Categories
Commentary Stories

Reyna Grande Comes to Frisco

IMAGE: Reyna Grande signs books at the Frisco campus of Collin College. Photos by Pedro Chávez

 

Sometimes you get the unexpected. That happened on Tuesday night, September 25th, at the Collin College Conference Center in Frisco, Texas, during a Hispanic Heritage Month event that featured Reyna Grande. She is the author of a couple of novels and the award-winning memoir The Distance Between Us. A sequel to the autobiography, A Dream Called Home, will be released on October 2nd. Her memoir is used widely in schools across the country. She was born in Iguala, Guerrero, Mexico, in 1975.

The event was made possible by the Student Activity Fee Advisory Committee (SAFAC) and the Center for Scholarly and Civic Engagement (CSCE), and was spearheaded by communications studies professor Whitney Pisani. She teaches at the Collin College Plano campus. Professor Pisani had been in contact with Ms. Grande for the past year, trying to find a way to bring her to the school for the speaking engagement. The deal was finally wrapped up about four weeks ago, according to the professor.

It was probably worth the wait, especially for students who read the memoir as part of their class requirements and for others that were present at the event, because Ms. Grande didn’t disappoint. Besides explaining how she ended up coming to the United States as an undocumented immigrant in the mid-nineteen-eighties, she also discussed some of the content of the book The Distance Between Us, and answered a few preselected questions from students. Ms. Grande’s main focus of her talk, though, was about a different kind of distance: the one that divides people.

That was the unexpected part of the presentation. She first mentioned the current “Hispanophobia” that according to her is being promoted by the current administration, vilifying people of Mexican ancestry in the United States. But she also explained that blaming newcomers to the country has been around for a while. She mentioned, as an example, Founding Father Ben Franklin’s fear that German immigrants would not assimilate and President Theodore Roosevelt’s verified anti-immigrant’s beliefs.

“There have been many dark times in our history,” Ms. Grande said as she recalled the discrimination of Irish immigrants, the Chinese Exclusion Act, and the internment of Japanese Americans during the Second World War. But she was also hopeful, mainly about the current state of affairs and name calling that is taking place in some corners of America.

“Fifteen years from now,” she said, “we are going to look back and realize how we came together as a country.”

Ms. Grande is probably right. Judging by the full house of diverse students and others that came to listen to her at the conference center, the inner soul of the country seems to be on the right track. Especially with schools and professors that promote the understanding of other peoples’ cultures and idiosyncrasies, like Collin College and professor Pisani. Institutions and folks that effectively take steps to shorten the distance between us, trying to eradicate misunderstandings, ignorance and other ills that tend to pull us apart.

“I want to be a global citizen,” mentioned Ms. Grande towards the end of her speech. It was another hopeful thought about people and about an often divided world.

“We can come together as a global community,” she added.

 

AUTHOR: Pedro Chávez

 

Categories
Commentary Opinion

Perilous Times, The End Could Be Near

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

 

It is so “1984,” so “Brave New World,” so Nazi Germany. In a way, it’s also “The end is near,” the end of times, Armageddon. But a good chunk of Americans don’t see it that way. They liked what the reality TV showman said before he was elected president and continue to like what he says now. It’s stuff that talks to their core angst, their turbid idiosyncrasies. They also like his bravado, his tough pulpit talk, his trashing of a world they do not fully understand and the subliminal promise for America to return to the way it was when mostly white men ran the joint. His followers hope to soon go back to those days, the good old days.

They like Trump, his Hitler-like charisma, and his disparaging talk about people of color. They also like his dictator-like pseudo qualities and approve of his pursuit to legislate by executive order. They like him, there is no doubt, because they don’t know any better. They’re just ignorant Trump ditto heads. On the other hand, that blind allegiance, which is constantly being fomented by Trump’s incendiary tweets and live comments, is dangerously helping propel our nation into lawlessness. It’s scary.

Many on the Trump camp are okay with his constant lying, too, and his cheating and his alternative reality. Or with his own kind of “newspeak” and “doublethink.” They’re also okay with his caging of the children of asylum seeking immigrants or with his attempts to do away with due process in our legal system. They openly support his “big brother” approach to running the government and his fondness for ruthless dictators from distressed nations. Trump is the ditto heads hero, there is no doubt. They don’t really realize it, but they’re helping destroy America. America the beautiful.

Donald J. Trump, the forty-fifth president of the United States, however, is no hero. Not to me, anyway. He’s a bum. The known facts speak for themselves. Besides being a sociopath and a liar, Trump doesn’t care about anyone but himself. He’s also a narcissist. He loves attention and adulation. He demands trust from those around him, but he trusts no one. My take is that if he were to have a dog, he wouldn’t trust the pet. Trump has no real friends, either, just the convenient type. The dog, if he had one, would be his friend though. Dogs are true friends.

Of course, the psychological quirks of Donald Trump wouldn’t matter much, unless one had a business or personal relationship with him and that stuff got in the way. Unfortunately, his equanimity or lack thereof, is important to all of us, not only in this nation, but throughout the world. Being the president of the most powerful country on the planet requires a great amount of levelheadedness. Trump doesn’t have it and has proven it by his actions on the international stage. He has antagonized our traditional allies and has acted recklessly while dealing with important matters of international stature. He has gone back on his word and has thrown our world’s friends under the proverbial bus. Trump is an idiot, if you were to ask me. No wonder the former secretary of state Rex Tillerson called him “a moron.”

And that is the big problem. A moron is in charge of our nuclear arsenal and our military. Based on what he has done on complex matters, which he mostly doesn’t truly understand, things like trade tariffs and international commerce, how soon will it be before the moron in charge launches an unnecessary warlike action against some country, maybe a nuke, just to satisfy his narcissistic needs?

It’s scary, as I said before.

 

AUTHOR: Pedro Chávez

Categories
Commentary Opinion

Mexico: America’s Second Largest Export Market

IMAGE: Flags from the three NAFTA nations: Canada, Mexico and the United States.

 

The United States needs Mexico just as much as Mexico needs the United States. But few media pundits dwell about it. It’s boring stuff. Besides, it isn’t the kind of content that draws readers to a newspaper, eyes and ears to the TV screen or viewers to a website. The topic isn’t the “if it bleeds it leads” type of news that media folks hunger for. It’s just a reality about an ever-growing symbiotic relationship between two countries next to each other, one rich, the other one not so rich.

Nowadays, when it comes to Mexico or news about Mexicans, most of the coverage is usually tied to the drivel that comes out of Donald Trump’s mouth regarding the Spanish-speaking nation to the south. The common thread in his comments about Mexicans, by the way, is trash talk; the kindling he relies on to fire up his rabid political base. It works for him, there’s no doubt. It helped him launch his successful presidential campaign a couple of years ago, and continues to work for him whenever he needs to resort to a media distraction for political reasons.

Trump is a shrewd guy, that’s for sure; shrewd, as in cagey and conniving, like most snake oil salesmen. And like most sly and underhanded benders of the truth, he often discards the facts and turns to lies to support his bravado. That’s how he’s able to sell his wares to a large segment of America that likes what he says and follow him blindly. It’s sad.

When it comes to Mexico and the Mexicans, though, his uncalled for trash talk and his international trade actions are about to backfire on him. The proverbial you know what is also about to hit the fan. Trump folks in Iowa, Wisconsin, Texas and other states will soon “suffer the slings and arrows of an outrages fortune” because of the trade war started by the quirky and grandstanding president.

Soon after Trump decided to impose a tariff on steel and aluminum imports from Mexico and other countries, the nation to the south retaliated with a twenty percent tariff on pork shoulders and legs. Mexico is the second largest market for U.S. pork exports, by the way, and last year bought about a billion dollars of the product from American suppliers. Talk about Iowa farmers that voted for Trump getting financially hurt if the tariff on pork remains.

More than a friend of America, Mexico is the third largest U.S. trading partner, following China and Canada. It’s also the second largest importer of U.S. goods and services. Canada is the largest. In 2017, Mexico’s imports from the United States reached over $243 billion. Only Canada purchased more that year ($300 billion). China, by the way, America’s largest trading partner, only imported $130 billion in goods and services from the United States in 2017. These figures are based on information published by the U.S. Census Bureau.

If commercial relations between Mexico and its neighbor to the north continue to go sour because of Trump’s actions, the negative economic impact will be monumental. Some states will feel it more than others. Texas, for example, exported over $97 billion to Mexico in 2017. There’s a huge potential “ouch” hovering over the Lone Star State if Trump keeps up his craziness. Wisconsin’s exports to Mexico at $3.2 billion are much smaller, but still significant. Lots of dairy products are sent to Mexico from that state. Corn exports will also get hurt. Last year Mexico imported $19 billion of American corn, but with all the Trump trash talk about NAFTA, Mexicans are turning to South America, mainly Brazil, for some of their corn needs. That’s another big “ouch.” The picture doesn’t look good. It’s really pretty ominous for a lot of farmers and many other hard working Americans.

Trump often exaggerates and lies, but figures don’t. They call it like it is. And like it has been. When it comes to Mexico and Mexicans, many Americans, especially those under the Trumpian spell, need to realize that the nation to the south is not the enemy. It is actually a friend and a needed trading partner.

Pogo, of comic strip fame, summarized well many years ago. The enemy is us. Yes, us, for allowing a boastful reality TV showman to run our country.

 

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 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.

 

Categories
Commentary Tales

The Tireless Honeybees from Mexicali

IMAGES of the bees drawn by a young artist from Hungary, Rebeka Schoffer, for this blog. Art property of Pedro Chávez.

 

During the very, very early 1940s, a group of bugs (dragonflies, cicadas, and butterflies) came to Mexicali to invite that valley’s honeybee swarms to come and help pollinate the farm fields across the border. Their own bees had been recruited to go fight the Big Bug War, across the big pond, and for a while now most of that farmland had been without the services of those flying insects whose expertise was needed to spread around the pollen. The Mexicali honeybees had been known to work hard and for long hours, just like all the other bees in Mexico.

The Mexicali bees declined the offer from the American bugs. They said that they were happy spreading pollen in their own valley’s cotton fields.

“But that work doesn’t last very long,” the bugs from the north replied. “Once the cotton blooms, you have no work left to do.”

In a way, the bugs from the American side (Imperial Valley) were incorrect. The bees had plenty chores to do throughout the year in that area on the Mexican side. After the work ended in the cotton fields, the bees continued their pollinating activities on fig and pomegranate trees, on grape vines and “nopaleras” (gatherings of cactuses) that grew everywhere.bee-2

On the other hand, the bugs were also somewhat correct. The fertile valley on the American side was flush with all types of crops. Besides a few cotton fields, in that land were cultivated carrots, tomatoes, oranges, wheat, barley, lettuce, and many, many other farm products. It had year-round work.

Due to the nagging and persistent insistence from the bugs from the north, the bees from Mexicali eventually agreed to help them pollinate their fields. A few days later, in early spring, thousands and thousands of bees, accompanied by their appropriate queens, left their hives behind and flew north. At one point, as they continued their aerial exodus, the massive amount of bee swarms darkened the sky over the then meager border fence.

Once at their destination, the bees went right to work. They carried pollen from here, from there and tirelessly took it to other plants all over that land. A few days after their arrival, the fields in that valley regained their color and by the beginning of summer, the fruit grown on that earth showed the results of the hard work done by the Mexicali bees. The watermelons were huge and so was the grapefruit. The cantaloupes were also big and juicy; the alfalfa fields were green and full of life. The entire Imperial Valley had regained its past glory.

Two, perhaps three years later, the American bees returned from the Big Bug War and wanted back their jobs. The bugs in charge of the Imperial Valley fields told them that there was enough work for everyone and that they could toil right along the Mexicali bees. The American honeybees, however, did not want to share the work with their counterparts from the south and accused them of stealing their source of employment.

“Besides, they’re illegal,” the American bees complained. “They’re from Mexico and must be sent back to their country.”

Because their complaints fell on deaf ears with the bugs in charge, the bees from the north went to court and demanded that the Mexicali honeybees be sent home. The bugs in charge counter suited, claiming that the American bees were not as good as the ones from Mexico when it came to the task of pollinating.

“Our fields and our harvests are so much better now that the Mexicali honeybees have been doing the spreading of the pollen,” the bugs in charge told the court.

Tired of the war of words and of so much ill will, the Mexican bees told the bugs in charge that all the members of all the swarms that had come from Mexicali had agreed to go back home.

“We don’t want to stay where we’re not wanted,” they said.

bee-3The bugs in charge tried to convince them to stay, but to no avail and soon thereafter, in the same manner that they traveled on the day they came to the north, hundreds of swarms darkened the sky again as they flew south. Once back home, the Mexican honeybees noticed that the Mexicali Valley desperately needed their help, their pollinating expertise.

Although a few swarms had stayed behind to care for those fields, it was too much work for them and had therefore been unable to spread pollen in the entire valley. The workload had also grown. Just like in the north, the region to the south had decided to diversify its crops. It grew melons now and all kinds of citric fruit trees: oranges, grapefruits, and lemons. Instead of mostly cotton plants, the valley was now peppered with fields of wheat, barley, alfalfa, and corn.

Regardless of the heavy workload, the Mexicali honeybees welcomed it and were happy to be back home. They felt good. They belonged there, they said. They were also appreciated at their land.

A few years later, some bugs in charge from the north returned to Mexicali to again invite and try to persuade those bees to help pollinate the Imperial Valley fields. They claimed that it was too much work for the bees from the north and after the Big Bug War, most of those bees had become lazy and unwilling to work long hours.

“We need you,” one dragonfly said. “We won’t allow our bees to get in the way and we will care for you and protect you.”bee-1

“No, thank you,” replied the bee in charge of speaking for the Mexicali honeybees. “Besides, why would we want to return to the north? So we can be insulted again and be called this and that and be told that we’re not the same as the other bees from that place?”

Although the dragonfly and other bugs from the north insisted on convincing the Mexican bees to return to Imperial Valley, those bees were set on their decision, which meant that they would forever stay in that valley to the south. They continued to toil there and with their help that land grew greener and with the passing of time that valley in Mexicali became filled with imposing, formidable and luscious vegetation.

As it is often said at the end of a tale in Spanish: “Colorín, colorado, este cuento se ha acabado.” (End of story).

 

Categories
Commentary Opinion

Friendship Park, but Only for Some

IMAGE: Old border fence at Border Field State Park, between San Diego and Tijuana, next to the Pacific Ocean. iStock photo.

 

NOTE: I wrote this (unpublished) column in 2009, just before Friendship Park was closed so a new border wall could be built. The park was reopened, but the sadness remains in this southwestern corner of the United States. A world divided by the whims of humans. The Mexican next door to the south, America to the north.

 

 

Mexico is on the other side. Through a chain link fence I can see its people, its buildings, its beach. I can smell the food waiting to be sold from hot grills, attended by men and women trying to fill the beachgoers’ needs for something to eat. A snack, a meal. Something to be shared with the rest of the group, with the family.

I can also hear the sounds of blissful music, played on loud speakers that contribute to the festive occasion. It is mostly Mexican, banda, rancheras, but spiked with vallenato and other tropical sounds. Uplifting notes and beats that sift through the fence, migrating north without a visa.

Not far from me, but on the Mexico side, the Playas de Tijuana bullring rises above a nearby lighthouse and a line that slices the land into separate political entities. America to the north, Mexico to the south.

A few steps from the bullring, towards the west, the land drops and turns into a strip of sand, repeatedly bathed by the Pacific Ocean waters. Today the waves are tame and soon turn into innocent foam as they timidly try to climb the steep earth at the bottom of Playas.

On my side of the fence, the place is called Border Field State Park – or Friendship Park as some of us call it. It has a border monument, number 258, which defines the boundary between Mexico and the United States. Surveyors from both countries, after the Mexican American War, were involved in drawing the original divider, a manmade line that tells us where one country begins and another one ends.

“How are you?” I asked the border patrolman inside his vehicle, perched on a cliff facing the ocean and the poles on the water that define the border.

“I’m fine,” he said. His last name was Aguilar. It was embroidered on his nametag. He was born in Tijuana, I later found out, after chatting with him for a while.

“Do many people get across here,” I asked again.

“Not really, they’re not supposed to, but once in a while they do,” he replied. He also told me that on that day eight people were caught a few miles north, in Imperial Beach, who had crossed the border at the spot he was in charge of watching.

“I don’t know how they did it,” he continued, “but, it makes me look bad.”

While I talked to him, a woman with three children getting ready to go down the cliff and to the beach, asked him in Spanish if it was okay to walk down.

“Go ahead,” he said.

“Isn’t the beach water contaminated?” I asked him.

“It sure is,” he replied. “Especially when it rains and the Tijuana River drags bad waters into the ocean.”

As I was about to walk down the cliff too, the patrolman turned his head towards a poignant place on the fence. People on both sides were talking to each other across the wire divider. One man, a tall white man, was holding a baby in front of him as he quietly chatted with a woman on the Mexican side. She poked her fingers through the wire to caress the baby’s face. She was the baby’s mother, I found out later. It was an emotionally moving sight. Instead of walking down the cliff, I decided to walk towards the place where the people were gathered.

What seemed like a religious group was sitting on a circle next to the fence, singing quiet songs, led by a woman with a book in her hands. They were praying, I noticed. They wanted to stop the U.S. government from building a triple security wall that was to replace the current one. Part of the plan was to temporarily close the park.

As I surveyed the area, I noticed a man with a popsicle cart on the other side, not that far from me. I hadn’t had a Mexican style “paleta” in a long time, so I decided to find out if I could buy one from him.

“Sí,” the man said. I could buy it. Coconut was my favorite flavor. I was lucky; it was available.

“¿Cuántas quiere?” he asked (how many).

“Just one,” I said.

I wondered how he would hand me the popsicle across the small holes in the chain link fence, but before I could finish my thought he had already walked a couple of meters to his right where some links were missing and proceeded to push the popsicle across this supposedly impenetrable international wire divider.

“¿Cuánto te debo?” I asked him. I needed to pay him.

“Diez pesos,” he said. Roughly eighty cents at the going exchange rate.

“You sell a lot of paletas at this spot?” I asked the man. Only on weekends was his response. I also asked him if he had ever been in the United States and his reply was that he used to come across everyday to work as a gardener, using his local passport, but that in 2002, he wasn’t able to renew the passport after it had expired.

“The rules changed,” he said. “The U.S. customs people wanted to know where I worked in Tijuana and how much money I had in the bank,” he explained. “I didn’t know what to say because I didn’t work in Tijuana and I had no money in the bank.”

“You think you might come back some day?” I asked.

“Está canijo,” he said. It would be tough.

As I walked away from the area, I noticed a few families gathered around some of the stone picnic tables at the park. A man lighted up one of the public grills and pulled several steaks from an ice chest and threw them on a plate next to him. As he continued his chores, two small children ran to and from the area where he stood and the place where the land made a sudden drop onto the beach below.

I wondered why anyone would hold a picnic at this place, at such a barren patch of land next to a contaminated beach. And next to a heartbreaking scene of human suffering. Maybe it was the ocean view that attracted folks to the park. It probably was. There’s something about the sea and those illusory images that get lost far away in the horizon. There’s also the eternal cool breeze from the Pacific and its chilly waters, the ocean battered and cooled all year long by the Humboldt Current.

But if you were to ask me, it wasn’t my kind of park. To begin with, there were way too many border patrolmen lurking around. It felt like a war zone. Or a prison or a POW camp.

As my eyes surveyed the coastal rim that repeatedly caressed with its sea waters the dry reddish dirt at the beach, I saw patrolmen there. They were camping on the sand, along their parked vans. As my eyes turned east and to the south, more vans were perched on the red dirt hills next to the road that led to Playas on the Mexican side. Not far from that vantage point, and to the north, I noticed more than a dozen other vans, somewhat camouflaged, but not well hidden behind the chaparral, guarding the eastern perimeter of the park.

Less than one hundred and seventy years ago, people roamed freely at this place we now call Friendship Park. There was no border, no border patrol, no fence.

If we were to go back no more than four hundred years, this park was just plain old land next to the ocean. That belonged to everyone.

AUTHOR: Pedro Chávez

 

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Commentary Opinion

Trump, Old Yellowstain and the Strawberries

 

Couldn’t help myself reminiscing about a scene in Edward Dmytryk’s 1954 film “The Caine Mutiny” and comparing it to an unhinged moment in the life of The Donald, the presidential candidate. I have to admit beforehand that I am a Humphrey Bogart fan and that his acting in the “Caine” film was near thespian perfection as he brilliantly played the part of Captain Queeg. His testimony during the fictional court martial was truly Shakespearean. He was good, even better than in his portrayal of Rick Blaine in “Casablanca,” the best movie ever according to me.

In the “Caine” film, Queeg, the “battle fatigued” captain of a former destroyer turned into a minesweeper during WW II, displays definite signs of paranoia as he testifies on the stand during the proceedings. It’s a scene that I will never forget because of the great acting done by Bogart. That Freudian moment came to mind again as Trump was being interviewed by CNN reporter Jake Tapper a couple of months ago. Sometime during the conversation, when The Donald is asked about the Trump University lawsuit, he responded that a judge of Mexican heritage could not be fair because of his ethnic background and because he (Trump) was going to build a wall between the United States and Mexico once he took office.

“I’m building a wall, I’m building a wall,” he kept saying. “I’m building a wall, okay. I’m building a wall. I’m trying to keep business out of Mexico,” he continued as he was asked whether race could get in the way as the judge did his job.

As I observed that satirical, but ominous scene play on the small screen, I couldn’t help myself. I cringed. For a fraction of a moment a sinister thought invaded my mind. What if this deranged prime-time reality showman gets elected to lead our nation? After all, it could happen. A cold sweat invaded me and covered my body from head to toe. Luckily, the apocalyptic vision went away soon. There was no way that such a clown would ever become president of the United States, I told myself.

Then again, we might all be in for a big surprise. Think of all the white only nuts and uneducated white trash that follow The Donald. Think also about what the media has done to build and thrust Trump and his dogged waxed wings towards the sun. So far he has survived not only the solar heat, but the hubris thrown at him by his own self, as he continues to draw praise from many Americans that still hallucinate about the good old days (when people of color in this country were considered lesser human beings).

There is no doubt, the Trump presidential nomination has revealed a latent slice of America once covered up by political correctness and decency. In a way, The Donald has awakened the smoldering haters in this nation of freedom and justice for all. In so many ways he has unbridled the chickens. I’m telling you, that gone berserk chunk of the citizenry has come home to roost.

During his testimony in the film, Captain Queeg mentions how he’s being belittled by his men. They call him “Old Yellowstain” and steal his strawberries. They also laugh about him behind his back.

In his run to win the hearts of disgruntled Americans and the presidency, Trump continually complains about the unfairness of the press and those that do not cater to his poisonous mantra. He’s a crybaby.

The fictional Captain Queeg didn’t cry to get his way, he was just paranoid about this and that. But not so Trump. Just like most spoiled brats, he’s always blaming others for his own shortcomings. He’s also a nut case.

You know, he’s “building a wall, building a wall.” And Mexicans are gonna pay for it.

 

AUTHOR: Pedro Chávez

 

 

Categories
Commentary Opinion

The Lure for Cheap Labor

PHOTO: Mexican worker in the service industry. iStock Images.

 

There are tons of Americans that complain about the undocumented immigrants and their presence in this country. They want them to go back to where they came from. Basically, they want to get rid of the masses of people doing the work most folks in our affluent nation won’t do, the cheap labor that fattens the bottom lines of a great chunk of corporate America.

Politicians pandering to those Americans parrot the cry. It’s crazy.

My question is, if those farfetched wishes were by some fluke become reality, where would we get the workers to replace the undocumented? From main street America? From the inner cities? From Africa? The Middle East?

Ten, maybe twelve million immigrants are living in the shadows in America today. Many of them are Mexicans. They are here, but they lead a clandestine existence. They’re here filling the labor needs of our country, but they are denied many of the simple things we take for granted.

In most states, they cannot get something as essential as a driver’s license. They still drive, though. They’re also denied a social security number, but they still work and some pay into the plan. In many cases, the undocumented figure out a way to come forth with the documents needed to verify their right to work in the United States.

If there’s a will, there’s a way.

In some cases, employers get around the requirement to verify employment eligibility by contracting those labor needs with third parties, shifting the verification responsibility to others. The scheme works in an array of ways. That’s how malls get cleaned or cars washed at auto dealerships in the part of the country where I live. That’s also how a lot of construction chores or other work gets done. The undocumented mow lawns, wash cars, lay carpet, install wood floors, put up fences, or climb on top of homes to repair or build roofs.

Contrary to popular belief, they also pay taxes, in different ways. They indirectly pay property taxes when they rent a home or pay them directly if buying one. They pay sales taxes and pay more taxes when they buy gas for their cars or pay their phone bills. Since many of them use bogus social security numbers, they’ll never be able to collect a dime from the Social Security Administration or get the benefits of Medicare. They pay into it, but will get nothing from it.

It’s good for the social security fund, though.

The undocumented work hard, too. Some have two, sometimes three jobs. A full-time and a part-time job during the week and another part-time on weekends. Because of the meager wages most get, they usually need more than one job to provide for themselves and their families.

Although many jingoist Americans will never accept this fact, the undocumented add wealth to the U.S. economy. The value of the services and products created by their work increases the total amount of our gross domestic product. When the undocumented spend part of their earnings on certain products and services, they again help increase the value of our nation’s gross domestic product.

There is no doubt; America is a wealthier nation because of the contributions to the economy made by our brothers and sisters living in the shadows. Yet, some folks want them deported, to pull them from their roots and send them back to their countries of origin. It’s sad.

One part of America has lured them here with work, but another part, the one that doesn’t understand the paradigm, wants them to go away.

Categories
Commentary Stories

The Trek North: Part Five

Tractor in an orchard. Getty Images.

 
On the same day that we started working picking figs by hand, I was offered a chance to become a helper on a contraption that swept up the figs off the ground. It was late afternoon when a man working for the grower came looking for me at the orchard where several members of our family and myself were still learning the ropes of our job. The man had met me before at the camp. He had mentioned, in passing, the possibility of needing a helper for one of the two fig-picking machines. He had heard that the previous worker, a local man who did the job the year before, was probably not going to return. But he still had to confirm it.

The job involved hard work, he said, but thought that I was big enough physically to handle it. I think he was just trying to build me up so I would take the job if available. It made me feel good, though, to know that a perfect stranger would think that I was fit enough to do a man’s job. I was only sixteen.

Once offered the opportunity, I accepted it. It paid a dollar an hour and I would work directly for the grower. Our mother and father liked the idea of me working by the hour. So far that day, we hadn’t made much money picking figs by hand.

I joined the other three members of the crew the following morning. All three spoke Spanish and were of Mexican heritage. I was assigned to work with Billy, an operator of one of the two tractors. I can’t remember the names of the other driver and his helper, but they were both from Arizona. They spent part of the year in central California following different crops.

The contraption consisted of a tractor with a sweeper and a trailer behind it. It moved up and down each row in the orchard and picked up figs along with dirt and all kinds of trash lying on the ground. A conveyor belt brought the mix from the sweeper to the trailer and deposited it in wooden boxes that I had to place under an opening at the end of the belt. It was dusty back there. I don’t remember using a mask or gloves, but I probably did. The opening had a rubber and canvas flip cover that prevented the mix of figs and other stuff from flying in different directions.

The boxes filled quickly. Once full, I had to push them to the left and place an empty box under the opening. The task was made easier by a metal rack with rollers on it and on which I could place up to five boxes: two empties, two full ones, and the one being filled up. Whenever I had an opportunity I would pick up the loaded boxes and stack them on the back of the trailer. The empty ones were stacked on the right side and next to the rack, where I could easily grab them.

It was hard to keep up with the flow during my first day. Besides, it was difficult to see sometimes. There was a lot of dust blowing into the trailer and under my face as the boxes were filled up with the mix. There was also dust coming from the sweeper, which also diminished the visibility, not only in the trailer area, but all around the contraption.

Towards the end of my first day, I was really tired. It was tough lifting those boxes filled with figs and trash after a while. Each one, I heard, weighed an average of seventy pounds. Every so often we had to unload the cargo by a dirt road. It was sort of a break, but not really. Stacking those heavy boxes on the ground was no picnic either. No wonder I was told it was hard work.

After doing the job for a few days, it got easier. My body adjusted and grew stronger. Besides, it felt good being part of that crew. Billy and the other two men told me that most helpers didn’t last long. Most of them quit within a few days they said. They couldn’t handle the workload, they added. Hearing those comments made me feel important. I hadn’t quit yet and wasn’t about to do so.

After a while, Billy showed me how to drive the tractor and allowed me to run it for a couple of rows. He would climb on the trailer and do my job so I could do his and take a break. I felt accomplished driving the tractor. Resting for a few minutes felt good, too.

One Sunday I visited Billy at his home in Highway City, just a few miles south from our camp. He was married and had a couple of children. He invited me so I could see some old photos that were taken when he was stationed in Korea with the U.S. Army. Billy had a lot of pictures. They were of him and his Army buddies. Most of them were Mexicans, I could tell, maybe Puerto Ricans.

At work, Billy often talked about his time in the military and the number of jumps he had made as a paratrooper. He was really proud of having served. He also talked about his two brothers. One of them had also joined the Army and had made over six hundred jumps. That was big, he said. His other brother tried to get in, but wasn’t accepted. He was flat-footed.