in two columns. I always thought that the banks on the list were banks in Latin America. Today, I noticed that two of the banks are in the Philippines. The destination bank in some Latin American countries included HSBC which once stood for Hong Kong and Singapore Bank Corporation. Today it markets itself at the “World’s Local Bank.” No use trying to untangle those links!
Next door to that store, they sell Ice Cream from Mexico. And next to that, they sell cheap household and party goods from China. Many of the customers are day laborers from Mexico and Central America. If you happen to have a cell phone from Mexico, you can recharge the SIM card there and pay in U$. And you can mail your purchases (of Chinese goods) to friends and family in any country of the world.
Down the way there is a Latino grocery store that sells local milk, vegetables and meat, but many of the products on the shelves are from Mexico, Central America and other parts of the world. It’s not so surprising that we can get our favorite canned black beans from Guatemala, or enchilada sauce from Mexico. More surprising is that the local laundry detergent that we used to avoid when we lived in Guatemala, preferring imported Tide or All, is for sale here.
The Latino grocery store has a bakery and, clearly, the recipes are imported! Next door is the Afghan grocery store and bakery that also has imported recipes, but from the other side of the globe! Do you think they might buy their flour from the same local vendor? Does the same delivery truck stop for both shops? What language does the driver speak?
More surprising is that the Afghan grocery store, alongside the freshly baked bread, has a freezer offering “Helados Guadalajara” — some of the best popsicles from Mexico, with flavors you probably would never find at Safeway (I might have said, “you won’t find them in the United States”, but this is the United States!). But the connection between the Afghan grocery store and the surrounding Latino community produced an even more interesting offer. A stand of books in Spanish. Not simply in Spanish, but books by evangelical and pentecostal authors, some Latin Americans and some Anglo Americans translated into Spanish. And published by Editorial Betania Caribe, the Latin American publisher acquired by a Bible publisher in the US. Many of the books are actually printed in Colombia by missionaries originally sent by CLC to print evangelistic literature for South America. And they are being sold by Muslims from Afghanistan!
There are global religious connections here, too. One Mexican shopkeeper was recently converted in the Iglesia Universal del Reino de Dios, a major Brazilian church that promotes practices that many of the more established churches and denominations consider to be more pagan than Christian. A young man who walked across the border from Mexico found Jesus here, and works in a shop where you can often hear English praise music. When he is off work, you might find him studying the Bible in Spanish with people who are not from his country. Perhaps they met through a Guatemalan pastor who is employed by an Anglo church. Is this American Christianity or Latin American?
Speaking of “displaced” religious practice. When I visited Turkey, for the first time it was during the month of Ramadán, when Muslims are expected to fast all day long, and only eat after sundown and before sunrise. Now I am more aware that Ramadán is practiced by Muslim in the United States. Since this year Ramadan corresponds more or less directly with our month of August, Afghans and other Muslims in this shopping center selling and buying food and gifts for Iftar (fast-breaking after sundown). There are also Arabs here who who sell beer to the Mexican day laborers. I think they are fasting–not even drinking water–during the day. One of them is married to a Mexican. Would she also be fasting? I don’t know how they manage to fast without water when the day is so hot and long and the door to their liquor store is open all day. But I suppose they know how to resist, since they sell alcohol all day every day, and they seem to resist drinking it themselves. I suppose they would not have this problem if they were in a Muslim majority country.
What is the influence of all this connectedness on the future of this community? What interactions take place and produce new ways of living? How do you observe connections with God?