By Joel Warner
By Michael Roberts
By Alan Prendergast
By Michael Roberts
By Michael Roberts
By Amber Taufen
By Patricia Calhoun
By William Breathes
This is Tom Tancredo's worst nightmare. This is the kind of shit that keeps Lou Dobbs awake at night, chilling his blood with visions of an America where people speak more than one language, know how to use chopsticks and are just as happy with a burrito as a burger for lunch.
This is Alameda Square, Denver's collision point, one of the greatest crossroads in the city, where the competing, abrasive, occasionally complementary layers of immigration, resettlement and suburban flight have piled up over decades to create a new vision of the New World — it's a place that's as borderless as an unassembled puzzle, as strange as science fiction.
I came for breakfast — the first, 11 a.m. rush at Super Star Asian: dim sum in the place that, for this moment, defines it in Denver. Two minutes past opening time and I am already eight or nine tables back in the lineup, being seated with a friendly wave, a suggestion that I just choose my own table, and quickly. There is no decor here, no attempt at pretending that this utilitarian space is anything but four walls and a ceiling with a kitchen in the back and some live, swimming fish unsuspectingly awaiting their own execution. But the steady stream of customers is colorful enough and, in their quick, confident passage between tables, around the paths of the dim sum carts making their halting transits, they embody the lapping waves of ethnic encroachment.
The restaurant is Chinese, serves heavily traditional Chinese fare (shu mai and scallion dumplings and chicken feet and taro balls covered in a crisp rind of sesame seeds) to tables full of Hispanic women in business attire, elderly Vietnamese men who chew silent as cows, mobs of young Chinese and Vietnamese teens and twenty-somethings sporting asymmetric hairstyles as if they're always walking into a stiff wind, and families out of a Benetton ad: splashes of white, yellow and cocoa brown, children squalling, shoving chopsticks up their noses, eating char siu bao by the fistful, with skin the color of a perfectly pulled cappuccino.
I want to bring Doug Bruce here for lunch. I want to see him stand a shift waiting these tables.
Alameda Square is a success in that it has always been something of a failure — dismal enough and run-down enough and just poor enough that it has mostly passed under the radar of those looking to fight over place, boundaries and who belongs where. Wal-Mart tried to move in a few years ago and was fought off through a series of court and zoning battles. And if you walk the cracked sidewalk that runs the arc of the storefronts, you'll see the history of the place spelled out in gang tags, in CLOSED signs and OPEN signs and billboards in three or four or five languages, sometimes one hung over another over another.
I eat my breakfast quickly, rushing through a bowl of congee rice porridge, dumplings and green tea. When I wave off the woman wheeling the pork bun cart, she looks almost insulted, almost angry that I didn't at least try to eat more. And at the front counter, moving to pay, I ask whether or not the kitchen serves congee every day. "Yes," says the woman running the register. "Every day." Then, pausing, "You like congee?" And I nod. "Absolutely. Wonderful breakfast." She looks surprised.
Generations of retail have come and gone through Alameda Square, until the layered billboards and competing ethnicities almost form an imaginary planet where the people all eat pho for breakfast and menudo for lunch and everyone has pig for dinner; where Mexico and Ho Chi Minh cities exist, not just next door, but right up on top of each other; where one's phrasebook must contain things like "Please, I need a doctor" and "How much for the eels?' translated into Vietnamese, Thai and Spanish. English is unnecessary. There are holistic fitness centers here, a Mexican/Vietnamese beauty and massage therapy college, places selling insurance, places selling dumplings, King's Land across the parking lot (near the Korean dollar store and the payday loan joint), a Rico Pollo around the corner, Juanita's Mexican Deli, cell phone stores and general stores that sell calling cards, herbal supplements, Asian travel services — and, of course, hablamos español. The owners of the Mr. Aqua fish store went on vacation at the beginning of May and haven't yet returned. But the New China King Buffet is booming.
At Viet Hoa Supermarket, you can take your pick of a hundred different kinds of instant soup, ten different kinds of coffee, three brands of shrimp paste. There are duck eggs, salt-cured and canned, Chinese thousand-year eggs looking terrifyingly black, and fat Asian pears, each individually wrapped with great care as if they were all tiny, powerful bombs. A hundred yards away, Pacific Ocean International Market offers all the same stuff and then some — its aisles crowded, pushed together claustrophobia-close. I pick up a bag of watermelon candies with a '40s-style pixelated cartoon woman on the front saying, by way of a word bubble, "It's so wonderful candy flavor." Passing through the lanes dedicated to Filipino and Indonesian foods, drifting on into the meat section, I can see the glazed ducks hanging in their case, the whole roasted pig, the sign tucked in among the coolers full of fresh fish (eyes still bright and clear) that reads: "For Patient Privacy Please Wait."