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A vision of democracy at Broadway Market

Alexis de Tocqueville had an ambivalent love affair with American democracy. He felt our political processes cumbersome and our citizens unable to think independently, interested only in accumulating money and inhumanely treating those they felt inferior. Tocqueville loved this country's ideals but feared for its future.

I think of Tocqueville now. We follow a period that reminded our most senior citizens of the Great Depression, a fire ignited by prominent figures in our financial system, costing more than our country's existing wealth to control and leaving in its embers the reality that our children's and grandchildren's lives may not be what we envisioned.

Is the dream of America just that -- a dream that can't be realized, a promise that can't be fulfilled? If our leaders' highest motivation is greed, if racial tensions and hate crimes still exist, perhaps it's over, time to say we tried our best but the job was too big.

I was at the Broadway Market earlier this month. The market, renowned for its selection of ethnic foodstuffs and vendors selling everything from clothing to handcrafts, is always busy in the weeks before Easter. I'm an author, a Polish-American with my first book. Tom Kerr, the market's manager, allowed me a display space.

Arranging my table, I saw a neatly dressed black gentleman. "Oh, I've heard of that book. I want one for my neighbor," he said. My book has a Polish title. "Oh, yes," he continued, "Stanley's Polish, and he's sick right now. He'll love reading all about those foods you make and those things you do." My first sale.

I watched people of many nationalities streaming through the market. An Italian man lectured me on house construction. Polish women bought butter lambs. Two children -- one white, the other black -- held hands and stood on their toes to see piles of colored Easter eggs. I heard polka music and the sound of bagpipes. Latino children giggled, their faces in cardboard frames, their families taking pictures.

Everywhere aromas mingled -- the sharp smell of Polish sausage, the sweeter aroma of Italian sausage; rye bread spotted with caraway seeds, fragrant rows of crusty Italian bread; pastries with secret fillings; freshly brewed coffee; mountains of cheese, some varieties familiar, others unknown.

My husband waited in line while a black woman prepared eggs and grits. A white woman sharing the stand fried pierogi.

A majestic black woman in exotic dress and headpiece, whose robust laughter provided music all afternoon, crossed the aisle to purchase my book, waving her hand to shoo me away as I started across to buy something from her.

The man who sold clothing near me spoke a mysterious language, had a neat white-pointed beard, skin like polished amber and wore a round cloth on his head. He signaled me not to worry as I went to the ladies' room. There was no need to worry. Security was evident, but I saw no violence anywhere. One Irish officer bought a book and asked me to sign it to his "beautiful wife."

I looked around at the shades of color in the faces surrounding me and heard different languages mix with the laughter of children. The beautiful kaleidoscope -- changing scenes before my eyes -- moved me. I thought again of the promise of America and saw that Kerr has created a reflection of that promise in the small democracy that is the Broadway Market. Kerr deserves praise for his efforts at preserving this landmark in our Queen City.

Geraldine Wierzbicki-Roach, who lives in West Seneca, enjoyed her weekend at the Broadway Market.

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