Yesterday we acted like tourists in my home town. It has been over 30 years since I have lived here in New Jersey. My hometown Dover is a town about 35 miles west of NYC. My Dad’s family were immigrants here in the early 20th century. His Mom Frieda came from Germany in 1911 when she was 10. His Dad Archie was the 9th child of immigrants from England. I spent the first 18 years of my life here and my Mom is still here as is my sister Jenn.
Dover has always been a town of immigrants. When I was young, my Mom would always interview us about our friends and want to know their last name. From a last name, she could surmise an ethnic background. This is just the way it was. I never thought that question was odd. My friends and I frequently talked about our heritages - and they were diverse - Italian, Irish, German, Scottish, English, Jewish, Cuban, Puerto Rican, Colombian, Norwegian - on and on. That was just what we did. We were all proud of our individual ethnic backgrounds and frequently shared the customs with each other.
As I drove into town the other evening, I stopped at ShopRite to pick up a few things. It is a bit of culture shock coming into Dover from rural western Massachusetts. Dover has always been a welcoming town for immigrants. When I was young, throngs of families moved into town from South America and Puerto Rico. As they moved in, many of the more established immigrant populations — the people I grew up with and went to school with — moved out of town to the suburbs of Dover. They did not want to be in a town that began to be more and more Hispanic. Property values went down. My family stayed and they are still here. ShopRite was filled with families of all different nationalities. The shelves are lined with items I don't see on the shelves of Foster's Market in western Mass. Dover is now a Hispanic majority town with 70% of its residents of Hispanic heritage.
As I drove down the Main Street of Dover the other evening to my childhood home, I could not believe how busy the town was. Every building is occupied with a business of some kind - restaurants, small stores, insurance agencies, banks, doctors, lawyers. There are no empty buildings. The Christmas decorations were still up and the town looked alive. Coming from western Massachusetts where our local towns struggle to keep the young people employed and businesses move in and out at an alarming rate, it made me think. By welcoming immigrants, Dover has remained alive and thriving. Don’t get me wrong - for many years, it was a bit of a ghost town. Strip malls were built outside the town and businesses left. But Dover has had a reawakening - most likely one of many over its 300 plus year history. It might not be the town I grew up in but it is still here - reimagined and lively and full of community.
Yesterday we decided to explore a little. Julia, Mom and I went downtown and walked around looking for a place to eat lunch. With so many restaurants to choose from, we chose El Paraiso. The menu was in Spanish, the tv was playing a Spanish "judge judy" type show and the waitress helped us choose a meal called enchiladas. The food was delicious -- but nothing like what I think of as an enchilada. Today as I am writing this post, I discovered the restaurant was Honduran.
After lunch, we went to The Joe Kubert School of Cartooning and Graphic Arts which is housed in the old Dover High School (later Middle School) building that my sisters and I attended. Joe Kubert was a neighbor of ours. My sisters and I went to school with his children. "Mr. Kubert" was a world famous cartoon artist. In the 70's, he and his wife Muriel started the school. The school began in an old "mansion" and they later purchased the school building and moved it there. There is a fantastic art supply store in the basement with good prices. It was great to see the old school still serving as a center of learning with students coming from all over the world to learn cartooning. The Kubert family still runs the school and his boys Andy and Adam are successful artists and teachers. The school also offers a correspondence course in cartooning and many of their students have become famous in their own right.
Late in the afternoon, we travelled down to East Hanover. Kam Man Market was the third stop in our cultural discoveries for the day. We had a blast wandering the aisles of the store, looking at the labels, trying to figure out what the different things were. I purchased some noodles, soy sauce and Asian cooking utensils - things that I enjoy cooking but cannot find near where I live. Some photos from the market are at the end of this post. There are other locations of this market in NJ, NYC, and Quincy MA. It is worth a trip. They also have a bakery, noodle shop, and to go food court.
The storm is over now and we will head back to western Massachusetts tomorrow. It has been fun to discover new things here in Dover and introduce Julia to other cultures that she cannot experience in our rural community. On the next trip, we will explore a little more and learn what more Dover has to offer.