Many faces of America watch Obama inaugural at Plaza Fiesta in Fort Mill

ColumnistJanuary 21, 2013 

— Monday was a holiday from school, Martin Luther King Day, so Plaza Fiesta near Carowinds was packed.

Hundreds of gleeful children, screaming with joy, were in the indoor play area of the mall that is as international as this country. People at tables ate empanadas next to people who ate hot dogs, next to people who ate lo mein. The mall is a crossroads of the immigrants from Asia, the Caribbean, and, especially, Latin America. Those Hispanics, so many of them at Plaza Fiesta Monday, who have come to America and brought their smiles and seemingly endless capacity to work and become Americans who love this country with immeasurable pride.

In the common area, the food court, five flat screen televisions at noon showed President Obama being sworn in and delivering his inaugural speech. The place was so loud with the noise of joy and the freedom to take kids to a place like this on a holiday that the only way to follow the speech was the subtitles on the TVs.

The words in the middle of the speech flashed across the bottom of those five screens:

“Our journey is not complete until we find a better way to welcome the striving, hopeful immigrants who still see America as a land of opportunity; until bright young students and engineers are enlisted in our workforce rather than expelled from our country.”

At one table, workboots muddy, sat three men on lunch break from construction jobs. One was from Honduras, the others from El Salvador. One man has two fingers in splints, the victim of an wayward hammer. Obama's words about immigrants flashed just as these men sat down to eat.

“My son is born here,” said the Honduran. “He is an American.”

The man pointed at the screen. At Obama.

“My son could be like him,” the man said. “President.”

At a nearby table sat Francisco Reyes, an immigrant from Mexico, with his 6-year-old daughter, Leslie. The little girl pointed at the screen.

“President Obama, his job is to make our country so nice,” said Leslie Reyes Garcia, age 6, in perfect, unaccented English.

She was asked what she wanted to be when she grew up.

“I want to be a doctor,” she said. “Or president. He did it. I can do it, too.”

No father was ever prouder to hear the words of dreams than immigrant Francisco Reyes.

The two cleaning ladies, immigrants, smiled as they cleaned and snuck glances at the TVs. In the Papa Sammy pizza place, Sammy Gonzalez hustled to fill orders. His father, Sammy Sr., came from Puerto Rico - where all those millions of people are as American as anybody else from South Carolina or North Carolina. His mother is from Honduras. Gonzalez grew up in Miami.

“We are always busy on holidays from school,” Gonzalez said. “Days like this are busy.”

Busy means hard work of long hours that start with cleaning and continue with cooking and service and end with cleaning.

The American Dream as the inauguration happened. Trabajo, Work.

“We live in a great country,” said Sammy Gonzalez.

Across the food court sat a woman with a husband and two kids. The daughter wore a t-shirt, with “USA” emblazoned across it. Her daughter wore the shirt special for the inauguration day, said Karen Beck, a teacher.

In all that noise of the room, Beck watched the inaugural speech intently. She zoomed in on the TV sets. When the speech was over, Beck talked of Obama mentioning how the country must be inclusive to all people, so that the strength of those people make the country even stronger.

Beck motioned around the room, possibly York County's largest crowd anywhere on Martin Luther King Day and Inauguration Day. There were hundreds and hundreds of people, adults and so many children, of every shade, whose parents came from so many countries.

“This is part of the future of America,” Beck said.

After the Obama speech - subtitles on the TV in this busy place - the screens showed entertainer Beyonce singing the national anthem. Near the end, a guy who had been sitting alone with beans and rice and pasteles on a styrofoam plate continued to stand with his hand over his heart, near the name “Jose” on his workshirt.

The words finished, the half-million people on the TV screens cheered, and this man Jose sat down. He was asked why he stood.

“America,” said Jose.

Andrew Dys * 803-329-4065 * adys@heraldonline.com

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