Been up since 6:30 trying to write on Kiko, but not feeling the flow. I have done some good writing (which I will include here) but it does not really press the story forward well. (It starts here, and was last published here) Indeed, it has gone off in two interesting directions: 1. the people in the subdivided house he lives in, which could be thee start of the rooming house story and 2. assimilation as camouflage. (Spoiler Alert: THIS IS FROM MUCH LATER IN THE STORY) First, let me insert what I’ve written, re-read it, and comment on it:
Kiko liked winning, but the attention was strange. He had lived in New York for almost three years and he had been anonymous the whole time. He had stayed focused on working and the things of life like getting an apartment, paying bills, sending money home and the rest. Besides that his world was tiny: Mrs. Choi, Santayana, Mr. Duggan (the landlord), Gopi (the upstairs tenant who drives a cab), the Aldebot family (who have one of the other legal apartment in the building), and the Peruvian woman at the envios office where Kiko sent at least $100 back to his family every week (he never knew her name because he was shy, but they had stared and smiled foolishly every week).
The secret to success as a Mexican in New York was to be invisible. Look as much like every other Mexican as you could: avoid personal attention. The average New Yorker, of each and every type, categorizes people into broad types. This is both a method of taxonomy and navigation as “threat assessment.” Mexicans, to most Americans are just “hispanic.”
However, even to other Latinos, Mexicans fall into the indigenous tribes of their ancestors, so Kiko, being from the south, looked like Guatalatecas y Hondureños (o Catrachos). He had not assumed the city ways of the more cosmopolitan Mexicans, and so was never mistaken for the Salvadorans or Mexicans from the north.
The truth is Kiko is a New Yorker, shopping at the clothing stores of Jamaica and Corona, wearing the vaguely hip-hop inspired gear of the broad swath of Queens immigrants. Indeed Gopi’s friend Ali had the exact same outfit (a vaguely Hilfiger-ish jeans and Armani-Exchange knock-off shirt, with an pair of fake Timberlands) last Friday after he had gone to mosque. Needless to say he had worn it in the manner befitting all Bengalis, with no Latino flair.
Where does assimilation end and camouflage begin? All across Queens, from Jamaica to Astoria, men and women come from other parts of the world and try to adapt their personalities and styles to their new surroundings. They imitate the happy well fed youths of Manhattan (where most of them work), their co-workers who serve as guides to this new world of New York, and any friends that they may have known back home (provided they respect the “friend”). They want to look like someone who belongs there, but not as if they are trying too hard. Oddly, the best model for this camouflage is tourists from ciudad Mexico, Sao Paolo or Cartagena: wealthy children who have looked north on Television all of their lives. They adapt the MTV styles to Telefuturo realities back home and field test them on the streets of Manhattan.
I really like this, though it is a real distraction from the Bike Racer story I set out to write. It strikes me as true in a way that I have not really read or seen anywhere else. If I digress like this Kiko’s story will be a novel. It has the outlines of the rooming house story I want to tell separately mixed in seemlessly with Kiko’s story. In fact the only discordant note is the Peruvian love interest. (I want to deal with inter-latino dating as a way to highlight most [gringo] New Yorker’s ignorance of the differences between the nations of the continent of South America).
The Irish American Landlord who didn’t flee immigration and multiculturalism to his Queens neighborhood will also be an interesting lens to look at Queens through. His profiteering by subdividing his home into cells should prove an interesting examination of the freemarket and who benefits from it. The question is do I make him an alcoholic or more of a conscious agent of change?
Gopi the cabbie (hindu?) and his friend Ali (muslim) could be an interesting arc. Indeed, as I write this the idea of making them lovers in the brokeback mountain vein strikes me as provocative. One of them could start to be better assimilated and start to go to gay bars, while the other might need the approval of the home community.
Then we can heal the south asian muslim-hindu rift as well as explore the freedom that a megacity offers. Hindu-Muslim tensions would be a perfect metaphor for Arab-Israeli strife, just jettisoning the eurocentrism in most examinations of these problems.
Kingston, the West-Indian with a city job is a wild card. He could be anything from “Slim Nate” the addict-dealer of “My Belletristic Bottom” to a hard-working yardie hustler who knows what to do in a huge unruly city like New York. Indeed his Caribbean experience with lawlessness and bureaucracy (what if he has a London back-story) might make him the ultimate trickster figure in a seemingly civilized but really ungovernable New York. Maybe he can know a slim Nate, an amoral petty addict and dealer who has a similar job with the City.
I guess What I’d like is some votes on which way to go with this from any of my regular readers (though I am hardly a regular writer). Do you think I should spread the Kiko story out, or cut this from it. Since it is out of sequence, and there are pages and pages of plotting and writing between where the last place I left Kiko and here after he wins his first race, where this is from, I submit to you what I should do, stay focused on Kiko’s racing, OR, spread it out to his life as a New Yorker.