Where have you been?

23 Jun

A woman dresses a girl while staying at a shelter with fellow members of a caravan of migrants from Central America, prior to preparations for an asylum request in the U.S., in Tijuana

Several friends have written to me, wondering why I haven’t been writing on my blog for several months.  I had no idea that I had such ardent followers!  So let me just say that the last few months have been an arduous mix of surgical “procedures” (all of them relatively minor in execution, but requiring lots of recovery time), some work on the book I am purportedly writing (mostly now a translation of Irmgard Kern’s “Autobiografie einer jungen Frau”–Autobiography of a Young Woman– from 1934), and hours of utterly terrified despair at the political situation in this country.  The photo above encapsulates this mood:  the complete inhumanity of removing helpless, innocent children from their families in the name of a hateful, entirely unnecessary  “policy” and “crackdown” against illegal immigration at the U.S. southern border.

As a born and bred California Girl, I have grown up in a multicultural society from the very beginning. Our neighbors always included Mexicans, whether “legal” or not; it was never a question for children. I went every day to Nellie’s house to eat stacks of her flour tortillas, either hot from the griddle with butter dripping off the sides, or with a dollop of refritos. I have never found that taste again, in all the years of trying–except for a brief time in San Antonio, when the secretary of one of the university departments where I worked shared her lunch with me, including HER home-made flour tortillas.  Mexican food was like mother’s milk to me, as it is for so many Californians and other Southwesterners.

My father was the foreman and chief grower in a flower nursery. Almost all of his workers were Mexican–initially, those who came to California through the bracero program, which allowed them to stay for 6 months a year, then they went home to Mexico, and would come back the next year.  I remember getting post cards addressed to “Estimado Rudy” from some of these workers, who would want to return the next year. They ate at our house, and taught us Spanish words, and told us how much they missed their own children back home.  Later on, when the bracero program ended (in 1964), my father’s workers were either Latinos born in California, or illegals. When I worked in the greenhouses when I was in high school, we sang Mexican songs–I was learning Spanish in school by then–while we debudded chrysanthemums to get them ready for market.  These women were absolute whizzes at doing this job, and could complete a row of plants before I was halfway through.  When the Immigration people showed up unannounced, my father would whistle some signal, and the illegals would jump out the back door, while we played games of interference.

ee&1stgradeclass_crenshawelem1_1956

My first-grade class in Torrance, California, 1955.

Mexicans weren’t the only group of “others” that I grew up with. My father’s boss was Japanese, one of the many Japanese-American flower growers who had established the floral industry in California.  One of my dad’s assistants in the greenhouses was Takako, an issei woman who we loved to visit at her house in Gardena, because she gave us rice-paper-wrapped candies, and laughed when we told her our Norwegian grandmother served us rice with cinnamon and sugar on it, which she thought was the weirdest foodway she had ever heard of.  I took piano lessons with Irene Shinoda, my dad’s boss’s daughter, and I was good friends with Lynn and Linda Nakamura, twins in my 5th-grade class.  These families, all of whom had been in America longer than my family had been, had been sent to detention camps during World War II, and were housed for a time in the horse stables at Santa Anita racetrack.  I knew about this example of America’s treatment of “others” from a very early age.

Perhaps this early exposure to lots of different people is why so much of California (although not all)  is so resistant to these current atrocities.  I am constantly charmed today when going to any “ethnic” restaurant in LA that the clientele will almost always be a mix of all these cultures–Armenians eating Mexican food, Mexican-Americans eating Vietnamese, Afro-Americans eating Chinese.  America at its best is a happy melting pot, ethnically diverse and so mixed that racial categories become relatively irrelevant and hard to pin down.  The warm glow I feel when experiencing tolerance and acceptance just makes the hateful headlines we now read every day heart-wrenching and incomprehensible.  Why would anyone want to support such cruel and UNNECESSARY political actions?

So, my friends, that’s where I’ve been:  sitting on my butt recovering from minor surgeries and stewing in helplessness about the fate of this country because of an aberrant electoral technicality that is now leading us away from our “better angels” toward a surreal fascism that has no happy ending for anyone.  On that happy note, and in lieu of my usual cat photo, I submit this list of the signs of fascism:

fascism_signs_2004

 

 

4 Responses to “Where have you been?”

  1. Jonathan Gluckman June 23, 2018 at 8:09 pm #

    Middle row, center?

    • esauboeck June 23, 2018 at 8:16 pm #

      Middle row, third from the left

  2. Gillian Russell June 23, 2018 at 9:07 pm #

    excellent Erika — I think they’ve learnt from Australia i.e. how to use cruelty to children as a deterrent to asylum seekers.

    • esauboeck June 23, 2018 at 9:27 pm #

      Thanks, Gillian. Yes, it seems that the entire Western world has decided to become crueller….WHERE ARE YOU GILLIAN? Do send me an email, OK?

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