Thursday, August 08, 2019

After All Is Said and Done

Beauty still exists for us

  I am not sure what I have in mind regarding today’s post. Oh, it isn’t as if I didn’t have a plan. I did, an outline and everything, but after Sunday’s two acts of terror, especially the one in an El Paso Walmart, where the killer admitting Mexicans and immigrants as his targets, I decided to say something.
     At first, I thought I’d simply title my post as “In Memory of,” and list the names, or maybe post the photos of those killed in both tragedies. That’s kind of hard, especially when the youngest person killed was a two-year-old baby and the oldest a woman in her eighties. Seeking inspiration, I went to my Facebook page to see how “friends” were reacting.
     Most, of course, were shaken. Many saddened. Then, like boxers touching gloves, they slipped back to their corners, in this case, entrenched in political ideologies. Those of the left blamed Donald Trump’s racist rants and his policies towards immigrants as the catalyst that drove the shooter. Those on the right argued that words don’t commit murder, people do. So, to hold Trump responsible is playing politics. From there, others, people I don’t even know, began posting their answers, often obscene and offensive. The responses deteriorated into conservatives bashing liberals and vice-versa, some friends not sounding very friendly, others down right indignant. Lost in the fury were the deaths of 31 innocent people and the suffering of the families.
     Over the next couple of days, gun control became the issue, the left, and a large percentage of Americans, wanting to ban assault weapons and impose a policy demanding universal background checks. The right said there are already enough laws in place to assure no crazies can purchase guns, and assault weapons had nothing to do with the massacre. That last point sounded absurd to me, kind of like saying the atomic bomb had nothing to do with the destruction of Nagasaki and Hiroshima.
     Some “friends” claimed the main problem was a Godlessness in America, too many single families, and lack of old-school, traditional American values, a hint at "Make America Great Again." Then came the arguments over violent music, movies, and video games as the culprit.
     Of course, few people actually composed their own memes. Most people locate memes written by, who knows, maybe someone in Russia or China, and post them to theirs or their friends’ walls.
     Conservative politicians took to the air waves and immediately latched on to mental illness as a cause, which inflamed one television analyst who works with the mentally ill. She argued that it’s an insult to the people suffering from mental illnesses across the nation to blame any mass shootings on mental instability. Most mentally ill people aren’t murderers, less than 3% according to statistics she cited.
     Liberal politicians drove home the Trump-as-chief-instigator line and used strong examples to support their positions. It was curious to me when I read the FB response of a conservative woman describing liberal “friends” (Democrats) as being unreasonable, angry, out-of-control, and obscene. I thought this strange since I’d read many conservatives’ responding in the way she described.
     So, I took a look a closer look at some posts by liberals. The person was right. How did I not see it? Maybe, we see what we want to see, but there were as many angry, obscene posts and responses from liberals as from conservatives. No particular ideology had a monopoly on crass, deplorable verbiage. Though, from what I saw, the vast majority of responses, on both sides, were measured and respectful, if not always grounded in knowledge or logic.
     If past experience over mass killings holds true, nothing, politically, will come of the tragedies. Trump might compromise, support a minor bill on gun control but allow the larger issues to stand. After all, if Alex Jones can get away with making his audience believe Sandy Hook was a publicity stunt, what chance do we have for any answers or resolutions to these senseless killings.
     What is scary is that I can say “senseless killings,” but to others, the killings make complete sense. They believe “Whites”, whatever that means, are losing control of the country, and people of color are taking over, “invading,” to use Trump’s term, probably handed to him by Steven Miller, who never mentions the fact that, by any measure, those at the top, whether in politics or industry, are predominately male and Anglo, while people of color, whatever that means, and females, still perform the worst, lowest paying jobs.
     Recently, at Vons, I waited for an older, tired-looking woman behind the counter to take my order. I admit, she was slow. Impatiently, waiting for his sandwich, the guy ahead of me, checked his phone, and said to her, “Just give me the sandwich the way it is. I don’t’ have all day.” She insisted she was moving as fast as she could. When she was out of earshot, he turned to the rest of us and said, “If they’re going to take our jobs, they should work harder.”
     It took me a minute to gather my thoughts. When I did, he was gone. I wish I'd thought quicker. I should have asked him how did he know she wasn’t an American, even if she had a Middle East accent? I'd have asked, "Would you spend eight hours on your feet cutting lunch meat for minimum wage?” I know I wouldn’t do that work, unless I was desperate. My father taught me that any job was better than no job, which in today’s world, may not always be true.
     If the guy at the meat counter saw her as an outsider, how did he view me, in my Columbia sandals, Docker shorts, and baby blue Alfani t-shirt? Suddenly, Trump has made me aware of my Mexican-ness, even if most Anglos I pass greet me in English. Most Latino immigrants say nothing until I greet them in Spanish, and a smile crosses their faces. Of course, when I see other Chicanos, we just nod.
    I recently drove across the San Joaquin Valley and stopped at stores and restaurants along the way. Never thinking twice about my looks, I decided to don a U.S. Army cap, black with a yellow star, a gift from a friend. I thought this was nuts. I didn’t even like the hat and hardly ever wore it. I’d never feared being mistaken for anything other than an American.
     Luckily, no matter where I went or stopped, in towns from Taft to Button Willow and onto Paso Robles, everyone was friendly and polite, whether I asked directions or stopped to chat. In restaurants, I noticed everyone was even friendly to the Mexican and Chicanos, most behind the counters or in the kitchens.
     Coming home, I stopped to look at the James Dean Memorial along Highway 46. The parking lot was crowded, and I couldn’t find a space. As I began to pull away, a trio of bikers, beards, sleeveless jackets, and all, called to me. Uh-Oh, I thought. I rolled down my window. One of them called, “Hey, sir, we’re leaving. You can have our spot.” The Purple Heart on my license plate may have had something to do with it, but either way, they rekindled my trust in humanity.
One day it will be our grandchildren's world
     Some Sundays, I take my grandkids to the neighborhood park to play on the swings and slides. One day, a tall, blonde girl, about 12, bigger than the other children, was pushing her sister and an African American child on a tire swing. A little Muslim girl, a hijab covering her hair, stood by watching. The blonde girl stopped the swing and asked if the girl wanted to climb on. The Muslim child hopped aboard, beaming. My five-year-old granddaughter Noemi, never one to be shy, ran over hollering, “Me too. Me too.” The kids scooted over and made room for her. This sounds like a Hallmark card, but I swear it’s true. It was the United Nations in a local playground, the kids all laughing, playing, and taking turns pushing each other.
     I remember thinking how these small acts of kindness will never make Fox News, CNN, or the major news channels, but, I’m sure, they occur every day in towns and cities across the United States. An uncle once told me how in his early days as a gardener, a client, a Jewish man, Mr. Freeman, asked, “Hey, Chuy, when are you going to buy a power mower?” My uncle was strapped for cash. He told Mr. Freeman he was saving. He didn’t want to get fired for not having a more modern mower. Mr. Freeman, who owned an estate on Beverly Glenn, between Westwood and Bel-Air, told my uncle, “Chuy, you go buy one and put it on my tab. You can pay me a little at a time.” My uncle was still choked-up when he told the story. Then, he told me about the time the two men got to talking and my uncle told Mr. Freeman he was nearly ready to buy a house. Mr. Freeman told him to go find a house, and he would give him the down payment. That was how my uncle bought his first house in Venice.
     In some ways, I do agree with Trump, and many who claim the media are businesses, must answer to their stockholders and Wall Street, and they need dirty laundry, which this president provides by the truckload. Don Henley picked up on this when he wrote: “I make my living off the evening news/Just give me something I can use/People love it when you lose/ They love dirty laundry.”
     It reminds of a poem I read in college, by an American poet. I forget his name. He wrote, something like: “If the earth and sun were about to collide, everyone would get on the rooftops to watch.”
     But is it really the media or is it we the people? The media know Americans like dirt. Dirt sells, acts of kindness don’t. I know if I skip the news for a few days, I feel good, less stressed. I see beauty all around me. I see good people going about their business everywhere. What the media, even the major centers of information know is that people love chisme (nosey gossip), even if they dislike chismosos(as), who gossip in little villages to major cities.
     What I found truly disturbing on my FB Wall (I think that’s what it’s called) were the posts and responses telling “friends” to get ready for a race war, which I find absurd, dangerous, and irresponsible.
     Unregulated social media is one thing. It can reach millions, and even if many believe what they read, I’d guess most people do not believe, or at least question, the sites. But, when major media networks splash the issues, like white supremacy over their pages and screens, day after day, hour after hour, viewers begin to believe it has reached epidemic proportions. I'm not saying do be ignorant of such issues, and their dangers, but question everything, as we were told in the 60s.
     How often have we seen during times of news draught in the media, a minor issue blown up into a major catastrophe? It’s before our eyes for days, until, it is replaced by a new event, and suddenly, the story vanishes. Where did it go? Why have the earth and sun not collided, as we were told to expect?
     My hope is that the majority, silent or not, the millions of Americans who go about their lives each day, who perform good deeds and acts of kindness, who work hard, who respect others and receive others’ respect, will outweigh the bad in our country.
     I remember when I taught college, one student with an attitude problem could cause for a long, challenging semester. But when all was said and done, as the cliché goes, the unruly student usually, along the way, dropped by the wayside or changed behavior. And even if he/she did not, what my memory held were the relationships between the rest of the class and me, good, solid students, of every race, ethnicity, and gender, working towards a common goal, to make their lives, the lives of their families, and those around them, better.
     And as we watch the news of the latest shootings unfold and we grieve together, I am certain, we will hear about the acts of heroism in both tragedies, strangers placing themselves in danger, so that others might live. That good will overpower evil every time.

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