When my Mom, a legal immigrant, first came to this country from El Salvador as a young girl in 1943, she entered through New Orleans. On the street, she saw two drinking fountains, one marked White and the other Colored. She was Caucasian, but she automatically stepped up to the Colored water fountain and took a drink. “I thought, they must mean me” she used to say.
Dad was a big blond Scots-Irish Michigander, a P-38 crew chief in WW2, whose hearing got a bit shaky from the sound of one too many Allison V-12s out on the flight line. After the GI Bill, he worked in the Southern California aerospace industry for 30 years. A child of the Depression, Dad was a flag-waving patriotic Democrat. I remember the Scoop Jackson button on his lapel.
So we grew up speaking Spanish and English. Thanksgiving turkey and pinatas. Summer vacations in Yosemite and El Salvador. All in a multicultural LA, before we knew what “multicultural” meant.
It was good preparation for a life in the broader world, where I spent several decades in all the hot and miserable places that haven’t produced a patentable invention in a hundred years, all the places that were recovering from the bomb blasts and the civil wars. All the places where labor at $1 a day makes more sense than investing in technology. All the places weighed down by the past. Maybe, in a hundred years, it might change. All the places where a sixteen year old in camouflage pants and a Chicago Bulls t-shirt is waving a Kalashnikov and wants to see your passport. Where the cop standing by the metal detector decides he wants to keep your Cross pen for letting you on the British Airways flight home. Once in Skopje I was in a car with an engineer, a Dutch consultant, and a government functionary, who was driving. We passed a mosque. The Dutch guy, in an attempt to make conversation, mentioned that “we have many Muslims in Holland”. At which point the driver turned and looked over her shoulder and said “Well, why don’t you just shoot them?” And mostly, all the places where you gaze into the deep tragedy of bicultural societies riven by suspicion, by language, by economic disparity, by fear of the other. Yes, we get along. But we aren’t like them. Not at all.
So twenty years of that means that I could easily live in a future Aztlan, should the nutball fantasies of the Hispanic supremacists ever come true. And I could live in the much more likely peaceful yet bifurcated world of two American cultures, not hostile, yet also not interacting or melding into one, always acting as blocs, defined as blocs by the lefty academics and their media, and thus imprisoned by their histories, with the rage of that imprisonment serving as the reliable engines of their respective political machines. Engines with seemingly inexhaustable fuel supplies.
I could do it.
It is just that upon my return from these places, I was always supremely grateful to be home. Home in a country without a tenuous and shrill sense of its own nationhood in a world of powers beyond its control, where I didn’t automatically fear people who wore uniforms, and where I wouldn’t have to bribe the building inspector or the traffic cop, where I didn’t have to listen to racialist definitions of one’s heritage. Somos la raza de bronce they say, We are the bronze race, in their pseudo-Aztec murals and little civic monuments and parade slogans that take their design cues from the world of Mussolini. Will all these things continue to be imported to America, too? Last year, my cab driver in Chihuahua seemed to think so. “Mexico is so screwed up. It has been screwed up for five hundred years and always will be." "And now” he laughed “we are going to make your country just as screwed up, too.” Was my cabbie right? I don’t know - since along with the Latin fatalism, his statement is also an acknowledgment of the need to preserve an America that he has yet to visit but one that he obviously admires. But assume for the moment that my cabbie was right. If toward the end of my life the sleepwalking Americans whose leaders are bent on transforming my nation into just a day labor agency with a flag on top allow my cabbie’s predictions to come true, I know I am equipped to deal with all those things that may come my way. At the very least, once at the nursing home, I’ll be able to flirt with the Honduran girls in their own language and get an extra pillow or another serving of lime jello cubes with the fake whipped cream on top.
So in moments of resignation, I’ve decided that my heritage and background will serve me well and make it easy - no matter how it turns out - for me to live in Aztlan.
Could you live in Aztlan, too?
From today's Lectionary
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