Today, I had the privilege of listening to DailyKos's own David Harris Gershon at the Amram Scholar Series at Washington Hebrew Congregation. (I guess I haven't announced it, but I moved to Washington DC about six weeks ago.)
If any of you have the chance to catch David's book tour, I highly recommend it. Here's the schedule: http://davidharrisgershon.com/...
His presentation was excellent, again, if you're able to catch it, do!
As I was leaving the event, my wife and I decided we we'd like to grab lunch. We invited David, but he had a very tight schedule and had to jet. In retrospect, it's good he didn't come with us, because my ankle decided to fail me, yet again.
A background: About three years ago, I broke my right ankle, and I don't think it ever healed properly. I went to the emergency room, they told me "Yup, your ankle's broken." I wasn't able to afford any actual care for it. Hopefully with Obamacare, I'll be able to get it fixed.
In any case, as we were walking to get brunch, my ankle gave out. To describe this, my ankle doesn't give out as in fail me and I fall over. My ankle decides that rather than keep my foot flat against the ground, it prefers to be at almost a right angle to the ground. There's a stabbing pain, and I have to take my hands and pop - yes, pop - my ankle back into the position it's supposed to be in.
This involves a lot of swearing, yelling, and general anger and hatred towards everything and everyone around me.
When my ankle gave out, I fell into a busy DC street. Immediately, my wife stepped out, and waved her arms to prevent someone from running me over. And she wasn't alone. Another gentleman stepped out as well, ready to drag me onto the sidewalk. I scrambled back there on my own power.
Here's what I noticed:
The man who immediately stopped to help me was latino. He wore a beaten rosary. He hadn't shaved this weekend, and his clothes were threadbare. He was obviously working class. Even more, his hair was greying, and his face wrinkled with age. He was hunched slightly, elderly. Meanwhile, four young white hipsters walked right past me with tunnel vision: "Nope, not noticing this, not getting involved, this is not happening. I am refusing to make eye contact."
But the elderly latino gentleman, and after he arrived, one younger latino gentleman, stayed to make sure I was okay. And when I tried to say thank you, I realized that neither of them spoke English. So I spoke with them in broken fragments of Spanish.
In short, it was the Latino folks who operated more in line with traditional American hospitality than the privileged white hipsters! The two Latino gentleman acted more like traditional Americans than the four or five white hipsters who completely ignored me!
How anyone can think that Latin Americans who want to move to the United States will have anything but a net positive effect on this country and our culture is completely beyond me.
This isn't the first time since moving to DC that I've been struck by the hospitality of people of color. That cultural hospitality is what I want to be an ingrained part of American culture. It's what our values preach. It's "Small Town American Values." Yet for some reason, I've only ever experienced it in communities of color! It's what I wish were universal in this country.
"You are our neighbor. We've got your back."
That's a huge piece of what America is about. That's a huge piece of what is supposed to be our culture. That small-town American value is vitally important to our national cohesion. Yet in post-Reagan America I have found, again, and again, that this vital part of our national heritage is carried forward not by white America, but by Americans of Color.
They're the ones who stop, and help me up when I fall. They're the ones who bring over a casserole when I move in to a new neighborhood. They're the ones who invite me immediately into their homes and welcome me into the community.
In a very real way, it is people of color who are the guardians of American communal cohesiveness.
It is people of color who maintain and defend that piece of our American culture.
And while I'm very sad that White America has forgotten this tradition, I am comforted by the fact that not all Americans have forgotten who we are, and who we're supposed to be.
I'm reminded that the last time I ended up cursing the ground in pain, it was a Black American who literally lifted me off the ground and put me on a park bench, and then asked if he could call an ambulance. And I had the same experience then: white folks with tunnel vision.
And that's why I'm sharing this story now. This isn't one isolated event.
This is a series of events in my life where it is people of color who have come to my aid, rather than tunnel vision'd white folks. And I've experienced that hospitality at every single stage of my life. From the time I was one, until I reached the age of six, we lived next door to a Cuban family that didn't speak English. Every time my mother brought me home and had groceries with her, the Cuban grandparents would insist that they take me off her hands until she'd brought everything in. I developed a real taste for Cuban food (Maduros, Picadillo, y Ropa Vieja) because an Abuela insisted on feeding me at least once a week.
The hospitality of people of color has affected me at nearly every stage of my life. And still, in adulthood, it is people of color who come to my aid in times of excruciating pain.
I'm not sure if this post is anything other than the injured rantings of an opinionated Gael.
But I do think that this needs saying: The actions of communities and people of color have had a real and positive affect on my life during times of stress, times of need, and times of mundane drudgery. While I've experienced that hospitality from family members or close friends, it is only in communities of color that I've received that kind of aid and hospitality from total strangers.
And so I'll say this, as my ultimate point: White America has a lot to learn and re-learn about American values. The ultimate guardians of those American traditions that I consider vital to our identity as a nation are Americans of color. They are the guardians of American hospitality. They are the ones who understand the necessity of these traditions.
Instead of cutting them out of the political process with a new era of Jaime Cuervo, instead of deporting their relatives, instead of protecting the people who murder them, instead of imprisoning their children with a school to prison pipeline, instead of allowing their communities to crumble in economic despair, instead of considering them "less than" or "other than" Americans, perhaps we should realize that by empowering them, we as a nation will gain.
Perhaps these are just the rantings of a man whose blood is full of endorphins.
But perhaps we should have more than three black senators, one of whom is a Republican. Perhaps we should be empowering the Latino voters and politicians. Perhaps we should let America be America, she who never was and yet must be:
O, let America be America again—
The land that never has been yet—
And yet must be—the land where every man is free.
The land that's mine—the poor man's, Indian's, Negro's, ME—
Who made America,
Whose sweat and blood, whose faith and pain,
Whose hand at the foundry, whose plow in the rain,
Must bring back our mighty dream again.
We can be a land where we are truly E Pluribus Unum: a nation of all peoples, by all peoples, for all peoples.
And that is the choice we have. Do we want to be a nation for the privileged and the powerful, or a nation without borders? A nation of austerity or a nation without limits? A nation of fear and trepidation where we shun our neighbor, or nation of liberty, where we reach beyond ourselves? A nation where with tunnel vision, we pass by the hurting and the needy, or a nation of caring and investment, where we clasp our neighbor's hand in ours?
I know what I'm fighting for.
I know what I want America to be.