It's early morning. My wife Ryoko and I are sitting down at a local cafe in Queens to have omelettes for breakfast. Ryoko is holding in her lap our six-month-old daughter Kaya, who is excitedly attempting to grab everything within her reach and put it in her mouth.
It is my wife and daughter's first breakfast with me in New York, and it's just the best feeling, despite our heavy jet lag.
I have lived in NYC for a couple of years now since moving from Osaka. During that time, Ryoko and I have been separated geographically by the Pacific Ocean (and a big hunk of land) while the United States immigration service compelled us to wait over a year and half to grant permission for her to move to America.
That all ended late last night when the three of us arrived at Newark International.
Before we can eat our own breakfasts, Ryoko and I are mashing a banana and spoon-feeding it to Kaya. We're amazed that this baby girl might actually eat the whole banana (seriously, how is there enough room??).
As we're talking to each other about our baby's superhuman eating powers, the older Greek woman who manages the cafe is making googly eyes at Kaya from across the small room. The manager says something in Greek that, based on the sparkle in her eyes, undoubtedly meant "YOU ARE A CUTESTY WOOTSY BAAAAAAAABY".
This exchange causes me to take notice of the verbal communication layout of the room.
Ryoko and I have been talking to each in Japanese the whole time. The manager and the waitress chat in Greek with patrons sipping coffee at the counter, people who have likely been coming to this cafe for years. Our waiter places orders in Spanish to the staff in the kitchen, which is within eyeshot from our table.
Throughout the room, English is only being used for ordering food and settling bills.
This is America at its best.
A group of people from various corners of space and time, enjoying a little slow time and some mediocre coffee before another busy day in New York.
America doesn't just allow for this; America is this.
Even if everyone in the room happens to look like you and speaks the same language: just think about how you got here. And how the lady sitting next to you drinking that same watery coffee got here.
And how, by a fluke in humanity's short, barbaric history, you can both communicate in a language cobbled together from other languages in a tiny island nation halfway around the world, a nation you've probably never been to and have no geneological heritage from.
I'm conflicted as I pour Tabasco on my western omelette.
I struggle with how words like "freedom" are thrown around without any real consideration of what they mean, whether the U.S. has ever really lived up to such values, and why we seem to be diving head-first in the opposite direction of progress on these fronts.
I guess we all have our own definition of freedom.
To me, "freedom" does not mean "liberty to purchase any candy bar in the grocery store".
For me, freedom might have meant being allowed to live with my wife for the last two years, and my daughter for the first six months of her life. We weren't afforded that freedom.
Alas, it's not an uncommon situation. Untold numbers of people are also not afforded the freedom to be a family in the United States, some for limited periods of time like us, some for forever.
I realize at this point that I'm carrying some scar tissue regarding my relationship with America and its begrudging acceptance of my family.
But breakfast... Breakfast today is just sweet.
My family is together. We no longer need schedule FaceTime calls when the time zones line up. I can see Kaya growing daily with my own eyes instead of through photos in a text message.
And we are optimists, currently living in land where, even in New York, $7 can get you an omlette, potatoes, toast, coffee, a small orange juice, and time in room with people from all walks of life.