Grits and Tamales

Life in the Deep South, by Gabriel Aguilera

Category Archives: Race

Mr. Khan’s America, My America


Photo Credit: Getty Images, from Politico, “Seven Minutes that Shook the Convention.”

This courageous man, an immigration attorney, delivered one of the most powerful things I have ever seen at convention. It certainly is my favorite. The details are in the linked essay but you can see the speech here for yourself. Rafael Suarez Jr. characterized it this way on his Facebook page: “Capt. Khan’s father is the star of the Democratic Convention. Whatever you think of Hillary Clinton, this grieving father, this dignified immigrant is delivering a love letter to his adopted country.”

Andrew Sullivan, live-blogging, said:

9:19 p.m. This I can clearly say: that last speech was the best of the last two weeks, and the most necessary. When that father brought out his own copy of the Constitution and waved it at Donald Trump, it was the fulcrum of this election. This is what is at stake – the core values of this country under threat from a man who has no understanding of the Constitution he would swear to uphold.

9:13 p.m. Okay, this is jaw-droppingly powerful: the dignified father, Khizr Khan, of a fallen Muslim soldier, refuting the rancid divisiveness of Trump by his very composure and gravity.

I was moved by this man and this most numinous moment that was anything but the usual rhetoric and rodomontade of a political convention. I was touched by Mr. Suarez’s description, “delivering a love letter to his adopted country.” The Politico story nabbed this tidbit, said by Mr. Khan before his speech: “It is my small share to show the world, by standing there, the goodness of America.” As a fellow immigrant — I came to the US when I was five, undocumented, with my family — I felt like I was standing there with him in his dream, sharing his pride and his concern.

Mr. Khan appeared on the stage as if brought to life by Mr. Obama’s words from the previous evening. He too took as his starting point the law of our land, contrasted this America to the Orwellian one posited by Mr. Trump, and then eviscerated his lie with the simple eloquence of truth, hanging this epitaph on the GOP candidate: “You have sacrificed nothing and no one.”

September 11, like most violent shocks to a nation, triggered good as well as evil as we all are aware. Together with the war on terror, there has also been a growing divide in our body politic across several dimensions such as race, religion, immigration, and rural-urban landscapes, just to name a few. Add to these the effects of globalization and technology that have hammered low-skilled workers, and we are where we are, perhaps on the precipice of Trump’s America.

But I don’t think so, at least not quite. I expect candidate Clinton will methodically wear down and defeat Trump in the battleground states handily. This, however, is the easy part. I am less doubtful that we will, as a nation, turn the corner and begin to invest more in the right things in order to improve the well-being of those who are now clinging to Trump. Hard enough as this will be, I’m afraid that the decay in working class America might already be beyond repair, setting us up for more Trumps.

One thing is certain. Mr. Khan’s America, my America, has eroded.







Then and Now: The Pull of Immigration

Circa 1976-77, my parents bought their old beater home in Boyle Heights, Los Angeles. It had 3.5 bedrooms, garage and large back yard overlooking the 10 Freeway near the corner of Marengo and Evergreen streets. They paid $50,000 and could afford the mortgage on a combined income of approximately $375 per week. They had six children. Basic health care at the local clinic was available and we had General Hospital for minor emergencies that my parents could afford to pay. Elementary schools were good in those days too. We had enough to eat. It was a modest way of life but we had a chance to chase the American Dream. Thanks to affordable higher education at local city colleges and the California State University system, we caught it.

It is tricky to get purchasing power parity PPP comparisons of income then and now because of the big shifts in relative prices. In today’s dollars estimates of my parents’ weekly $375 in 1977 range from $1140 to as much as $3,010. Compare this to bare subsistence living in Mexico’s countryside as that country marched towards its economic catastrophe of the 1980s. Prior to the 1990s the borders were loosely monitored. During the 60s and 70s my dad crossed back and forth many times, and was chased out of the US seven times.

The pull factors from differences in relative wages were massive in the late 1970s, taking into account the relative ease of crossing the border. Today the pull factors are not as strong because, according to economists, technology and, to a lesser extent, globalization. In other words, the working classes today are in PPP terms significantly worse off.

The American dream is dying.

LBJ’s Path to Power: He teaches Mexican kids in Cotulla, TX

I’ve been reading Robert A. Caro’s Path to Power. I’m at the section now where LBJ has his first teaching gig in Cotulla, TX. Up to this point in this magnificent narrative history, it’s hard to warm to LBJ. He is narcissistic, vain, extravagant, and generally insufferable. To say he is a bad egg is hyporbole — he is a cruel, rotten and uncharitable wretch. It is perfectly reasonable to assume that he is more on the path to prison than he is on the path to becoming congressman, master of the senate, and president.

So in this job, LBJ’s first real one, he would make Mexican-American students who could barely speak/read English memorize poetry. One was O Captain! My Captain! That Walt Whitman is one of the poets he chose is as astonishing as it is ironic because throughout his life he showed little interest in reading anything not about business or politics. This is where we see first signs of his great compassion, where he first begins to demonstrate care for others even if it is hard to separate from his own ambition.

Something else we see by this point in the book is that Johnson had known poverty, humiliation, and hardship. He would forever understand the poor because of these experiences.

Shakespeare gave company to Mandela in jail

The Bard provided tutelage and wisdom for Mandela while he was in prison. It seems that words inspired the great man while he served time. Two words in particular have always stood out when I think of Lincoln, and now Mandela: equanimity and magnanimity. They both seemed to have cultivated these virtues while they suffered, endured, and reflected on the Bard.

Nelson Mandela Inspires

Nelson Mandela died today.

One of the quotes that was floating around among my FB friends moved me to the core:

“I would not and could not give myself up to despair. That way lays defeat and death.”

These are lapidary words, worth keeping at the forefront of one’s brains to remember that he waged what must have been a crushing battle against despair while in prison, separated from his movement and the woman he loved, never knowing whether he would be reunited with either.

He did not succumb to despair, even after he left prison to learn that the love of his life had taken on a lover. They became estranged. He moved on.

Like Lincoln, he suffered most gravely.

Like Lincoln, he triumphed most greatly.

Now, he too belongs to the ages.



Two Years Down South

The problem today is not that the South focuses too much attention on its heroes, such as Robert E. Lee and Jefferson Davis. Steven Taylor argued recently that we don’t focus enough on what they stood for, a Confederate nativism and patriotism that first fought for slavery, then to defend a system of apartheid known as Jim Crowism, and, later, de facto segregation, the retrograde vestiges of which still persist stubbornly in the South, manifesting themselves in lousy public schools, lack of access to affordable health care, and poor public services for the region’s poor. In my new home state, income and property taxes are low, but an outrageous and regressive 10 percent sales tax punishes the poor.

I arrived from California two years ago and have been observing the South from the heart of the old cotton belt, from Montgomery, Alabama whose convoluted city seal brags that it is both the “cradle of the confederacy” and the “birthplace of the civil rights movement.” In most respects, this is a radically transformed place from the 1960s. Martin Luther King would be astonished and, I think, proud of the advances in race relations in Montgomery that brings Whites and Blacks together to cheer for their beloved Crimson Tide and Tigers. A walk into any mall, YMCA, public space, or restaurants will yield African and White Americans getting cheerfully along, as if their sordid racial history never existed.

There is, moreover, a growing cadre of middle class Blacks, Latinos and Asians in greater Montgomery thanks to the housing boom, foreign direct investment in the automobile industry, and military retirees who stick around or return after doing a tour or schooling at Maxwell Air Force Base. Still, as Steven Taylor notes, this is a state where Jefferson Davis and Robert E. Lee survive, where economic disparities and poor public services disproportionally harm the poor, where a hideous large Confederate flag wafts menacingly next to the interstate artery that connects Montgomery and Birmingham, and where Blacks and Whites by and large attend their own churches and schools.

I agree with Steven’s thesis, that we do not speak enough around here about what Davis and Lee stood for, but wish to stress the obverse of his argument. I have observed that liberal Yankee elites are part of the problem. They do not pay earnest attention to Davis, Lee, and many other important generals of the Southern racist cause and are too dismissive of their Southerner brethren, their heroes, and their way of life down here, so much so that they treat them like an estranged brother that they are ashamed of and don’t want at Christmas dinner.

In short, they treat the South with, bigotry, scorn and condescension, hating the sinner and the sin. They compare Davis and Lee to Hitler and a Nazi general and deny they had any virtue worth studying and learning about. These were after all extraordinary Americans who, deplorably, put there immense talents to use in order to preserve a society and way of life that was rotten at its core. The same can be said of many others, including Andrew Jackson, John Calhoun, and Richard Russell. Thumbing their nose at Yankees, Southerners continue to quietly celebrate Robert E. Lee with Martin Luther King Day and maintain Jefferson Davis and Confederate Memorial Days.

The problem is that too much of America does not in any way esteem Southern history and culture. (Americans don’t know a whole lot about history in general but that is another conversation). Liberal elites spend too much time sneering at their own heritage and its people, a culture that gave us Faulkner, Foote, (Harper) Lee, Capote, and many others – titans whose literary exploits continue to inspire the world. The Nobel Laureate Gabriel García Márquez often referred to Faulkner as “my master.” Liberals embrace Southern literary masters, of course, but reject the society that shaped and inspired them.

Elite Yankee bigotry swells Southern pride. They cannot swallow that the South is part of America and that its history, both the sordid and the glorious, is our history. Ironically, Yankee elites are much nicer to newer members of the American family such as Mexican-Americans than they are their old siblings, whom they reject. They smugly and moronically liken the old South to Nazi Germany, which of course it was not. Slavery, apartheid, and segregation are horrible and deplorable enough and need no hyperbole. As a nation, in addition to our towering contributions towards peace and prosperity since World War II, we have many sins to answer for in our history, including the forced internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II, the Mexican-American War which was, strictly speaking, a war of conquest as Lincoln argued at the time from his congressional perch, the despoilment of Native Americans, the nasty Central American wars of the 1980s where US aided governments sponsored death squads and repression, and support for murderous right wing regimes elsewhere in Latin America during the Cold War, and much else.

Yankee liberals, incredibly, believe that it is the patriotic duty of Southerners to reject their own history, heroes, and way of life. This simply will not do and helps keeps the ghosts of Davis and Lee, not to mention their holidays, alive in Alabama. I have spent the last two years living in the South, attempting to learn about my new home, its culture, history, literature, and people. The liberal Yankee straw man described above is molded from statements and reactions — the soft bigotry — of many highly educated liberal Yankee friends in conversations about my decision to move to Alabama and the life I proposed to try and build here.

The South is evolving fast as a consequence of immigration from around the United States, Mexico, Asia and Latin America as well as inbound investment from other parts of America and the globe. Industry is spreading and other minorities are finding their way here, so much so that in thirty years, when I retire, the Old South will be mostly gone. I carefully observe construction crews and manual laborers and notice a growing number of Mexican and Central Americans working together with Whites and Blacks. Sadly, though, Alabama will continue to be poor because of the dominance of a political class that clings to a perverted dogma about the role of the state, taxation and public goods. The South will compete not with the high productivity parts of America, Europe and Asia. Instead, because it stubbornly refuses to tax adequately and invest in public goods, it will compete with Brazil as a producer of manufactures and raw materials.

Political culture is a stubborn thing, so mulish that one wonders if it is wired into the genetic code down here. I wonder if globalization and technological change will finally put the ghosts of Lee and Davis to rest or whether they will remain troglodytic zombies haunting this lovely part of America. What I do know is that liberal Yankees are too ignorant to see that they continue to fuel neo-segregationist flames, giving advantage to racists who masquerade as Southern patriots as well as politicians who stir class and, obliquely, racial conflict to remain in power. Fortunately, the proportion of racists is diminishing among the kindly people of Alabama who are judged much too harshly for their conservative politics that reflect the deficiencies of our political institutions, the dominance of rural interests, and devotion to a flawed model of the state much more than they do to some neo-Confederate world view.

On John Brown via @Shelby_Foote_Q

From Shelby Foote’s, The Civil War: A Narrative

[John Brown’s] army counted eighteen men, including five Negroes; “One man and God can overturn the universe,” he said…

Seated on his coffin while he rode in a wagon to the gallows, [John Brown] looked out at the hazy Blue Ridge Mountains…

This is a beautiful country,” he said. “I never had the pleasure of really seeing it before.”…

After the hanging the jailor unfolded a slip of paper John Brown had left behind, a prophesy: “I John Brown am now quite certain that the crimes of this guilty land; will never be purged away; but with blood.”…

John Brown’s soul went marching; a symbol of good or evil, depending on the viewer.

To Kill a Mockingbird

Over Thanksgiving weekend I finally read to “To Kill a Mockingbird.”  I’m sad that I missed this beautiful book in high school but I’m glad I read it while living in Alabama, which permitted me to savor it in unique ways.  It helps, too, to have visited Monroeville, Alabama.  I can imagine Jem and Scout sitting up in the balcony with African-Americans as Atticus commanded the courtroom.

This book is about many things including, among others, race, class, rural-urban cleavages, parenting, and, not least of all, a look at Southern culture during the Great Depression.  Above all, “To Kill a Mockingbird” is about ecumenical righteousness and justice.  Its main thesis is simple enough: we can improve our world by striving to be just no matter what predicaments we find ourselves in in life.  There is room for necessity, but we must nonetheless try in all circumstances to do what’s right because it makes for might.

If we pursue righteousness we will infect those around us into changing their outlook, habits, and behavior.  Slowly, culture will evolve.  In other words, “To Kill a Mockingbird” is a Quixotic book. It’s view of human nature is realist — there will always be horrible people in the world and this will require the institutions of legal justice which, at times, must be bent to necessity by righteous individuals. Even Atticus learns these lessons.  In the end, though, it’s a profoundly liberal look at the world.  Democracy, law, and education can lift up an ever-larger chunk of humanity.  We can improve ourselves as do Atticus, Scout, Jem, and many of the novel’s heartwarming characters.

To Kill a Mockingbird Courtroom.  It warms the heart to imagine Scout and Jem among African-Americans, watching their father during the trial.

If you are not for Romney he thinks you are a feckless parasite

Really, there are two quotes you need from the Romney revelation in Mother Jones: “”[M]y job is is not to worry about those people. I’ll never convince them they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives.”  ‘Those people’ being the 47 percent he believes will vote for BHO.  This is what he thinks about them: “[They] are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you-name-it…”

So, if I got this rate, Romney is not going to worry about nearly half of the electorate ?  He believes that if you support Obama that you don’t take personal responsibility seriously nor do you care about your life.  Let me translate: He thinks you are a feckless parasite.

Someone needs to explain to Gov. Romney that we are all dependent on government to provide national security, police, firemen, schools, and a host of infrastructure.

Finally, if Governor Romney is right — that 47 percent of the population suffers from a victim mentality — then this is a really fucked up country.  Why does he want to be president?

Latino Voting Behavior — Some Stuff to Read via Stephen Nuño

Someone asked me for a short list of what they should read on Latino voting behavior.  So I asked a pro.  My pal Stephen Nuño came up with this list:

2008 election and where Latinos may have mattered
Page 6
Latino ideology and opinion:
Based on their book, The Future is Ours: Minority Politics, Political Behavior, and the Multiracial Era of American Politics.
Su Casa Es Nuestra Casa: Latino Politics Research and the
Development of American Political Science- Overview:
Identity and public opinion:

A site that helps measure impact for 2012:
To Stephen’s list, I like this one too on the browning of America.
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