Fear In The Near Term
Tucson looked like it always has, when I went through there the other day; a big brown, red tinged desert valley bordered by light gray and tan colored mountains, looking devoid of settlement as you come down the 20 mile slope from the east on I-10, with then, as you get closer, the buildings beginning to materialize from gaps in the sage brush, poking up above the cactus plants.
I usually stop at the TTT, an old independent truck stop which has a pretty nice restaurant. The restaurant is closed at night, but I at least get a snack and coffee to go from the store, if I haven't stopped back at the top of the hill in Benson. The day after Barak Obama was elected president I stopped at the TTT to get my souvenir newspaper. That's one thing I collect. When something important happens I buy a newspaper with the large typeface headline. When I move from one place to another I always come across my stack of newspapers, which I keep wrapped in plastic and out of the light. It's strange to see them in another time -- some of those events are gone from our collective memory, or at least mine, and some remain.
I took the picture of the cactus after I delivered my load of fire hydrants to the water authority on the southeast side of Tucson, where it's pretty much still undeveloped and there are deserted dirt roads you can park a semi on and no one even knows you're out there.
Just passing through like that, only engaging in brief exchanges with the unloader and a clerk or a waitress or two, Tucson doesn't seem like a cauldron of hatred. Nor for that matter does Phoenix, which I was in several times while the nefarious anti-Latino bill 1070 was making headlines around the world. When you get off the expressway you find a bunch of people going about their daily lives, making a living, making deliveries, making love, making a mess of things. Many of them don't follow the news much and are vaguely aware of what those of us who do are concerned with, but even people who do follow the news closely spend most of their day just trying to get by.
A radio program I follow via podcasts, Flashpoints, out of the Berkeley Pacifica station KPFA, just did three programs from Tucson. They talked to quite a few Hispanic Americans about what they are doing to cope with living in Arizona.
One thing they are doing is organizing themselves, not relying on other groups or organizations. They are very aware of massive raids by ICE (US bureau of Immigrations and Customs Enforcement, Department of Homeland Security) that have been taking place at factories across the land, in places far from the border like Massachusetts and Iowa, where parents were arrested for Working While Brown and taken directly to detention centers and from there deported, leaving their young children to come home from school unaware that Mom and Dad won't be coming home that night, or ever.
One member of the Tucson Latino community they interviewed was a community organizer who said one thing they are trying to do is rebuild the social network of working class neighborhoods, so that people aren't so isolated from each other. He said that if someone gets stopped by ICE they can make a quick phone call and a network of volunteers springs into action. The children are located, whether at school or at home, and picked up, the house is secured, affairs are taken care of, and legal assistance is notified so they can begin to fight, or at least delay deportation. And funds are made available, if needed. Also, if undocumented parents wish to, their older, citizen children can be given power of attorney so that homes can be held onto or sold, and so that the younger children aren't taken into custody by the state.
Also interviewed were Latinos fighting to overturn the new state law, HB221, which outlaws the teaching of Chicano Studies in Arizona. One was a young teacher who is one of 11 plaintiffs trying to get the law declared constitutional. Chicano studies in Arizona high schools is a relatively recent thing, and she told about growing up not knowing anything about her heritage, only learning when she got to college. She told of students of hers, some of whom were also interviewed, who said the main reason they come to school is their Chicano Studies classes, and the self awareness and confidence they have gained from knowing who they are has even helped them in their other classes. She told of kids who are having discussions now around the dinner table at home, about their heritage, about discrimination, about internalizing negative self images. Now all that is gone, swept away by a Republican dominated Arizona government.
An Arizona Republican, Tom Horn, who was the Tucson school district superintendent until he decided to run for the state legislature, started the attack on Chicano Studies and rode anti Latino rhetoric to the state house. Some think he is just being opportunistic, but some think he has a personal vendetta against Dolores Huerta, co-founder with Caesar Chavez of the fabled United Farmworkers Union, who has come to Tucson to speak to students on occasion.
A Latina attorney interviewed by Flashpoints told how the Borderlands have gradually became a war zone, starting with the Reagan Administration, as the immigration agency and its law enforcement allies have been among the few government agencies that are always fully funded. They continue to expand and are armed with more and more sophisticated and heavy duty weaponry. She talked of skies filled with Apache helicopters, observations balloons and now drones, and check points, and regular raids on local residences. The banning of ethnic studies amounts to "ethnic genocide," she said. "They do not want us to know our history. They do not want us to know the truth."
According to a study just released by The Daily Beast, Arizona is in the bottom ten states in terms of tolerance. New Mexico is in the top ten. It's pretty tolerant. Alternet does a better job of presenting the same information and includes a handy hate map prepared by the Southern Poverty Law Center, which has a pull down menu you can use to find the hate groups in your state. It shows two New Mexico hate groups the SPJC has identified.
Still, I recommend against thinking that what is happening in Arizona can't happen anyplace else. For one, one thing pointed to in the interviews is that the current climate of hate in Arizona, which goes hand in hand with Arizona being a red meat Republican red state, owes much to demographic changes. Retirees moving into Arizona changed the political landscape.
Which could happen in New Mexico. I can see just from making deliveries here and there that some areas, such as the Truth or Consequences/Elephant Butte area, already are retiree destinations. Albuquerque developers, some of whom come from places like California to take advantage of more favorable economic conditions here, also find easy pickings among some of New Mexico's politicians, like former mayor Martin Chavez who was always ready to use our tax money to install the roads and infrastructure his developer donors needed. It's depressing to drive by the resulting neighborhoods, where the houses are so close together that their eaves almost touch. You can drive all over Albuquerque, however, and see that developers had a free hand here at different times. Houses of certain ages are crowded together and have no yards. One might argue that that made them affordable. Or that developers calculated that they could squeeze a few more houses onto a piece of property and see a few thousand more in profit.
Also, more ominously, I think, our new Republican governor, Susana Martinez, is seen as a potential candidate for national office. She was a Democrat, but, according to the story she tells in a recent LA Times profile, political ambition and opportunism caused her to abandon her party for the other side, with little thought for the consequences of her self serving act. If she does run for national election, in order to win any Republican primary she will have to satisfy the racist tea bagger, anti immigrant, Islamophobic Sarah Palin elements of the Republican Party, in places like Arizona, Alabama and Georgia. She is already trying to roll back New Mexico's tolerance rating by discontinuing the issuing of drivers licenses to the undocumented. It wouldn't be the first time personal ambition has caused someone to turn their back on their political party and on their own ethnic group. Think of Michael Steele. Clarence Thomas. Condoleeza Rice.
Given that the fleecing of the working class and of the American economy by the ruling class continues, I don't expect any improvement in manners on the part of conservatives to last long. As fear and insecurity increase, so will the opportunity to take advantage of it for short term gain, and who except the Republicans is likely to do that?
Anyway. I'm here in Corning, at the TA truck stop, listening to a show called Radio Active. Two women who do a good job of lining up good guests, but not so good a job of interviewing them. Interviewing is an art form, a craft, and few do it well. Of those who don't, many are only the radio to further their image of themselves, and so the interview is about them, not the guests. It's an opportunity to show people how much they know, not to find out what the guest knows. A sure sign of this is the multiple choice question. "So, the new law, is it the result of A, or B?" In other words, they think they know all the possibilities and don't want you to think they don't. Instead of just asking the guest, "What caused this new law to come about?" And letting the guest tell it.
There's always a little taco wagon parked across the road from the TA here where you can get them to make you up a nice veggie quesadilla, with beans and rice on the side. It's parked in front of a fenced in yard where there are all kinds of interesting old cars and plows and metal things laying around. It's an antique/junk shop that flows out of the old wooden frame house and across the porch and all over the yard. The guy and his wife who have the taco wagon have set up a couple of folding tables, under a tarp stretched between their wagon and some poles. Usually there are Spanish speaking truck drivers around one of them.
They almost always make eye contact, and nod or say Hi. They acknowledge your existence. The social fabric of whatever culture they come from is in a different condition than the one I come from, the Anglo. Anglo truck drivers these days are just as apt to not even make eye contact as they are to say anything. Even within my own company. I will be walking into one of our terminals and another of our drivers will be walking out and he won't even make eye contact. This is new, to me, for their to be no solidarity whatsoever among employees of the same company. I don't know what that is. Well, it's this company and the sicko who owns it. But there is a fear, too. A generalized fear in the population. When Anglos do make eye contact there is a look of fear in their faces. I see this in truck stops, too. This fear.
In the interest of accuracy I have to say that sometimes the cause of it is me, I suppose. There is this pecking order in truck driving. Not so much according to age as to whether or not you are a "real truck driver." And although I don't participate in the truck driver social milieu, of the CB radios and the story telling and the expertise about trucks and this motor and that brand of tractor and the made up stories of telling dispatchers where they can get off and refusing to do this run or that run, the "I don't go to New York City" type of feeble braggadocio, I, over the years, have assumed the look of a truck driver. One who knows. Someone just waiting for someone like them to come along so I can make myself feel a little bigger for a little while. I suppose some of that is defensive, some practical. But when I say Hi to one of these no eye contact makers and they ignore me, and they just keep walking, I don't know what that is.
Well, no, I do know what that is. That same person, if you talk to them for awhile, rather, let them talk for awhile, will eventually come out of their shell. At first they will be on the offense, quite annoyingly so. But when it sinks in that I am not out to make them feel smaller, they will let loose of their defense mechanisms. They will be nice. Friendly. It might take the whole day but there is a normal person in there, wanting to be nice. Our natural state. Our instinctually predisposed state of mutual protection and assistance.
But the layers get thicker, as financial insecurity grows and this Republican led rhetoric continues to be what is heard in public discourse, on TV and on the radio. The more these uninformed people, who are just going about their daily lives in Phoenix and Tucson and Albuquerque and Corning, walk into voting booths and pull Republican levers and allow demagogues like Tom Horn to pass laws outlawing Chicano Studies, which changes the structure of society a little more, and the more the structures are defensive and inhospitable, the thicker the shells become.
There is a point from which the human mind can't recover. Some of these young Arab men who our government has tortured for long periods of time and kept locked up for years in solitary confinement aren't abe to recover. Their minds are gone. Just like the young man in Tucson who murdered all those people, who saw the enemy everywhere. Not just the Latinos down the block causing students in the Chicano studies class to be un-American or the ones coming across the border to re-establish Aztlan, or the ones sitting at a picnic table under a tarp or the guy passing him as he walks out of a terminal, but everywhere.
The series of shows on Flashpoints ran January 17, 18 and 19 and can be streamed or downloaded at Flashpoints.net or as podcasts at KPFA.org.