“Breakfast-lunch-dinner-nightclub.” It is one long hyphenated word, created through the careful placement of sticky black characters on a yellowing, cracked restaurant sign, which stands outside a Mr. Gatti’s-turned-African restaurant. Perched upon that sign are two once neon, now faded, yellow and lime palm trees arching over another sign reading Kalisimbi Sports Bar & Grill- Club.
Kalisimbi is tucked in the corner of the Iroquois Manor shopping center, which makes up the entire 5000 block of South 3rd Street. The Southside of Louisville isn’t exactly publicized, and not in a “best kept secrets of Kentucky” kind of way; glancing through Louisville tourism food and dining magazines there are little pins piercing a map, indicating local eateries throughout the East End, the Highlands, Downtown, and even a few stray tacks litter Preston Highway, but no one from the convention and visitor’s bureau typically send tourists this way.
“It’s not where you live, it’s how you live,” said Mechelle Pino Ricano of the neighborhood’s undeserved reputation as she stood outside La Joyería Hispana, a jewelry store located in the shopping center. Ms. Pino Ricano, originally from Cleveland, Ohio, is a Spanish translator who has lived in the Southside for 21 years, and has never witnessed violence in her time there. She enjoys the diversity in her neighborhood and says that 5000 block holds truly ethnic culinary gems – the kind that would cause two hour wait-times on a Friday night if only they were located in the Highlands.
Israeli, Cuban, Bosnian, Eastern European, Vietnamese and Burundi – the eateries all reflect a correlating immigrant and refugee population; Louisville has groups from over 65 countries. Refugees are processed through resettlement agencies, like Kentucky Refugee Ministries or Louisville Catholic Charities, and are then set up with an apartment, typically in the South End. The families cluster by country of origin or common language, creating distinct colonies, but bound by the common experience of fleeing a punishing homeland. They exchanged a life filled with fear for their safety for another filled with a different kind of fear:
“How do I make a living here?”
Refugees come from a variety of socioeconomic backgrounds in their country of origin with diverse careers ranging from fisherman to pharmacist, but often they cannot find equivalent work here, or their credentials don’t transfer from across the globe.
Thus, they turn to something that is intrinsic to, and also easily shared between, every culture—food. Try to strike up a conversation with the owner or waiter at many South Louisville restaurants and you will be greeted with fervent gesturing to the menu items, and a short, but pleasant explanation:
“Hindi ako nagsasalita ng Ingles.”
“I nie mówi po angielsku.”
“Ek praat nie Engels”
“No hablo Inglés.”
They may not speak English, but it doesn’t matter. Simply point and smile, and within minutes you are enjoying an authentic meal; but think of this, they served their idea of “home” to you on a plate. Their childhood memories, their love for their country of origin and those left behind, their newfound American identity, their fear, their joy, in essence, their culture – all of that is waiting on a plate, if we venture to the South End of Louisville.
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