I begin every interview I conduct by saying, “I’m here to learn from you.” And it’s true. During the course of my field work in Union Square, I’ve found myself constantly humbled by the perseverance of many of the immigrants I’ve spoken to, by their innovation and resourcefulness.
Above all else though, I’m touched by their kindness. I spent around an hour or more at each of my past three interviews, interviewing but also chatting afterward. Located in restaurants and convenience stores, each of my interviewees asked me if I wanted anything. A sandwich, a Thai iced tea, and dal snacks. Each time when I tried to pay for these items, I was promptly refused, over and over again.
Convincing someone to take time out of their hectic schedule to let you ask probing questions about their life and business is a very difficult task. So far, I’ve felt grateful to every business owner I’ve spoken with not only for their time, but for the learning and experience they’ve provided me with.
Doing field work in Union Square hasn’t been easy. I’ve had interviewees forget about appointments, I’ve had someone suddenly refuse to be interviewed despite the fact that we had corresponded many times before, and I’ve had trouble finding business owners who’ll agree to be interviewed at all.
What I have found is that those who are interviewed are delighted for the chance to tell someone their story. I think to be a business owner in general, you have to have certain characteristics. To be an immigrant business owner, an interesting life story usually comes along with that.
As a student who is all to familiar with the college bubble, the very act of even taking a bus away from Tufts and into Union Square has been an enlightening one. There’s more to the Somerville community than Tufts University and Davis Square, and it’s been quite the adventure figuring that out.