Friday, May 14, 2010

Night time radio

Last night I woke up at 2.30 and my radio was tuned in to KGO in San Francisco as usual. I always listen for a while to John Rothman when I first go to bed. Sometimes for hours, sometimes I can't remember a word he said for I was tired enough to go to sleep as soon as my head touched the pillow. That's what happened last night. And then I woke up too early and listened to Ray Thaliafero until five am when I got up to take a shower .

What I heard Ray say upset me SO much. He was correct but I never heard it before and it is true what he said. The discussion was about the governor of Arizona. Her latest edict is that there can be no studies in public schools about black or Mexican traditions. A man had called in saying: My parents came from Italy. They came legally, became citizens, and led fruitful lives. Why can't the Mexicans do the same? Ray said 'where your parents black?' No they were Italians. 'What color were they?' They were Italians. 'Were they brown? No they were Italians. Were they yellow? No they were white. Ah, they had no trouble getting to be citizens. Read up on our history and see what happened to the first chinese who came here. They were used to build our rail roads and then could not become citizens nor could they buy Real Estate. And how did the blacks get here. They were shipped in to become slaves. And how long before they could become citizens. And how long before they could ride the buses or eat in our restaurant? And what about the mexicans? When they come across the border because they want to earn money to send home, they work in the fields and live in sub standard housing, and get sub standard pay.

This is what I remember from this nocturnal conversation. I can not get this out of my mind. And what have I done during my ninety year long life to ease or help anyone so unfortunate. I remember paying a woman twice what she charged for doing my laundry in Georgia. She charged quarters and I paid her dollars. I did not have any money for we were paid $60 a month and our room and board, but her charge was ridiculous and she picked up and delivered. That is a tiny thing to put on my grave stone.

Maybe one other thing could be put there also. I never allowed anyone to use the N word in my presence. Even my step father-in-law. We were sitting at the dinner table in HIS house and he used it. I said I will eat in the kitchen if you must use that word. He never did it again and we had a fine relationship while Sam was overseas. But ninety years. I could have done more.

Maybe, one scary day when I had to drive around the Los Angeles area to find a town were we would like to move. The free ways were new to me. I was in Long Beach I think, when I saw a huge building in the distance and discovered that it was Sears.
I stopped and went in to ask were I could have a cup of coffee. They sent me to the seventh floor I think. I got a cup and looked around to see where I could sit. There were not many people there. I saw a table with a teenage boy and asked if i may sit. He nodded. Then I tried to start a conversation and realized he spoke no English. That was fun for me for I had had four lessons at the famous language school in New York. I tried and tried. Finally I made out that he was going to go to work someplace. I asked him about School and he hung his head and said no dinero. I said save money and later and he just got sadder and sadder. I had never seen anybody so without hope. I've never forgotten him. I hope now he is rich and honest .


alexandra said...

I have been reading here for a long time but I believe this is my first comment, sorry, I live in Tucson, and the issues we have here with immigrants are not the color of someone’s skin, it's that the people who come across the border and take our jobs and fill up our schools have NO interest in trying to become legal citizens. You see, if they were to become legal, they would then be responsible for paying higher state taxes and wouldn't be able to send money back to Mexico to their relatives there. It has gotten so bad that you almost have to be bi-lingual to get a job flipping burgers at McDonald's. I can see both sides of the story and can understand how people could see this as racist, but there are two sides to every coin. I fully agree that cancelling the cultural studies programs in high schools is a bad thing. If my young children grow up and want to study other cultures I firmly believe that should be an available choice for them. I hope you don't think I am angry, I am just very passionate about this subject and hate that there are so many un-informed people out there(not you) that are complaining so loud that the whole Country can hear. I love your stories by the way, please tell us more about when you first came to America and we working for the wealthy families and their children!

katherine said...

"...ninety years. I could have done more."

What a beautiful statement of compassion. Would that there were more souls in the world like yours, Svensto.

Anonymous said...

Thank you, for just being you. Thank you.

Maxly said...

I think you did just do let all of your readers how you feel and that takes courage. Thank you.

Anonymous said...

Alexandra - fact is, most "anglo" Americans don't want to work in the fields, clean the hotel rooms, or care for other folk in their homes - whether elderly or children. The wages whether on or off the books are not enough to do anything in this country except barely subsist. I don't see many American finishing their required high school educations and running out to join a planting team, or joining a home care agency, or running to clean the rooms at their local Holiday Inn.

The main problem is that the Federal government should not be dragging its feet, then states wouldn't have to create such a situation as in AZ trying to provide a single-state solution.

Cassie said...

The Arizona immigration issue is a very interesting test of American philosophy and tolerance. 

Politically and idealistically, I am very liberal, and I agree in the abstract that the AZ law is a travesty. 

I have donated over $10,000 to local (Bay Area) non-profits that support the poor, which often means immigrants. And I have worked as a volunteer in various programs to help immigrant families improve their lives through housing, medical care, junior high school programs, ESL and parenting skills for mothers, etc.

Unfortunately, working with Central American families has been very disillusioning. I don't remember any families who intended to become "American." It was all about earning money here so they could send it back to their home countries, or take it back with them so they could be comparatively rich back at home.

Cassie said...

My primary goal in my donations of time and money was to help new immigrants settle into the US and get on a path to a stable middle-class life. There are a lot of barriers to integration if you don't speak English and aren't here legally. 

In a program on developing financial "literacy", we met with our "students" every week for a year. In the beginning we taught about the US banking system and the concepts of credit and debt. Most families were living paycheck to paycheck and didn't think they could afford to save any money. We helped them look at how they were spending their money and where they could save a dollar or two. Then we worked on how money grows through interest and conversely on how loan payments can cost you so much more than you borrowed. 

We helped them open bank accounts and set up household budgets so they could save a bit of money every month. People could stay in the program for 3 years, and the money they saved was matched dollar for dollar at the end. The only restrictions were that the donated money had to be spent on education, opening or expanding a business, or buying property, as these were things that should help them maintain a stable financial life in the long-run.

There were people from Central America, Africa, Asia, and Eastern Europe. Every immigrant group managed to save money and use it for education, business, or property -- except the Central Americans. Most of them took the money they had saved and went back "home", meaning they forfeited the matching donation they had earned.

Cassie said...

It was so frustrating trying to help them get on the path to stability and success, only to realize that they had no commitment or psychological investment in being Americans. Our volunteer group struggled to understand why this model didn't work for them, and our best answers were that people who had to cross an ocean to get here had made more of a conscious decision to leave their old country and culture behind and invest in being Americans; and that the Latin American cultures saw the US as a cash machine but not a place to commit to. Even though they sometimes had horrible experiences getting here, they never switched to thinking of themselves as Americans. 

My personal experiences have reduced my tolerance for illegal immigration across our border with Mexico. It seems they don't want to integrate; they learn just enough English to get by; they stay in their separate communities. Their governments may gave been corrupt, and they are breaking US laws every day by being here illegally -- and they don't seem to understand that we are a country that believes in the rule of law. Many of us break little laws like speeding or parking where we shouldn't, but that doesn't mean we don't respect the law and expect that we and others will follow it. I've talked to immigrants who don't think it's important to know or follow the laws because they think it doesn't matter.  

Well, that's my story of disappointment with Central Anerican immigrants who don't intend to stay here and be Americans. Nowadays, I get super annoyed with Latina young women working at the check out counter, who talk and talk in Spansh to each other, ignoring the paying customers or being rude and resentful if you ask them a question. 

Whenever I travel away from the Bay Area, I marvel at how much better it feels to be in  stores where the workers are friendly, helpful and attentive. The Latino/a workers here at home seem to have so much class resentment and bitterness, it's like they think we are the enemy, even though we're spending money that pays their wages.

Cassie said...

I support Arizona's decision to make their state more hostile to undocumented, illegal immigrants. If you weren't born a US citizen, you're not entitled to be in our country. You can earn US citizenship, but you have to follow our laws. The Mexican/US border has to be respected as a dividing line. If you're not a citizen then you do not have the right to be here unless you have a valid visa.

The Mexican/central Anerican cultures appear to have an attitude of entitlement to break our laws and trespass in our country. The Mexican president rails at how his citizens should be treated better -- but have you ever read about how Mexico defends its southern border and how cruel they are to illegal Salvadorian and Guatemalan illegal immigrants?

It's a blessing to be a US citizen, and I am very grateful that my ancestors were part of the very early European immigration, in the mid -1600s. They had to have permission from their Dutch government to emigrate and settle in the Dutch colonies. Other nations need to respect our borders and fear our law enforcement. We can't accept all the people in the world who want to live here, and we are still very generous, much more generous to immigrants than many many other countries. Most countries have much more severe penalties for illegal immigration. In the 80s a friend of mine studying in England was arrested for having moved house without re-registering his address with the police.

I think we have immigration problems because we make it too easy, so foreigners don't respect our sovereignty. Brazo Arizona for standing up for itself. It's not a Mexican state or colony, it's part of the United States.

Apologies for the long rant. I may have offended, but I have learned these things from my experience.

Anonymous said...

I completely agree with you. Immigrants who truly want to become citizens and contribute to this country are welcome additions to society. Those who wish to remain as illegals and partake of services paid for by law-abiding tax-paying citizens are not welcome. In today's economy I do not believe that American citizens would not be willing to do the jobs that illegals ore currently filling. A paycheck is a paycheck. Arizona is doing the right thing. It is not racist. Illegal is not a race.

Anonymous said...

All this talk makes me glad I'm from New Mexico and not from Arizona...

Instead of being angry and judging, try empathy.