Down in east Dallas, there is a neighborhood colloquially known as ‘little Mexico.’ Old Ford pickup trucks drive down streets that’ll tear up your transmission. The shop windows are bright with Quinceanera dresses, the taco stands are plenty, the barrio music is loud and the cowboy boots are pointy. Tucked behind one of the shopping strips is a fairly dilapidated set of streets. The houses are in shades from pastel to bright teal. Most are gated by short fences. A toddler could take a running jump and escape. I’m very curious what they think they’re keeping out. Little yappy dogs are often kept in. There is a distinct vibe coursing through this neighborhood. It ranges from a welcoming family to keep-the-hell-out. It’s never been a place to cruise late at night. Many drug gangs run the streets and have warring factions vying for sections.
There is an indiscriminate house cornered between one of these shopping centers and set of houses. A wooden placard simply says Candle Shop above its front door. This is an understatement. To walk in here is to walk into a world of witchcraft and spells. The aisles are filled with large bins and small baggies pre-packaged with dried curiosities: various mushrooms, various bones of animals, various combinations of herbs and teas. Crystals, fabrics, incantation books, incense; and oh yes, candles. It caters to the Catholic-heavy residents and others in the know.
Within this neighborhood is a tiny enclave perpendicular to a main freeway. You wouldn’t know it’s there, unless you know to look for it. Accessing it requires knowledge of the one-way streets that keep it secure. But each time you see the dome of the temple, you’re surprised all over again. The houses here are more uniformly brown, one-story, old-Dallas 1940’s homes with wide wooden porches. Family Name of Indian descent is carved into wooden placards that hang above each front door frame. All the homes share a similar affiliation. They cradle a plot of land where the Hare Krishna temple stands. There is a particular reason why Dallas residents in the know consider the place a haven. Non-members can access the adjacent temple, backyards, and delicious vegetarian buffet. It offers a sense of calm and respite. The air smells of incense and freshly boiled jasmine rice. The place still seems secretive despite having been around since 1971; renovated in 1981. Lunch time is always busy, especially on a beautiful day because of the seating around an outside water fountain. Despite the trek it takes to get here, it draws an eclectic and moneyed mix of people, evidenced by the range of vehicles parked. Outside of the cozy dining room is a gift shop with books on Hare Krishna, the temple, saris, jewelry, perfumes, and Nag Champa incense; the signature scent. The place caters to the tourists and the locals.
These two disparate communities have no problem coexisting. They have done so for 50+ years. These people pump gas at the same service station; grocery shop at the same Supermercado. I consider all the ways we can’t seem to get along now; how some go out of their way to singularly define and divide, as if there is a new threat or something new to claim. We are now telling ourselves a different story about our identity. This weekend is Passover, which represents freedom and liberation. There is no freedom without the liberation of the other, but this doesn’t mean ‘I’ trumps ‘We.’ The ‘I’ being played-out appears to be terribly selfish and destructive.