Categories
Commentary Stories

Gerald McKelvey, a Great Guy

IMAGE: Jerry (left), Amanda (center), and other family members or guests at Al’s and Melissa’s wedding, last year in California. (Photo taken by the studio contracted by the bride and groom).

 

The best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry, tells us the translation of a line in a Scot poem by Robert Burns, “To a Mouse.” Those words fit well in this story about my brother-in-law Gerald McKelvey, a fine gentleman of Irish ancestry who loved poetry and loved to write. At around two o’clock in the morning, on the second of July, Jerry, as he was called by all of us, pushed the door that took him into the ever after. He was seventy-seven years old.

He had a stroke while bathing early last Friday, June 30th. He and my sister Amanda were getting ready to travel from their home in Manteca, in northern California, to a place north of L.A., to hook up with family. It didn’t happen. That’s how it is sometimes; the specter of death knocks at the door when we least expect it and throws a monkey wrench into the best-laid plans.

Hard to believe. He’s gone. Won’t see him again or listen to his loud, but gentle laugh or partake with him any more in those joyous moments we once savored, but often took for granted. He won’t be around anymore. Tough to understand.

On the other hand, Jerry will be remembered for lots of good things. He lived life to the fullest. Amanda and Jerry had fun. They traveled, visited family, their kids, went here, went there, and used their home as a recurring rendezvous for all of us. For the ones on the Mexican side, our mother’s offspring, other relatives, and for friends. We went to that home often to gather, to eat and to have fun. Jerry was okay with all those festive occasions. If it got too loud, he just turned off his hearing aid and went about doing his things. Loud talk problem solved.

By the way, when all of us get together, we’re loud. Everyone talks at the same time, too. We’re Mexicans, you know. That’s all I’m going to say about that.

Jerry will also be remembered for amusing peculiarities and over time we learned to appreciate his individuality. He was no cowboy, but he wore a cowboy hat. The last one was black. Western wear was his thing, that’s for sure: big buckle, studded shirt, bolo tie. He was also no Native American, but he loved to display Native American art at home. He loved patriotic stuff too: displaying Old Glory on appropriate occasions, the American eagle in bronze, and other objects that reminded those present of the nation’s patriotic heritage.

He and Amanda met in San Diego sometime in the late 1980s and had been married for more than twenty years. They both had made the trip to the altar once before and had kids from those relationships. But they both loved each other’s children. In my book, that’s how it’s supposed to be.

Losing Jerry, I’m sure, it’s going to be tough on Amanda. It’s always that way, I believe, when you lose someone you love, the person with whom you shared your life. I feel for her and I’m wishing her the best. In my heart, though, I know she’ll be okay. Besides, she’s tough as nails, just like our mother was, and has a whole bunch of caring people by her side, helping her overcome her grief.

Our family and others tied to us, let me add, have a way with love and caring. We feel the pain, but at the same time know that the show must go on and that we all must learn to overcome the trials and tribulations that we find along the way, as we travel on the journey of life. But, we must also have fun.

That’s what Jerry did. He lived, loved, had fun and had a hell of a ride. Hope to see you again, cowboy.

 

AUTHOR: Pedro Chávez

 

Categories
Anecdotes Commentary

A Special Fourth of July Shindig

IMAGE of one of the recurring cookouts organized by 613th TFS Squids (file photo from the mid-1970s).

 

Like most Fourth of July celebrations, the one coming up on Tuesday is not going to be any different than many before. There will be fireworks, parades, talk of freedom, lots of barbeques and plenty family gatherings. I bet a lot of folks are going to have Monday off too, and if that’s the case, it’s going to be a four-day weekend for all of them. Woo-hoo!

In this part of north Texas where I live, a lot of people will spend the day frolicking at a lake someplace. There are tons of manmade lakes around here. I won’t be doing that; I will spend the day at home taking care of some self-imposed honey-dos, mainly getting some writing done. I will also barbeque. Chances are I will be alone, unless my daughter swings by. My wife is in Costa Rica taking care of her 100-year-old dad. She and two sisters that live in the United States take turns to be with him. He’s still in pretty good shape, is very active and spends a few hours everyday working in the garden and stuff related to the house. He reads a lot too and is well informed about this and that.

Our son and his wife, by the way, live in California. The grandkids live there too, along with a whole bunch of relatives. Brothers, sisters, cousins, nephews, nieces and lots, lots more. It’s a big family and gets bigger once I include those that still live south of the border. I know what you’re thinking, so I’ll say it for you: “Mexicans breed like rabbits.” Well, no longer true. Our numbers keep shrinking as we discretely dip our feet into the melting pot.

Returning to the talk about barbequing, let me tell you, I love to cook outside, throw meat and fixings on the grill and have a beer, maybe two, while I perform chef duties. I’m pretty good at it I think, especially when I do pork back ribs. They’re usually finger licking good; that’s what I’ve been told more than once, anyway. Of course, there’s a good chance that some of those folks that have given me compliments might have been fibbing, you know, just to be nice. Then again, maybe not. I’ve seen some of them licking their fingers and the bones of those ribs.

I learned the art of grilling them while watching others do it when I was in the Air Force. Had several opportunities to watch, but the one that is well stuck in my brain took place on a Fourth of July holiday. We were stationed at Torrejón Air Base near Madrid, Spain, but we had to spend every third month in Turkey, at Incirlik Air Base. Sort of like my wife and her sisters going to their dad’s home to help him. We took turns with the other two squadrons.

Someone in our outfit, the 613th Tactical Fighter Squadron, came up with the idea to barbeque pork back ribs in front of our Incirlik quarters to celebrate the civic occasion. It was in the mid-1970s. I tell you, those were great ribs. Cooked by two, maybe three Squids (that was the nickname given to the members of the 613th TFS) who would not allow anyone to get close to the grills with the racks of ribs to try to help. They were master grillers; they proved that skill set as they performed their art with lots of patience. They took their time doing their job. It’s a requirement with ribs, you know.

By the way, the phrase “Patience is a virtue” has become a cliché, but have to repeat it here; the Squids attending those grills had plenty of that virtue. Not a rack of ribs got burned and not one was bathed with sauce before it was time to do so. The reward? Finger licking back ribs for a whole bunch of hungry aircrews on temporary duty near the southern shore of Turkey. Not a bad way to spend the day celebrating America’s independence.

Of course, there are many other activities tied to the coming holiday. For me it will again be grilling pork back ribs and maybe some corn on cob, Mexican style. Whatever you do, though, have fun (and be safe). And, one final thought. I’m not a Texan, but I’ve gotten used to some Lone Star talk, therefore I’m going to try to parrot a few words that I believe are appropriate to salute the festive occasion, the way a Texan would say them:

“Have a great Fourth of July y’all.”

 

AUTHOR: Pedro Chávez

 

Categories
Commentary Tales

Workers Needed at DiGiorgio Farms

IMAGE: Hotel Del Coronado on Coronado Island, next to San Diego, California.

 

NOTE: This is part of the Border Tales series fiction stories. It was written in jest in May 2006, the year of the last real attempt by Congress to reform the nation’s immigration laws. Just trying to make a point and have fun at the same time. It was never published before. Image of Hotel Del Coronado in San Diego.

 

 

The President hated the idea of meeting with Frank DiGiorgio at the Hotel Del, but opted for meeting there to please him. The President’s father, the first Bush, had advised W, the way he referred to him, to follow the proper political etiquette. “Take care of your supporters, son,” said the older Bush. “If Mr. DiGiorgio wants to meet you there, grant him his wish.”

The hotel at Coronado Beach was to the younger Bush way too fancy. Too upscale. Too much, even for a Texan. “I’d rather be at the ranch barbequing,” he told his wife.

He had a change of heart once he arrived at the hotel, though. After spending the morning in the hot Yuma, Arizona desert visiting the folks that are trying to stop the flow of immigrants that come across the border from Mexico and beyond, the cool Pacific Ocean breeze prevalent outside the hotel pleased the President. He also enjoyed watching the tall palm trees that surrounded the meeting place as they performed their usual lazy dance, swaying back and forth as if wanting to upstage the rest of the beauty there. The whitest of white sand, gentle waves that highlighted the beginning of an endless ocean, a clear shot at the bottom of Point Loma. San Diego at its best. Historic. Picturesque. Decadent.

“Welcome Mr. President,” said Mr. DiGiorgio, head of DiGiorgio Farms and owner of thousands and thousands of acres of active farmland throughout California and other parts of the world.

“Thank you, Frank. Thank you for the invitation,” replied Mr. Bush.

As the President and his wife Laura made their way to the center of Windsor Lawn and Cottage – an area where the manicured turf seemed better suited for the greens at Torrey Pines than for an outdoor reception area – a large mariachi band began to play the usual most-requested songs by non-Mexicans: “Cielito Lindo,” “Guantanamera,” “Vaya con Dios.”

“Gracias muchachos,” said Mr. Bush as he went past the band.

“Isn’t Coronado beautiful?” asked Mr. DiGiorgio as he and his wife Ana Maria and the Bushes sat down at a bright white, highly detailed, ornamental iron outdoor table.

“Please call me George, Frank,” replied the President. “Yes, it’s beautiful.”

“Thank you, George,” Mr. DiGiorgio replied. “I know you don’t have a lot of time so I am going to cut to the chase.”

“I will always have time for you, Frank,” said the President. “But, I appreciate your concern. What can I do for you?”

“I need you to maintain the status quo in the immigration issue, George.”

“What do you mean by status quo,” asked the President.

“Business as usual,” Frank replied. “No amnesty, no guest worker program, no border walls, and no more scare tactics that might discourage others from coming to America.”

“You mean no reform, Frank?”

“No reform. Business as usual,” replied Frank.

“That would be political suicide,” Mr. Bush said. “Among my promises as a President is to do something about guarding our borders and to fix the illegal immigration problem.”

“With all due respect, Mr. President, you might have already committed some sort of political suicide,” Frank explained. He no longer called him George and there was a change of tone in his voice.

“At the end of the day,” Frank added, “you are probably going to be the loser in this immigration reform mess. You are going to be scorned by your own party for giving too much to the illegals and you are going to be hated by the Mexicans for not doing enough for them. The democrats are going to look like the real heroes.”

“So how are things going to be better off with the status quo, Frank?” the President asked.

“Business as usual is a lot better than the mess we’re getting into,” Frank responded.

“I somewhat agree with you, Frank, but I still feel that we must fix the immigration problem.”

“Again, with all due respect Mr. President, there is no practical solution to this mess,” Frank added. “On the other hand, if you were to announce that you would no longer be involved in immigration reform talks because the discussion was not leading to workable solutions that would be welcomed by all parties involved, I believe you would turn a bad situation into a favorable one.”

“What if I decided to continue to try to find solutions to the problem, Frank? What would be the consequences?”

“It would be hell, Mr. President. Business people like me and many others would suffer. America would suffer,” Frank explained. “If people that work for me were to legalize their residency status, they would be free to leave our farms to go work at other places that offered higher pay, because they would no longer need our protection. And if that were the case, where would we get our workers? Who would pick America’s crops?”

“What do you mean by protection, Frank?” asked the President.

“Protection from bad contractors, from scammers, from Border Patrol raids,” Mr. President. “And at our farms, we have always provided other benefits, too, like room and board for most of them, medical attention if they are injured on the job and year-round employment.”

“Do I understand correctly? You hire illegal aliens, Frank?” the President asked.

“Yes, we do,” Frank responded. “But, we all hire illegals, if it makes sense. For certain kind of work we have to use them. As you well know, our profit margins are so small that we have no other choice. We have to do so to survive.”

Except for a short period during the Great Depression, DiGiorgio, Inc. had used mostly Mexican labor to work their farms since the turn of the Twentieth Century. Frank DiGiorgio was the direct descendant of Carlo DiGiorgio, the man who turned a couple of hundred acres of desert land in California’s Imperial Valley into an international farming conglomerate.

“To go back to your earlier question about consequences, it would be hell, Mr. President,” Frank continued. “And let’s say that some of these legalized workers opted for staying with us. What would happen next? I know what would happen: Before long, they would be asking for health insurance. For paid vacations. For overtime pay. It would be hell, Mr. President!”

“I’ll see what I can do, Frank,” Mr. Bush replied as he turned to his wife and asked her: “Do you think this mariachi can play our music, Laura?”

“What music, George?”

“You know, dancing stuff,” the President replied. “The Texas Two-Step.”

 

Categories
Commentary Stories

Ed Rasimus, Fighter pilot

 

IMAGE: Ed Rasimus during a book signing event at the Dallas Museum of Flight, 2011, Love Field, Dallas, Texas.

 

A MEMORIAL DAY’S REMEMBRANCE: A HERO’S BURIAL

Approximately four years ago, Ed Rasimus was buried at Arlington National Cemetery. It was a solemn occasion, with military honors, with family and friends, and an act that included the throwing of nickels on the grass to “save a fighter pilot’s ass.” Unfortunately I wasn’t able to go, but his wife Carol was there, along with a cadre of Air Force buddies whose jobs of yesteryear involved the hurling of explosives to the ground and picking aerial dog fights with the enemy’s flying machines.

For those interested on viewing the events of that day, please click on the link below. It’s a video of the ceremony and the act that followed at the O-Club: the singing of “The Balls of O’Leary” by Ed’s friends of yore. Don’t know the name of the person that produced the video, but it was posted on Ed’s Facebook page by James Gundel.

Edward J. Rasimus, our friend, was a retired fighter pilot and the author of three books about the Vietnam conflict. He co-authored the last one, “Fighter Pilot,” the bio of legendary ace Robin Olds. Robin and daughter Christina were the other co-authors of that book. Ed flew over two hundred and fifty combat missions during two tours in Southeast Asia. I met him in Spain, near Madrid, at the 613th Tactical Fighter Squadron. He was the Ops Officer then; I was a WSO, a backseater, in the F-4 (a dual seat fighter jet also known as Phantom II or Big Ugly). I flew with him on several occasions, at Torrejon Air Base and at other NATO outposts. Also had the pleasure of parting bread with him and, of course, a few tequilas. He knew about chow, about wine and about enjoying life to the fullest. He was classy, too. I learned a lot from him. About a lot of things. He was a good soldier, a good man.

Some twenty years later, when I lived in San Diego, California, I stumbled upon a book on the shelf of a Super Crown bookstore in La Jolla. The book was called “Fast Movers;” it was written by John Darrell Sherwood. Before browsing its pages, I had the premonition of finding something about Ed in that book. Don’t know why.

But I sure did. His name was printed first on the table of contents. It read, “Chapter 2: 100 Missions North. Ed Rasimus and the F-105 Experience. Page 38. What a find. In that chapter, the author writes about First Lieutenant Ed Rasimus, sitting at the O-Club at Travis AFB on his way to Vietnam. And talks about Ed’s background, his training and about his fears. Wanna know the rest? You gotta read that book.

For now let me just tell you that “Ras,” as we called him then, was one of a kind, not just a fighter pilot. He was a leader, of all of us, the airmen that flew with him. The ones that parted bread with him and learned from that master that the final mission in life is often never planned.

Boy, we really miss Ed and his teachings. Rest in peace, sir.

https://www.youtube.com/embed/iHaoUlMam80?&autoplay=1&showsearch=0&rel=0feature=player_detailpage

AUTHOR: Pedro Chávez

 

Categories
Commentary Opinion

Government of the People

Embedded in our declaration of independence is the principle that we the people hire the government to protect our lives and our property. In a sense, we employ the men and women in public offices: the elected officials and everyone else. They all work for us.

Governments are instituted by us says our own magna carta. Those public entities in charge derive their just powers from the consent of the governed, us, so we may be able to seek life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

In today’s United States of America that inherent right of the people has been progressively usurped from us, as the folks that we hired to run the joint have become less of an employee and more of an owner. That cannot be. We the people are the ones in charge.

Therefore, let it be known that henceforth, no scoundrel, no circus barker, no reality TV showman, no liar, no fake rich man and his beholden flock or a scum bag anointed by special interests, will be allowed to lead our nation. Nor will we allow others of his kind (like those making their dwelling in the halls of congress), to try to curtail the rights that are inherent to us.

We are the people. We’re the employers of everyone in government; we’re the ones who hired them and can fire them. And if they do wrong, we will do just that. Unless, of course, they decide to mend their evil ways and trek back to the place selected for them by our founding fathers. So they can begin to serve the people again. The way it was supposed to be at the beginning.

 

AUTHOR: Pedro Chávez

Categories
Commentary Stories

Virtual Fence, a Border Tale

IMAGE: Border patrolman opens gate to a dirt road next to the Mexico-United States border fence.

 

NOTE: The following piece is one of several fiction stories that I called “Border Tales” when they were first written. I began creating them in 2006. The topics are based on events that were current at that time. Unfortunately, the problems aired then are still with us today. The writing is based on real dilemmas that affect us all. It is work of fiction. Names, characters, places, events and incidents are products of my imagination. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.

 

VIRTUAL FENCE

National City, California. Circa 2006.

 

“Why do you say it’s not a real fence?” asked Carlos.

“Because it isn’t,” answered Jeff, an agent with the Border Patrol. “It’s just a virtual fence, you know, a sort of make-believe fence that is real, but it isn’t.”

“Whoa! Whoa! Whoa! Make believe? Real, but not real? C’mon man!” Carlos still did not understand what Jeff was talking about.

“Ok, Carlos,” Jeff replied. “I said sort of make believe. I should’ve said a fence that is there, but it’s not really physically there.”

“You mean, like an invisible fence?” Carlos asked.

“Yes, that’s it, like an invisible fence,” Jeff replied. “But one that will help us stop illegals from crossing the border.”

Both Jeff and Carlos lived in an apartment complex on the east end of National City, not too far from the San Diego-Tijuana border. The people that rented the apartments were mostly connected with the Navy or the Border Patrol. The proximity to the military installations and the border area made it convenient for them to live there.

“I think I get it, now,” Carlos said. “The fence is not really a fence; it’s really a line on the ground telling people not to cross it. You know? A line, like those imaginary and invisible lines we used to point to with our fingers to tell others not to cross them when we were kids?”

“And if they crossed them, we’d kick their butts,” Jeff corroborated. “Yeah, the virtual fence is basically the same thing, but on a much larger scale, of course.”

The fence that they were both discussing was, according to the government and other folks in favor of it, an electronic tracking mix of devices that was to be built along the Mexico-U.S. border to warn the border patrolmen of possible incursions of unidentified objects and people coming from Mexico. The ploy had been pushed by a number of congressmen and senators with close ties to government contractors who had built a number of these gadgets to be used in war operations. Some of the devices were judged to be at best faulty, after having been tested in actual war, but were still being described as cutting edge technology by the contractors and their insider allies – the spineless folks we often vote for to protect our rights and our money in the halls of the nation’s Capitol.

“So how does this virtual fence work?” Carlos asked.

“I don’t know for sure,” Jeff said, “because we don’t have it yet. But, from what I understand, once in place, the virtual border fence will track the illegals as they enter our territory.”

“For how long?” Carlos asked.

“For a little while,” Jeff replied. “But, hopefully, we’ll be able to catch them while they’re being tracked.”

“What if they get out of range from the tracking system or what if more illegals than you and your partners can catch come across at the same time? What do you do then?” Carlos continued his questioning, playing, as he often did, the Devil’s advocate.

“Then is business as usual,” said Jeff. “That’s what we do now when we’re overrun by too many crossers. We just catch as many as we can and hope that the rest can be caught later on at work sites.”

“You mean, during your show of force raids?” asked Carlos.

“Yeah, Carlos, during our workplace raids,” Jeff replied, sounding somewhat upset. “Yeah, the raids, the ones you call ‘chicken shit raping’ of your people.”

Carlos had been in the Navy for over three hitches and was currently assigned to a ship based at the 32nd Street Naval Base in National City. Originally from Mexico, Carlos was a naturalized U.S. citizen who hadn’t forgotten his roots or wasn’t afraid to rally for the rights of what he often called his brothers and sisters that crossed the border looking for work. While living at the apartment complex, he repeatedly discussed the issues affecting the undocumented with many of the border patrolmen that also lived there. During some of these discussions, sometimes under the influence of mind altering malts and spirits, Carlos had become acquainted with some the joys and fears that filled the cop-like minds of his green-uniformed neighbors. Most of the border patrolmen liked Carlos, though, especially those that praised the food that both he and his wife prepared for the weekly by-the-pool potluck parties. They also liked his sense of humor and his ability to deflate heated discussions with his timely one-liners.

“Okay, Jeff, I won’t mention the raids to you anymore,” said Carlos, displaying his usual disarming grin as he mimicked the arm movements that normally adorn a heartfelt hug. “That’s my virtual abrazo, Jeff,” he added.

Jeff laughed, but insisted on talking about the recent raids the Border Patrol had made on several day-laborer centers in San Diego. “It’s our job,” he said. “We need to show the illegals that we mean business.”

“You mean business as usual, right, Jeff?” Carlos told his friend. “You know, a few mean raids that scare our people half-to-death, as you guys, the enforcers, just go on with your own lives while most of those living in the shadows of what many call legitimacy, suffer from never-ending traumas caused by the ever present fear of not knowing when the next raid is going to come about. Right, Jeff?

“C’mon, Carlos, you’re getting too damned serious,” his neighbor replied.

“Serious? You damned right I’m serious! You’re killing my brothers and sisters, Jeff,” said Carlos. “With fear, with family separation, with uncertainty. Your actions are no different than those taken by our government during the Viet Nam war, when we dropped napalm and cluster bombs on innocent civilians, on children. Remember that little girl in that infamous photograph? That little Vietnamese girl that had to get rid of her napalm stricken clothes and ran naked away from her burning village? Remember? She was an innocent child. Remember her, Jeff?”

“I don’t. I’m too young. It happened before my time.”

“But, it happened, Jeff,” Carlos replied. “And there’s nothing virtual about that reality. Or about the Border Patrol raids and fear tactics I’m talking about. And all the other acts that you and your buddies carry out with the excuse of protecting our borders. They’re real, Jeff. And just as bad as what our government did in Viet Nam.”

“Why are you so serious today, Carlos?” asked Jeff. “What happened to your sense of humor?”

“My sense of humor?” Carlos replied.

“Just call it virtual, just like your fence. It’s there, but it’s not really there.”

 

AUTHOR: Pedro Chávez

 

Categories
Anecdotes Commentary

An Early Menudo Treat at Strawberry

PHOTO: Strawberry Lodge, about half an hour west of Lake Tahoe (in northern California).

 

It was a weekend trip to a large mountain cabin at Strawberry, a point on the map on the east side of Kyburz, on California’s highway 50, less than an hour away from Lake Tahoe. Most of us in the Chavez clan signed up for the trip. Some of us came along for the hiking and to do family things. A few had the intention of making a trek to the casinos on the Nevada side of Lake Tahoe.

Granddaughter Elisa, our mother Lydia, and granddaughter Connie, at our mother’s home in Stockton, California.

Our mother came along too. The lure of the Nevada casinos was too much. She loved pulling the handles on the one-armed-bandits, always hoping to beat the house. Sometimes she did. She also came for the family fun and to breathe the mountain air. And to cook. She loved to cook.

She brought along a large pot, beef tripe, and all the ingredients to make and serve “menudo.” No one paid much attention to the trappings she had brought with her until our first night at the cabin. Sometime before midnight, our mother cleaned up the tripe, threw it in the pot, added a few spices, and began to slow cook the concoction.

As the night progressed and the menudo began to release a pungent stench that permeated every nook and cranny of the cabin, many of us complained, including me. It was a strong smell. Every hour or so, though, our mother would get up and stir the pot. During her last foray, she added hominy to the soup. Don’t know when, but before the morning sunrays lighted up the cabin, the menudo was done.

DIDN”T MIND HAVING FUN. Our mother with grandson Al, in a store in Old Sacramento, California, sometime in the late nineteen eighties.

By the time we got up, our mother had already set up the large kitchen table. There was a pile of bowls on it. There was also a pile of large spoons and all the trimmings required to go with that feast. Warm corn tortillas, chiltepines, oregano, diced onions, and slices of lime. She had also brewed a large pot of coffee. No one complained about the smell, then. It was a great breakfast.

That’s how our mother was. She loved to cook for all of us, and to make us happy in her own way. She also loved seeing us together, enjoying life and sharing with each other our joy. During special occasions, we all trekked to her house and played and celebrated at her place. We ate her food and the one prepared sometimes by other members of our clan and had fun there. We yelled and caroused and did more yelling and in between that fun filled time we ate and ate again. Our mother, even after turning eighty and becoming the target of the slings and arrows flung by old age, she tried her best to keep tasty treats awaiting our visits. She did a good job doing what she loved.

We also trekked to our mom’s house at other times. It was good being with her. The food was good too. For those of us that loved that Mexican staple called menudo, no restaurant in the world will ever match the taste, the look and the trimmings of her version of the centuries old delicacy she served us. She stored the previously cooked menudo in small plastic containers in a freezer in her backyard. Our job was to retrieve a container or two from that hiding place and bring it or them to her kitchen. She would then take over and heat up the concoction, add hominy and lots of love to it. She would then cut up limes, cilantro and green onions and place them on a plate. On different containers she would bring us oregano and hot sauce. The red stuff, like the one she learned to prepare in her native state of Michoacán. By the way, we weren’t allowed to help her prepare the meal. That was her duty, she often repeated it. Our job was to eat it, enjoy it and have fun at her place.

We did. Over and over again.

NOTE: Our mother, Lydia García de Chávez, passed away nine years ago, on Valentine’s Day 2008. She was eighty-one years old at the time. I write this anecdote to celebrate her life and to tell the world about her and her cooking. She was good. Really good. A strict, but loving mom who kept us on track and taught us the great value of getting an education. She pushed us, loved us and kept us together. We got a great start in life because of her doings. As I mentioned before, she was good. And still is.

 

Categories
Commentary Opinion

Heartbreaking Time in America

 

Friday, January 20, 2017, borrowing from FDR’s enduring words, shall also be “a date which will live in infamy.” On that day, a reality television showman, a snake oil salesman who promoted himself by tapping into the hidden rancor of the ignorant voter, the uninformed, will become the next president of the United States.

The date will be a heartbreaking time in America. For me, for many others. It will also be the beginning of an era that shall forever blemish our tradition of being a place for all of the people and a beacon of hope for the world’s masses seeking to breathe free. The nation founded on the principles of justice for all and the belief that all men and women are created equal, will be forever tarnished by the unhinged decisions of a tendentious, petty and know nothing leader.

Judging by his previous and current statements and actions, his presidency will test the American Union’s aged, but until now sound system of checks and balances; a blueprint that has held our nation together for more than two hundred and forty years. But if the majority in the three branches of government is soon anchored by followers of the party that nominated the president-elect, that time-tested scheme might falter.

America the beautiful, for sure, will flounder under the rule of a man who claims that only he knows how to fix the flaws in our government. That no one else does.

Our country will suffer, there is no doubt. My ardent hope is that the elected representatives of the people and others in the halls of political power do not give in to the fastidious and authoritarian ways of the president to be. That they say no when required to a man that has demonstrated during the campaign trail and now that he knows little about the workings of government, at home or abroad.

I hope too that all Americans rise to the occasion and pressure Congress and the courts to protect us all from the potential machinations patented by a man who seems more comfortable picking fights on Twitter than in caring for the people he’s about to represent. A man whose track record paints him as someone who cares about no one except himself. One, too, that respects no one. Not women, not men, not the poor, the downtrodden. Not minorities, not the disabled, not our heroes.

The election of Donald Trump to be our president is an aberration, a quirk, and a great mistake. He was elected with less than the popular vote received by his main opponent, but had sufficient electoral votes to be declared the winner of the race. In a nation of laws we must respect that outcome and support the office of the presidency accordingly.

It doesn’t mean, however, that in my heart I must support a man better known for being a circus barker, a promoter of ill will, and a distorter of facts. A man who has claimed that a person of Mexican descent cannot be a fair judge just because he, candidate Trump, was going to build a wall between Mexico and the United States. No, I cannot support that person. In my heart it will always be:

Never, Never Trump.

 

AUTHOR: Pedro Chávez

 

Categories
Anecdotes Commentary

New York, New York

IMAGE: Visitors take photos with the charging bull during a cold day in Wall Street.

 

Going to New York in the middle of December was a no brainer to me. But not to my wife. She feared that Manhattan would be cold and miserable at that time of the year and was also afraid that all of us would get stuck in a small room with nothing to do and unable to do much outside because of snow and bad weather. She also worried about not returning home on time because of cancelled flights.

“I don’t know why we have to go there now,” she complained a few weeks before leaving.

Playing for change in Central Park

I wanted her, our twenty-something daughter, and me to experience the Christmas season in the city that never sleeps. I planned to show them around during such a special time. I had been in New York before on several occasions, for business; they had never been there.

It was a good thing that we all went. They both loved it. My wife hasn’t stopped talking about the trip with friends and family and she’s already planning to spend the New Year’s Eve celebration there next December.

Makes sense. We had a ball during our short, five-day visit to that magic, ethnically diverse and sophisticated metropolis. We were there from December twelve to the sixteenth. It was cold, no doubt, especially on the last two days of our stay, but it was fun. We had a fairytale kind of time there, quartered in a small, but cozy airbnb studio in the proximity of 53rd street and Second Avenue, living the life that mostly dreams provide. And near almost everything. On foot, on Uber or the subway.

Nani serving hot dogs and pretzels near Rockefeller Center.

Gotta hand it to airbnb for providing the means for finding economical and convenient lodging all over the globe. That alternative way of securing a place to stay works for me. Instead of having to pay a ton of money for a small, often smoke tainted room in some chain hotel in Manhattan, we got a nice studio near everything, with plenty room, a kitchen, a fridge, plates and wine glasses. And lots of coziness, for close to the same price.

The host, or perhaps the previous tenant, left a six-pack of beer in the fridge. That was nice. It feels good to down suds after a long flight and a ride from the airport.

New York, however, is not about spending your vacation time stuck in a room. The stay in it was good, though. While there, we had wine and cheese one night along with pizza. On another evening, we enjoyed Chinese take out and ramen from neighborhood joints. I was also sent out (by wife and daughter) to fetch breakfast, fresh morning bread and (on one night) microwavable popcorn from a CVS nearby.

We also ate out. It was fun. Pizza on the first night. Italian two days later. I know, we had too much of the same thing. But hey, that kind of chow is great in New York. It’s hard not to have it at least twice.

We did a lot during our visit. Our daughter was our guide. Young people are good at that, I must admit; all they need is a cell phone and the fingers to do the walking (much, much faster than in the old yellow pages days). It’s amazing; kids can find anything via those darn wireless and magically connected thingamajigs. She found restaurants, places of interest, transportation and much more just clicking on that phone. That’s why we were able to do a lot. Thank you daughter.

In just four days we managed to check mark many bucket list items, the must do things of life. Went to the Rock and up the 65th floor and from that vantage point got to admire the city’s skyline at night. I had a rum and coke at the bar of that place. Pricey, but worth every penny. My ears, by the way, are still popping from that quick rise in the Rock’s elevator. Just kidding.

Saw the NBC studio (from the outside) on our first night; it was being prepared for the following morning’s Today Show. That was fun too, especially for my wife. She bought a couple of pastries at the Bouchon Bakery right across the place. The next morning, while relaxing in our room, we noticed the notable bakeshop in the background in one of the scenes of that day’s show with Hoda and Kathie.

World Trade Center Memorial.

It was a great trip. We followed trail after trail in Central Park and walked quietly in the halls of the New York Public Library. Went to the Metropolitan Museum and were awed by its art collections from all over the world. Saw the Christmas Spectacular show performed by the Rockettes at Radio City Music Hall. Spent an evening at Times Square. Visited stores and ate in small cafes, in the street. Saw the city; felt its vibrancy.

It was a happy time. It was also a time of reflection. On Thursday, the coldest day of our stay, we visited the World Trade Center Memorial. Seeing the names of the fallen carved on stones brought back memories of a time of despair and human suffering. But also of uncompromising resolute to move on and continue to fight for the ideals that have made this country a beacon of hope and freedom.

Statue of Liberty as viewed from the south of Manhattan.

After leaving the Memorial, we walked towards the south, past Wall Street’s charging bull, and to a small park next to the bay. From there we saw the Statue of Liberty. It was far away, but the silhouette was conspicuous. A great dame lifting her lamp welcoming the world’s people to New York and America.

 

AUTHOR: Pedro Chávez

Categories
Commentary Tales

President Trump: A One-Man Wrecking Crew

 

IMAGE: A street in New York, sometime in the winter of 2019. Themexicannextdoor art by Rebeka Schoffer.

 

NOTE: This tale of an imaginary world with Trump as President was first published on November 7, 2016, a day before the general election. Some facts have changed, but the probability of an ominous future still looms.

 

A TALE OF A PRESIDENT GONE BERSERK

It was the winter of 2019. Donald Trump had already been the president of the United States for close to three years. But he was about to be impeached, in absentia, because he was nowhere to be found. For more than a year he had been trying to run the country from a hiding place through members of his family and a few underlings. Most people thought he was in New York, in some underground tunnels. It was believed too, though it was mostly hearsay, that he feared for his life and that the paranoid traits that he had shown during the presidential campaign were nothing compared to the psychological mess that he had become. He suffered a severe mental disorder, some close anonymous associates mentioned to the press. His speech and his behavior, they added, were disorganized and he was often the subject of delusions and hallucinations.

Trump had won the presidency because of a fluke. Although early on in the campaign he lagged behind his opponent, Hillary Clinton, on different national polls and was not projected to win the election in November of 2016, he won it in a bizarre way. Though Clinton won the national popular vote and Trump won many key states, neither one received the 270 Electoral College votes required to be elected president. Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson, who won a small state as a third party nominee, can probably be blamed for the fluke.

Due to the lack of a majority of electoral votes for any of the candidates, the House of Representatives decided the selection of the president. Members of that legislative body voted for Trump just a few days prior to the January 20, 2017 oath of office ceremony in Washington, DC. Three months after he became president, those in the House that sided with Trump wished they had not done so.

President Trump quickly became a one-man wrecking crew, at home and abroad. On the same day that he took the oath of office, he signed his first executive order, ending the nation’s participation in the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). A day later, Trump ordered the dismantling of the Affordable Care Act. Other executive orders followed quickly.

Without consulting with Congress or the Pentagon, he broke ties with NATO and ordered the complete pullout of American troops from the European theatre. A few days later Trump signed an order to also pull out troops from many strategic outposts in the Pacific Rim and the Asian theatre. The Defense Department generals were flabbergasted.

“America will no longer pay for the defense of other nations,” said President Trump on a tweet.

Congress immediately filed suits in federal courts to stop some of the actions called for by the stream of executive orders. Sadly, before any court could issue stays on key defense related matters, American troops began to arrive to the mainland from their worldwide military bases. Those soldiers, along with thousands and thousands of dependents, quickly overwhelmed most military installations in the United States. Once those domestic defense posts were filled to capacity, soldiers and their families were forced to live in hotels and other temporary quarters.

To make matters worse, the schools that served those bases were also overwhelmed by the needs of the newcomers. Because there were not enough classrooms for all the new students, many of those dependent children had to be bused to schools in far away districts. It was a mess.

The biggest problem related to this redeployment of troops had to do with finding work for all those unneeded soldiers, airmen, and sailors. There were no chores for them to do and instead of dedicating their time to doing what they had learned during their military careers, they passed the hours of the day doing nothing. Eventually, some of them were used to work in mess halls and military hospitals or other service oriented facilities, putting out of work the civilians that had previously done those jobs.

By the end of the third month of being immersed in this boondoggle, Trump signed an executive order to cut the size of the military by half. Congress stopped him, though. That body of government was able to get a stay of execution from the courts, postponing, in a way, the reduction in force. Most troops, however, still lived off base, in temporary shelters. The civilians whose jobs were now being done by servicemen, were mostly unemployed or scratching a living with the meager income derived from doing odd jobs. Some survived off the benefits of unemployment insurance.

THE CHINA SYNDROME

During his second week as president, Trump announced that all trade deals with China would be abrogated immediately, although some clauses in the agreements did not allow for the instantaneous cancelation of those pacts. He followed his announcement with an executive order revoking all previous trade accords with the world’s second largest economy. He also warned American companies that all products imported from China would be subject to newly created tariffs.

Though most Americans were beginning to get used to Trump’s capriciousness, his arbitrary tendencies, and the inordinate number of executive orders signed on an almost everyday basis, the abrogation of all China deals was seen as an ominous sign by corporate America. They would not allow such irresponsible mandates to take place, leaders of many global companies said.

By the beginning of March 2017, relations with China had already derailed and were heading towards a point of no return. The Asian nation was caught off guard; its leaders had believed that Trump’s bombastic presidential campaign messages about trade and other matters were just part of the showman’s scheme to attract support for his make America great promise.

In an act of retaliation for the trade actions, China began to demand the immediate repayment of the $1.5 trillion debt owed to that Asian nation, mainly by the U.S. federal government. Trump balked and stated through a tweet that the terms of all of America’s debt would be analyzed and more than likely would be renegotiated with all the lenders.

As accusations and unrelenting allegations were heard from the leaders of both nations, China’s economy continued to unravel. It had already been suffering from a series of adjustments prior to Trump shutting off most trade with that country, but the convoluted situation became worse once thousands of its factories were forced to stop production. Workers were laid off and soon began to feel the outrageous pains of an economy gone bad. To make matters worse, China, the communist nation that for decades had flirted with capitalism, did not have viable mechanisms in place to deal with an economic downturn. The precarious condition was further thrown into a downward spiral by civil discontent and unending violent unrest.

THE RUSSIAN BEAR AWAKENS

Once the United States completed its military pullout from NATO, Vladimir Putin’s Russia began to flex its warmongering muscle and again threatened the old continent and its balance of power. Russia’s push to regain strongholds in past Soviet nations, though, were immediately met by strong opposition from Western Europe. It responded by forming a new defense pact that united most nations, including France and Great Britain. It wasn’t a strong union, but it was good enough to eventually nip Russia’s thirst for power and continental hegemony in the bud. Putin was told in an ultimatum that there would be serious consequences if Russia continued its belligerent push in the continent.

Putin answered back claiming that his country’s new generation of nuclear missiles nicknamed “Satan 2”, could wipe out Western Europe on a heartbeat. But, it was a bluff that didn’t work. Vladimir was told with few words that the new continental union was ready to preemptively launch a nuclear attack against Russia if it was deemed necessary. “We’re ready to die to preserve our liberty,” the leaders of the new European defense union said in a statement.

The threat worked and Putin halted for the time being his belligerent actions in the European theatre. It was a sort of new détente, similar to the one forged by the world’s two superpowers during the Cold War. In an unspoken way, Russia would be allowed to practice its warmongering in other parts of the world as long as those actions did not affect the interests of the nations in the new European union.

Taking advantage of the absence of America’s military presence in the Middle East and Africa, Putin decided to direct his military quests in those regions instead. He partnered with one Arab nation after another, promising security, peace and wealth for the region, while placing in harm’s way the lives of hundreds of thousands of Russian soldiers. By early 2019, Putin and a few Machiavellian Arab dictators managed to exterminate most revolutionary combatants, including all ISIS forces. But millions of innocent people also died, some of them caught in the crossfire, others annihilated by the ruthless new rulers of the region.

Bitten by the bug of waging war and building strategic global outposts, Russia decided to continue its military undertakings in Northern Africa. It was a natural choice for Putin. It was next to the Middle East, it had oil, and was basically defenseless. The area would also, Vladimir thought, provide a vantage point for Russia to eventually conquer the rest of the world.

But he had forgotten about taking care of something very important: The home front. Russians were turning on him. The masses of parents of the thousands of soldiers who had come home in coffins from foreign wars had had enough of Vladimir Putin. Times weren’t good either. While he was waging war and looking for global hegemony, his country’s economy was falling apart. Self imposed isolationism and decreased commercial international trade had taken its toll on Russia and its people. Just like other rapacious and predatory warmongers found in the annals of world history, Putin failed miserably in his attempt for world dominance and as political leader. A few days before he was supposed to land troops in Africa, he was deposed as president of the Russian Federation.

Once Putin was gone, Russia, the old bastion of communism and former head of the Soviet empire, had become a house of cards. Though the nation had once had a large economy, it lacked the nuts and bolts that provide the checks and balances in a capitalist world. It spent too much on defense efforts and weaponry and very little on finding ways to create jobs and feed its people. On top of that, the country was jam-packed with swindlers and corrupt government officials that stole the people’s money at every turn. It was a sad time in Russia. And just like in China, violent civil unrest kept sinking the nation into an apocalyptic total destruction.

THE CANADA-MEXICO AND LATIN AMERICAN ALLIANCE

The dissolution of NAFTA became a blessing in disguise for Mexico, Canada and a host of Latin American nations. Soon after Trump announced that the United States would no longer participate in the North America Free Trade Agreement, Canadian and Mexican representatives met to find ways to continue to work together as trading partners. They were later joined by envoys of global companies that were already involved in doing business in Mexico and Canada. An agreement was soon reached and by the middle of the summer of 2017, those initial talks had evolved into an innovative and visionary plan that included creating jobs in Latin America and growing viable consumer markets in many of its countries.

Like all plans that offer much, but deliver little, the deal reached in that first attempt to partner with a group of nations that until then had been overlooked, was at first sight nothing more than a utopian dream. But once put in place, it wasn’t really so. The plan made sense and offered a rational strategy to attain long-term economic growth. It also offered a welcome ray of hope and enticed the minds and vigor of millions of people of a vast continent who were fully committed to work hard and judiciously to make the arrangement successful.

Like most strokes of luck, the plan was the result circumstances and timing. Mexico and Canada had to find a way to continue the economic growth afforded by NAFTA. American multinationals had to find ways to serve other markets in case the U.S. economy went south under Trump. Most of the global corporate entities that participated in the meetings already had a manufacturing presence in Mexico. They knew the ropes and understood well the opportunities at hand.

Just like planned, a year later a consortium of large construction companies was plowing through the Darien jungles, building a highway that would for the first time connect the north with the south of the American continent. To build the road, the consortium used local labor and provided opportunities to local professionals with the appropriate know how and others from the local labor force, so they could benefit from the project. It was a win-win plan.

To insure safety for the visiting workers, the manufacturing plants and other workplaces, Mexico and other Latin American countries in the compact allowed the creation of a private security police force. It was made up of professionally trained officers from all the participating nations in the alliance. Just six months after its inception, crime in most countries decreased and took a turn for the better.

By the beginning of the year 2019, economic growth in Mexico and some nations in Central America had done so well that many of the undocumented immigrants in the Unites States had decided to go back to their places of birth. Jobs were blooming in those countries. It made no sense to live in the shadows in America anymore.

SOUTH KOREA TAKES ON THE NORTH, CHINA AND RUSSIA

Once Trump’s America left South Korea to fend for itself, the nut case that led North Korea, Kim Jong-un, decided to escalate his threats to the nation to the south. He launched rockets into the ocean and repeatedly made claims of having nukes that could destroy many nations along the western end of the Pacific Rim. Those were old threats and shows of force that the United States had not in the past countered with ultimatums or actions for fear of upsetting China or Russia. South Korea, however, now that it was left to defend itself, decided to do something about the ongoing threat from the kid-turned-dictator from the north.

Fortunately, South Korea already had an operational squadron of Lockheed Martin F-35 Lighting II fighter planes. It had received the first shipment of those advanced air and ground superiority supersonic aircraft a few months before Trump decided to pull American troops from that country. They were stealth planes with leading edge technology that could help them penetrate the most well guarded sites of any country on earth. South Koreans were proud of having such planes at their disposal and were ready to use them if needed. As mentioned before, unlike the United States, South Korea decided to neutralize the child-dictator from the north.

Less than a month after U.S. forces left the country, South Korea was ready to invade the north and capture Kim Jong-un dead or alive. It hired mercenaries, mostly former U.S. Navy seals trained for such missions, and an array of professional (former) soldiers with only one objective in mind: get the job done. It also employed the services of battle planners from different countries whose skills in military secret operations had been well documented in the annals of such undertakings.

On the day South Korea was about to launch its mission to find Kim Jung-un, it sent a message to both China and Russia. The missive was explicit. “We’re in our way to destroy all missile sites in North Korea and capture that nation’s leader dead or alive. If we perceive that you’ve decided to try to stop us from our objective, we are ready to destroy you, too. We have several fighter airplanes heading your way with nuclear bombs on board.”

The statement about having nukes was true. American forces had left the south in such haste, after being ordered to do so by Trump, that they had decided to retrieve all nuclear bombs from their guarded shelters at a later date. With the help of experts from third countries, South Korea was able to figure out how to enable the bombs for possible detonation.

The mission was successful. Neither Russia or China intervened. Both nations had been caught off guard and had given little validity to the messages sent by South Korea. A day later, however, Kim Jong-un was securely locked up in a cell in the south. It was believed that all weapons and all the military installations in the north had been completely destroyed. As the poem says, there was joy in Mudville that day. In the south and in the north.

APOCALYPSE NOW

In less than three years after taking the oath of office, Donald Trump had turned a great country into a third world nation. The United States and its people were desperately looking for a way out of their misery. The nation was in complete disarray, leaderless and out of control. The economy was in shambles. Jobs were scarce, the soup lines of yesteryear (of the Great Depression) were present again. The affluent society of yore was gone.

America the beautiful, the great, had also become a rats’ nest, a place for thieves and scoundrels that preyed on the have-nots and the weak. The safe country of the old days had disappeared. Most people lived in fear, behind bars in their own homes. It was worse in the streets.

The do-nothing Congress that had plagued the country with inaction for years was still an impotent legislative body of government. Though it claimed it tried, it had been wistfully unable to stop President Trump from ruining the country. Instead of protecting the people from the malicious actions of a president gone berserk, the scoundrels in Congress acted in hideous ways, shunning their responsibilities.

There was no hope in sight. Company after company had already left the country for other places and so had millions of jobs and millions of people. Some went to Europe, others to Canada and even to Mexico. The nation was done.

The reality TV showman from New York who had promised to make America great again, had run the country into the ground.