DC tourists are the best

When I’m trying to exit the Metro station and there’s a barricade of wide-eyed tourists, stepping tentatively on the escalators, bright white sneakers gleaming,  metro maps clenched tightly in right fists,  bra straps straining under faded tank tops– they are annoying.

But then you go to the Mall on a weekday evening in late August, when it’s just rained and the weather’s actually cool for once and there’s a nice breeze and you see an Indian family slowly climbing the steps up the Lincoln Memorial and you hear some beefy, red-faced guys speaking in German. You watch the Chinese tourists grasp the black bars of the gate in front of the White House, you notice the Eritrean woman jockeying for space so she can take photos of her four bored-looking boys who do not yet understand the significance of this moment, but will much later, when their mother is gone and they’re selling the house she worked so hard to own and they’re holding the photograph that she stubbornly insisted on printing even though it was on a phone, frozen for posterity.

You go to the MLK  memorial and you understand why some people were upset and you understand why some people were not and you stare at the veins in his white marble hands and the powerful nose, and the thick, intricately carved mouth. You read the quotes and you see the two little boys posing in front of the statue, one trying to scratch his stomach, while their mother, more oak than woman, takes a picture. They don’t quite understand but they will someday. And you hear the four young people, their voices loud and oblivious as they talk with the young, naive certitude of the white, freshly graduated. “Well, by the time he died, he wasn’t so interested in nonviolence.”

And there’s this general sense of wonder and reverence that the sight of the tourists stir up within you. The monuments themselves, tributes to old white men mostly, don’t mean much, but for the immigrants who sweated blood and tears to get here, who waited in long lines at their local embassy offices, who prayed the papers would come through, who are overworked and underpaid so their children can go to school, maybe college one day–they appreciate. They want to know. They want to understand. Because this country is finally theirs now.

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