See the old men, pens in their shirt pockets, discussing in Vietnamese over thick coffee outside the Pho King restaurant. Hear the rattle of a wire pushcart‘s wheels as it makes its way across El Cajon Boulevard, guided with surprising speed by a stout woman with rapid steps, her face shaded from the summer sun by a conical straw hat.
See also the faded lettering above the entrance to the Hing Long Supermarket, and smell the fish counter at the back, past some dusty cans. Try the tofu, made fresh each morning at the small restaurant tucked away in the corner of a worn strip mall unseen by those without wandering eyes. See the line of people, cash in hand, at the counter at Hoa Phat, waiting to send remittances to family in Vietnam.
And sit, finally, with Teresa Nguyen, 22, at a small table at Minh Ky Restaurant amid it all. She uses a long spoon to maneuver through the ice cubes in her glass and scoop out the mung beans resting in milk beneath them.
She just moved back to City Heights from La Jolla, a degree in international studies and economics from the University of California, San Diego in hand, her family waiting for her when she returned home to wait out the economic slump.
In the months since, she’s rediscovered the community where she grew up, and now, to even her surprise, plans to stick around.
“I guess I’ve started building my life around this now. I want to see it succeed,” she says. “So I guess I’m stuck.”