Michael was observing Rosh Hashana a week ago Sunday, so Pastor Walter Mitty decided to head over to Humboldt Park by himself to check out the Puerto Rican festival going on there.

My word! He felt like he had been transported into another world, and it was just five miles from his home in Poplar Park. Being a white boy from Wisconsin, he not only couldn’t jump, he also felt like he had no rhythm, but the pandereta, guiro, cuarto and timbales in the salsa band made him sway to the sound in spite of himself.

And the food! Lechon asado, platanos maduros, tostenes and arroz y gandules. He had never tasted any of it before but decided to try all of it anyway. When in Rome … It was really good. He imagined these Puerto Ricans would enjoy bratwurst, German potato salad, Berliners and sauerkraut if they ever ventured north to Manitowoc.

He felt like a foreigner but not in a bad way. He did catch a few words he understood like “gracias” and “por favor,” but that didn’t matter. “I can enjoy the ‘music’ even if I don’t understand the lyrics,” he thought to himself. 

And no one stared at him like he was an alien. As long as he was willing to enter their world and appreciate it, he felt welcome.

“Shana Tova,” said Pastor Walt when his friend and neighbor answered the next morning.

“Ah, now you speak Hebrew,” said Michael, “and I suppose you also understand Spanish after being with Puerto Ricans all evening.”

Mitty said, “Seriously, Michael. Almost everything was different. The smells. The salsa music. The language. I liked being part of it.”

“You know,” said Michael, “I like coming to the Christmas Eve service at your church. I like the music and the candlelight. And even though I’m a ‘foreigner,’ so to speak, your members always seem glad to see me.”

Now it was Mitty’s turn. He felt good about Michael’s willingness to enter into his world for a couple hours, then said, “But you wouldn’t want to come every Sunday.”

“No,” Michael admitted. “Nor would you want to move to Puerto Rico.”

The two neighbors pondered that for a minute or two until Michael broke the silence. “You remember when we were young, how integration and diversity was the dream we all had? What God was working for?”


“Well, have you heard that many Puerto Ricans are resisting white people coming into Logan Square and Humboldt Park?”

“Sure. But isn’t it because they believe white folks are wealthier and when they gentrify the neighborhood, property values go up and the old residents can no longer afford to live in their own neighborhood?”

“Right,” Michael continued, “but isn’t it also a cultural thing? Like people feel comfort when their neighbors speak their heart language and eat the same foods three or four times a week, not just on an occasional trip to an ethnic neighborhood.”

“So, you’re saying that homogeneity isn’t a dirty word. Like I was glad that Puerto Ricans had hung onto part of their soul culture even though I sometimes had to work hard to understand what they were saying.”

“I guess that’s what I’m trying to get at,” said Michael. “You know how when we were kids we were taught that America is a melting pot where everyone assimilates, but now they talk about being a tossed salad where each ingredient remains distinct.”

“Are you saying that the fact that Black kids sit at the same table in the school lunch room is not a sign that our society is falling apart?”

Michael nodded, “I think so, Walt. “Like in class all the kids — white, Brown and Black — have to adapt to the school’s culture, but when they’re off the clock, they don’t want to work so hard.”

“Hmm,” Mitty said, “maybe that’s one reason why Sunday morning is the most segregated hour of the week. If it really is a day of rest, we don’t mind if God makes us squirm sometimes, but we want the people sitting in the pews around us to be folks with whom we’re comfortable. 

 “I just thought of Marcus Stromen,” he added.

“You mean the Cubs pitcher?”

“Yeah,” Mitty replied. “I guess he was born in New York, but he’s going to play for Team Puerto Rico next year in the World Baseball Classic because his mother is Puerto Rican, but he played for the U.S team in 2017. I wonder where he finds soul space?”

“E pluribus unum,” said Michael. “How do you unite people who are different?