May 21, 2006

Super Chicken and the Immigration Battle


Today I came face to face with the immigration controversy. It is difficult to avoid at the Super Chicken.

I was visiting my friend "Sally" in Falls Church, VA today. Upon leaving, I asked whether there was a good place nearby to get a grilled chicken sandwich. She said that there was a Super Chicken nearby. She said she had never been there, but that it had a very good reputation with the local "Latin" clientele. Upon hearing the name of the place, I started laughing. It sounded like a great name for an unlikely superhero. It turns out that Super Chicken was indeed a cartoon superhero in the 1960s and 1970s, and I must have watched it as a kid. So of course I had to go.

Super Chicken is a charusco style place, where dozens of whole chickens are roasted simultaneously on long rotisserie spits, and given a special, possibly Central or South American seasoning. The chickens are deftly chopped into halves and quarters by experts wielding cleavers. They are often served with Spanish rice and yuca or platanos. The clientele of such places in Northern Virginia is largely Hispanic, more specifically, Central American. I have eaten this type of chicken quite a few times, and it's delicious. My good friend "Juan" turned me on to the stuff. He's from Ecuador, and likes to go to El Pollo Rico (translation: The Rich Chicken), which isn't too far from Super Chicken. I am honored to learn about Juan's native language and culture when visiting him and his family.

The signs in the window of Super Chicken were all in Spanish. The men working behind the counter were all Hispanic looking and were speaking Spanish. Ditto for the customers. I was the only Gringo there, and I speak very little Spanish. I felt very out of place, a stranger in my own land. The workers were busy. The chopper was wielding his cleaver deftly. A few parties were in there, chatting to each other. I was ignored, invisible. I guess that's how other minorities must feel sometimes, like the Black guy at the polo club. I waited quite a while.

As I was waiting, I wondered about the people in there. Do they speak English? What was their economic status? Juan's native language is Spanish, and a good amount of Spanish is spoken in his home, but his primary language here is English. He owns a successful business. I'm sure he realizes that, for immigrants to the U.S., the key to success is mastering English. It is the only cultural tie that binds us together in the United States.

I thought about my own ancestors, and the many other ethnic minorites who emigrated here over the last couple of hundred years -- Irish, Italians, Chinese, Eastern European Jews, Germans, and, more recently, Central Americans, South Asians, Koreans, West Africans and numerous others. Upon arriving on our teeming shore, many of them settled together, did business together, opened restaurants featuring their native cuisine, and spoke their native language to each other. Eventually, many of them, like Juan, became successful, in no small part by mastering the English language and opening themselves up to our society. In turn, Americans benefit from exposure to many different native cultures. It's a wonderful process.

For immigrants to the U.S. looking for economic opportunity, therefore, learning English is a common sense choice. Like morality, it cannot be legislated. But that hasn't stopped Congress from trying. A few days ago, in the immigration legislation frenzy, the U.S. Senate voted to make English the national language. It was a meaningless, cheap political stunt. Even Attorney General Alberto Gonzales says the legislation is purely symbolic and will have no effect on current law.

This is why I have been trying to avoid the entire immigration issue. It is clearly being hyped for phony political reasons. I believe that, along with flag burning and gay marriage, the immigration issue is being ginned up by Republicans at this time to accomplish 2 things just months before the mid-term elections: (1) distract from GOP woes such as Iraq, Plame Gate, the Abramoff ethics scandal and illegal NSA wiretapping; and (2) rile up the conservative base so they come out to vote in November.

I would love to say that I achieved a cultural breakthrough, a true American success story of bonding and brotherhood, at the Super Chicken. Alas, this was not meant to be. After not being served, spoken to or acknowledged for some time, I reluctantly left Super Chicken and went to Quizno's. I was served by a big pale White guy while a little Hispanic man was mopping the floor. We were the only 3 people in the place. The two of them were not speaking to each other, and looked as though they have never shared a word or even a glance. I had a bland, disappointing, homogenized, Americanized chicken sandwich. It was called Chicken Milano and was supposedly Italian.

5 Comments:

At 8:57 AM, Anonymous Sally said...

Matt, I've actually been to super chicken and they do have some weird way of waiting on you....very latin. When they're ready. The guy who acts like he runs it, is actually Indian I think.

 
At 2:15 PM, Blogger Matt said...

Thanks. I guess they're on what my friend Juan calls "Spanish time." I'll have to give it another try. In the meantime, I've learned a few more Spanish words, so maybe I'll have more success next time.

 
At 10:02 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

first of all el pollo rico does not mean the "rich chicken" it means the delicious/tasty chicken. Second El pollo rico and Super chicken are in Wheaton, MD not Virgina. Which is a primarly hispanic city. One more thing this type of chicken is actually from Peru, which is in South America.

 
At 2:22 PM, Blogger Matt said...

Thanks. I think "rich" is the literal translation, although I agree that in this context it must mean "rich tasting," a/k/a delicious/tasty. But surely the island of Puerto Rico does not mean "delicious port" or "tasty port." Second, El Pollo Rico and Super Chicken may indeed have outposts in Wheaton, but I can assure you that the ones I have been to are in Northern Virginia. Super Chicken is at 422 S Washington St, Falls Church, VA 22046, ph. (703) 538-5550. I live in MD and have no reason to shortchange my fine state by moving the location of Super Chicken to VA. And thanks for educating us that this delicious/tasty chicken, more accurately than being "Central or South American," is from Peru. Hats off to the Peruvians!

 
At 12:04 PM, Blogger hmsmedia2005 said...

Super Chicken is quite good, actually this type of preparation and seasonings are very common in Peru and Bolivia, when I was a kid I remember in the 70's they would sell these type of chicken and they still do today. There are two owners; one from Peru and the other one from India. Yes the place is kind of ghetto, looks better now and I think they do keep it cleaner. If you are a Gringo or Gringa, don't be afraid to tell the guys what you want the main guys all speak English, not the Queen's English but enough to get around. I'm seriously thinking about opening up one of these places near GMU...lots of mula to be made!

 

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