Saturday, May 5, 2007

Cinco de Mayo gets BIG in America

This is NOT your father’s America
by Charlie Leck
I write this on Cinco de Mayo, a Mexican national holiday. What’s the big deal? There will be hundreds of major celebrations all over America – that’s what the big deal is. The festivities will commemorate the victory of the Mexican army over an occupational French force in the Battle of Puebla on May 5, 1862. There was dancing in the streets then and, throughout Mexico and the United States, there will be dancing in the streets today. It is not Mexico’s Independence Day as many of us think. That’s the Dieciseis de Septiembre. Get in straight, hombre, because the shades and nuances of holidays in America are changing and that ain’t all bad!

This is not your father’s America. Not by a long shot.

I grew up in a small, rural town on the east coast. Except for a few Jewish folks, and tiny Roman Catholic gathering and one “Negro” family, there were only white, anglo-saxon, protestant faces everywhere. And that seemed pretty comfortable to us. There were two black young men in town, six or seven years older than I, and they were good friends with my brothers. I’m not making this up! Their names were Whimpy and Ollie. I adored and idolized them. Whimpy was a big, tall guy with broad shoulders and he was strong as an ox. He wasn’t all that athletic, however, and he was generally a hanger-on on the baseball team, but a strong, reliable tight-end on the football team. Ollie was a smaller, sleeker guy and he could run like the wind. He was a fine, fine half-back.

I heard my old man use the “N” word a few times. Even back then we knew damned well that the word was negative and bordered on the obscene. One of my brothers kicked my ass when he heard me say it one time. He threatened to kick-ass on a group of older, white, bigger guys one time when they said something of the sort about his buddy, Whimpy. I’ve never forgotten that. It was one of those life-experiences that stick and make a difference in the way you think and act and comport yourself.

That was a pretty sterile, bland world I grew up in. I never heard anything about “drugs” in our little town. There was some petty dislike of a nationality group here or there. My father often spoke of the “wapps” and the “spicks” and the “japs.” Again, those labels had a hard sounding edge to them. I didn’t like the words and contracted with myself never to use them.

This isn’t my father’s world I live in now. I wonder what he’d think. The shades of color are changing and so are the sounds. I live in a pretty small, rural community on the far edge of suburbia. Yesterday I was at our city hall. A lady was trying to get an explanation from her husband about something I had said. She didn’t understand English and I couldn’t speak Spanish. She looked at me with a kind smile and warm, friendly eyes. I nodded a welcome and smiled back at her. A few feet away, a fellow I’d guess to be from Somalia was watching our non-verbal communications. I nodded to him and smiled. He waved in a friendly, cheery way.

From there I made my way into the city to run an errand for my wife. I stopped at the Falafel King to grab some lunch. One of our kids had told me this joint had the best Gyro sandwich in town. (I’ll review it another time.) I sat at a corner table and observed the sights and sounds. There were so many different shades of color and there was a choppy, guttural speech on one side of me and a lilting, musical kind of language on the other. One couple saw me staring. I smiled at them and nodded in as friendly a way as I could. They smiled back.

The world is flat! Thomas Friedberg is correct. A son in law will drive from Bejjing to Paris this summer. We’re off to New York next week for our youngest kid’s graduation from college. Nearly all her siblings will be there and we’ll get to see our grandchildren for a few days. Then, in June, we’ll fly to Montana for one of our kid’s 4oth birthday party. She lives in Minneapolis. The party is in Montana. Go figure! Nearly all our friends have traveled through Africa and Asian now. Many of them have been through all of Central and South America. Go figure!

We can go one of two ways with this “flat world” business. We can resist and fight it, hating it and crying about it and begging someone to close the borders. Or, we can embrace it and celebrate it.

Kick the tires! You might find it pretty neat. It’s not your father’s Oldsmobile, but I think we’ve got the making of a pretty good model here. I’m hopeful for my grandchildren. I’m hoping they will live in a more open, friendlier, more accepting world than the one their grandpa knew.

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