Gail Does Texas

So Gail Collins sorta ruined my weekend.  The columnist for The New York Times could not have known that I had not planned to pick up another book this week, especially with the EuroCup competition starting today.  Still recovering from Robert Caro’s latest forest-killer on Lyndon Johnson, I thought I had made enough time for a story about the history of the Mossad.  Reading about LBJ and about how Israel ruthlessly wages universal war against its enemies is not easy.  It is going to take me longer to read 200 pages of Collins’ As Texas Goes... as 1,000 pages of Caro.  Laughing consumes more time than you think.  It has been years since I went from beef and bourbon to cotton candy, and you know how long that takes to eat.

There no doubt will be more to say on Collins’ book (on page 32 so far) but I saw her hawking it on MSNBC on Wednesday.  In the ensuing discussion with Mika Brzezinski and Joe Scarborough, none of them could put a finger on why Texans feels their state is so special.  They like most people could not get beyond the surprise that, for good and bad, Texans care a lot about their state – a state that seems to have inordinate influence over the nation’s life, as Collins believes.

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A post-racial society? In our lifetimes? LOL

I have to strain to refrain from laughing when I hear someone say or write that we live in a post-racial society.  No doubt, the country’s non-Anglo population has reached a critical mass.  But it has not reached critical acceptance of the HispanicLatinos, blacks, Asians and the many others who are transforming the nation – and most likely never will.  Last week, in San Antonio, the kids from Edison High School, an overwhelmingly HispanicLatino campus, were subjected to shouts of “USA! USA!” after their basketball team lost a playoff game to a school from across town in predominantly non-HispanicLatino Alamo Heights.

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Justices Damage the Nation and HispanicLatinos — Its Very Future

The damage the Supreme Court inflicted on the country with its wrong-headed ruling in Citizens United should be evident enough even to its most ardent proponents, except for the columnist George Will, of course.  The justices, with the likes of Will pulling at the floodgates, enabled multi-billionaires to pour millions of dollars into a presidential campaign that demonstrates how unceremoniously and crudely Citizens usurps the constitutional intent that the vote of any one individual is no more equal than the next.

Now come the warning signs that the court is going to undo programs that seek to increase the number of minority students in institutions of higher education.  The court has accepted for review a case involving The University of Texas at Austin that five justices will use almost undoubtedly to roll back so-called affirmative action programs.

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A People More Worthy than a Monument

An insistent wind under a pewter sky inconvenienced the crowd of about 150 that last week had come to break ground for a new Tejano monument on the grounds of the Texas state capitol.  The statue commemorating the role of one of the original populations of Texas is just about complete and will be laid and dedicated on March 29.

Around me huddled in the cold were faces and names I had not seen nor heard of in a long time.  Some of the activists of the past had joined the leadership of more establishmentarian types to make the monument a reality – a reality that will end hundreds of years of exclusion of HispanicLatinos from any presence on the grounds of the capitol of a state in which they are 40 percent of the population.  As unbelievable as it sounds, in all of the commemorative statues, plaques and other monuments at the Capitol, not one – not one – pays respect to the population that settled and organized the land as Tejas that later became Texas.

It was impossible to look around me and not think of an era ending so much as a new era blowing into being in which a new history far different from the one of the past takes hold.  Continue reading

The Supreme Court Disrupting the Future

Redistricting and immigration are difficult and complex subjects and are easily and simply intertwined for one reason:  They relate directly to the power of the two political parties in the country since most HispanicLatinos vote Democratic.

Given the expanding number of HispanicLatinos in the nation relative to the rest of the population, any fair handling of redistricting going forward should favor HispanicLatinos and, therefore, Democrats.  And given that immigration is the lifeblood a country, any mishandling of it could be catastrophic for the long term.  That seems natural and reasonable enough, though the U.S. Supreme Court seems poised to confirm the unfairness and outright hostility that state legislatures and other political entities are visiting upon their HispanicLatino populations.

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Turning Back History

The long arc of the immigration story has gotten us here, literally.  Yet on one hand, the demographic and economic forces which are structural in nature and in place have led to the assertion of immigration as a population change agent.  Immigration, as it has always, is adding to the population of the country and changing it in the process.

On the other hand, the countervailing sentiment is also asserting itself, so that states like Arizona, Alabama, Georgia, Indiana and Texas are leading the equally natural anti-immigrant reaction.

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Crockett Keller, Meet Joshua

Years ago as a teenager in the mid-1960s at the height of the civil rights movement, I would take the bus down from the dusty and dry plains of West Texas in August to go to high school in San Antonio in South Texas, returning home for Christmas and then for the summer.

I loved the trips.  The trip south was the more exciting.  Back then buses were clean and safe, and the bus driver through his mirror looked at me to make sure I was secure and he and his bus would carry me to a completely different world.  Listening to my little transistor radio – that age’s version of the iPod – I would stare out the window and watch the land begin to fall and the flat and empty terrain change.  The further south the bus sank the greater the number of trees and the greener the grass got – and some of the rivers actually had water in them.

The Hill Country was always beautiful.  It is like no other part of Texas, especially in December.  The bus would roll by ranch homes, with singular rows of red and green lights outlining their roofs, snuggled in between the hills.  Thin trails of blue smoke would drift from their chimneys.  I was a blessed soul seeing Christmas cards come to life.  I especially liked arriving at little Mason, Texas, whose courthouse seemed enchanted.  It appeared to me like a little Hapsburgian castle.  Ringed by a small stone fence, it seemed to have dropped from an Austrian sky.  I half-expected the Archduke Ferdinand to step out of it and get gunned down by Serbian nationalists.

The reason my thoughts would turn from idyllic and romantic meanderings so abruptly to thoughts of violence was only moments away.  Just as U.S. Highway 87 bends away from the courthouse a huge billboard in black letters on a white backdrop proclaimed “Martin Luther King is a Communist” with the word communist underscored.

Memories of those times came back to me this week when a news story popped out about a man named Crockett Keller, who owns a gun shop in Mason.  Keller refuses to make his services available to Muslims and to people who voted for President Obama.  Well, that would include Catholic me and most HispanicLatinos. How sad.  It was a far different experience for me when the bus stopped for a few moments in Mason by the side of a store.  I would run in to buy a candy bar and Coke.  The German lady recognized me after my first trip and would always smile.  In between the haters and the angered, other people make the world better.

I wish I could remember when the sign changed.  King was assassinated in 1968 precisely so that no one in the country would be discriminated against as Mr. Keller seems to think he has the right to do.

After the jarring sign, the bus would continue to flow south, and I would get excited.  Within yards of the road just north of San Antonio, a spring would gurgle from the ground.  A real spring.  For someone from the driest part of Texas, water springing from the ground is a near miracle.  Memory unreliably brings back the name of the spring as Joshua, the prophet who led the Hebrews to the new land of Canaan.  In one of the battles the Hebrews had to fight, God is said to have hurled hailstones from the heavens to help them.

My first thought for Mr. Keller was a ton of hailstones, except that after all these years, I remember Dr. King, and I realize there always will be people like the gun shop owner.  He was preceded by the people who put up the long-gone billboard.  They were there in 1965, they exist in 2011 in the likes of Govs. Jan Brewer in Arizona and Robert Bentley in Alabama and the Loudon County Republicans in Virginia who circulated a picture of President Obama shot through the head – and they will persist even until 2065.

But there always will be people like the bus driver and the German lady at the little store.  And there are other many good people in Mason and even in Alabama and Arizona and Loudon County.

And there will be always springs of hope.

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