Tag: civil war

No, We Don’t All Need to Get Along

Good intentions abound. That’s the only reason people still embrace misguided ideas like “colorblind society,” despite the powerfully negative connotations that such phrases conjure up.

The latest nicey-nicey concept I’ve encountered (and no doubt you have as well) is the absurd notion that, for America to succeed, we need to put aside our differences. In essence, we all need to get along.

Where in the hell did this strange idea come from?

For the overwhelming majority of American history, we have not all gotten along.

For example, Hamilton and Jefferson didn’t say, “let’s be pals” when they were hashing out what kind of government we should have. They had more important things to do.

Even during the so-called Era of Good Feelings, America’s many slaves weren’t feeling the love and joining in group hugs.

Speaking of slavery, America didn’t even reach its centennial before we started shooting at each other over that touchy topic. And it was another century of violence and antagonism before the government said, “Maybe we should be nicer to ethnic minorities.” At no point in that process did we all get along.

Yes, one could argue that the country was united during World War II, but even in that case, all it took to bind us together was a global conflagration where millions of people died and the very survival of democracy was in question. In other words… good times.

More recently, we’ve come to blows over Vietnam and Iraq, over abortion and affirmative action, over gay rights and healthcare.

So when was this mythical time when Americans were of one mind? And why does anyone think this is a necessary condition in order for the country to thrive? Obviously, we’ve found a way to work around our internecine loathing.

The truth is that a nation as vast as ours — with its myriad subcultures, each enjoying a large degree of freedom — is never going to be truly united. To believe otherwise is to embrace the thinking of a child.

However, this Kumbaya concept is more than a pathetic pipe dream. It features an insidious aspect snaking below the surface.

We see this in the earnest pleas, even demands, for liberals to shut up and support Trump. Of course, conservatives would like nothing better than for progressives to give Trump a chance (which many liberals, inexplicably, are quite willing to do).

But why would leftists agree to a right-wing agenda that goes against every principle we have, and that could lead America into chaos? Apparently, we should do so out of blind patriotism and for the sake of the vague, abstract concept of “unity.”

According to this idea, striving to be friends supersedes the threat of decimating the country.

“Yes, thousands of people are dead now because Obamacare was repealed, but at least we’re all getting along, and that’s the most important thing. Yup.”

This is clearly insane.

And aside from the specifics of the current era — where a wannabe fascist seeks to make the nation great again for white supremacists — the fact remains that striving for unity at all costs is spectacularly naïve, even destructive.

The US Constitution is the result of Founding Fathers threatening to duel each other to the death. Slavery was abolished through warfare. Civil rights came only after decades of people refusing to back down, and not settling for getting along.

One of the virtues/flaws of American culture is our hyper-competitiveness. As such, one idea or principle usually emerges triumphant. Sometimes it’s a good idea… and sometimes it’s not. Still, as we know, the moral arc is long but bends toward justice (at least we hope it does).

However, progress is delayed even more when we smile and act polite in the face of idiocy or fanaticism or demagoguery. And there is no need to do so.

Because we have never all gotten along.

And we never will.

 

 


The Distant Past

We are all descended from losers.

Take me, for instance. My family came from El Salvador, a charter member of the Third-World Nation Hall of Fame that is best known for crippling poverty, psychotic gangs, bloody civil wars, murdered priests, and raped nuns.

elsavadrowar

I’m also part Italian, which lends itself to stereotypes of Mafia hit men and the original unwashed horde of immigrants. In addition, Italy is currently on its 982nd post-WWII government (not exactly a source of pride).

And I’m a touch Irish as well. So here comes the drunken, brawling Irishman, everybody.

No, I’m not self-loathing. In truth, I’m grateful for my mélange of ancestry. I regularly sing the praises of Latino culture, and it’s not bad having a connection (however distant) to Da Vinci and James Joyce.

However, everyone’s culture has black spots, and our efforts to honor our ancestors should not extend to overt denial and large-scale myopia. But they regularly do.

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Instant Karma

Although I was raised Catholic, I’m not a religious person. I’m more of a quasi-secular humanist, borderline atheist with Buddhist tendencies and Judeo-Christian influences (I mean, as long as we’re labeling here).

About the only supernatural concept I believe in is the idea of karma. Even that comes with a qualifier, because I think karma is more the result of our human decisions, good or bad, and less of a vague, mystical force.

yingyng

I’ve been thinking a lot about karma since reading Susanne Ramirez de Arellano’s article on the Murrieta protests. She covered the war in El Salvador in the 1980s, and she theorizes that the legacy of that war “is sitting on buses in Murrieta. The violent street gangs that now plague Central America, especially El Salvador, were conceived during this dark period.”

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Muy Peligroso

I’ve written before about my family’s roots in El Salvador. I’ve also written about how I have never been there, but hope to go someday.

Well, it looks like I sure can pick lovely vacation spots. A recent report pegged my family’s homeland as the most dangerous country in the world. The homicide rate is 71 per 100,000 inhabitants — the highest rate on the planet.

For the sake of comparison, such terrifying places as Colombia (35 per 100,000), South Africa (34 per 100,000), and Haiti (22 per 100,000) all register at less than half the homicide rate of El Salvador.

I am less than thrilled to hear this, if for no other reason than Cousin #7 now lives there, and I am naturally concerned about him. But I also don’t like hearing that one of the few countries I really want to visit someday has so many murders that you have to wonder if the babies carry handguns.

The culprit, as it is in much of Latin America, is the out-of-control drug war. El Salvador had actually gotten on the right track after its gruesome civil war ended in the 1990s. But the cartels and their bloody business model have wiped out the nation’s meager improvements.

I suppose I can use this new information to create some kind of tough-guy origin myth. I mean, how many Americans can say that their family emigrated from the most dangerous country in the world? Come on, how badass are we?…

Actually, that’s not very satisfying, and nobody’s impressed anyway — so skip it.

By the way, the United States clocks in at 5 murders per 100,000 inhabitants, which is a pretty good number compared with the rest of the planet. But if you really want to feel safe, go to Iceland, which has the lowest crime rate in the world and a murder rate of zero.

Think about that — nobody gets killed in Reykjavik. The same cannot be said of El Salvador.


Saint or Commie?

As I’ve written before, I dropped out of the Catholic Church when I was a teenager. I haven’t become an atheist, although I see nothing wrong with that philosophy. It’s just that I prefer to keep my distance from religion. However, I’ve also been upfront about my belief that one reason Latinos don’t make bigger social and economic gains is our overreliance on the Church.

So perhaps I should excuse myself from a debate taking place across the Hispanic community, Latin America, and the Catholic Church. The cause of this debate is that old rabblerouser himself, Archbishop Oscar Romero.

For those of you who don’t know, Romero was the head of the Church in El Salvador from 1977 to 1980. During this time, he spoke out against the brutality of the government and the oppression of the poor. For having such crazy ideas, he was assassinated, presumably by members of a right-wing death squad. Following his death, a civil war ripped the country apart and killed tens of thousands of civilians, including members of my mother’s family.

In the thirty years since his death, Romero has been lionized as a martyr for the cause of social justice, or criticized as a dupe for communist agitators, depending on whom you talk to. The Catholic Church has been considering him for sainthood for years, but weirdly enough, they can’t seem to go ahead and canonize the guy.

The debate over Romero goes to the heart of the Church’s standing in Latin America. Is it an institution that upholds the traditions of the culture, even if those traditions include exploitation and enforced poverty? Or is it a force for peace and compassion, which is what that famous hippie Jesus espoused?

The perception of the Church in Latin America has a direct impact upon U.S. Hispanics. Many of us who are first-generation, for example, saw an organization that gave lip service to helping the poor, but supported corrupt regimes in our parents’ home countries. Priests like Romero, far from being supported, often earned Rome’s disdain. The dichotomy (some would say hypocrisy) was not endearing.

But Romero’s legacy may finally be thwarting the establishment culture that shunned him during his life. In a truly surprising moment, my mother’s home country of El Salvador has finally gotten around to acknowledging its most famous citizen.

The LA Times reports that “For the first time, the Salvadoran state is publicly commemorating Romero. Through most of this month, marches, concerts and debates have honored the priest.”

Furthermore, the country’s president, Mauricio Funes, recently asked forgiveness on behalf of the state for Romero’s assassination. Funes said, “This is something that should have been done a long time ago” and added that his government would “end the decades of silence” that have been Romero’s official legacy.

If El Salvador can finally acknowledge that Romero was killed because of his strong drive for justice, maybe the Vatican can get around to saying that he was a pretty good guy.

By the way, and at the risk of taking a cheap shot, it seems like the Catholic Church’s current issues prove that it’s not the best judge of morality and saint-like behavior. But then again, what do I know? I’m just an ex-Catholic.


Aunt #2

I know little about my other aunt, except that she died in a hail of gunfire. I never met her, and I’ve only seen two or three pictures of the woman in my life. She was killed with her husband in 1981, when the civil war ravaging El Salvador was in full, game-on effect.

Aunt #2 was not targeted for death, as opposed to her brother (Uncle #1), and had tried her best to stay out the homicidal mess that had engulfed that country. But logic tells us that a war that killed tens of thousands of people could not have been confined to soldiers and guerrillas. My aunt was among those civilians who were simply in the wrong place at the wrong time.

The details of her murder are sparse, vague, even contradictory. News that comes out of El Salvador is often like this.

But the story I heard was that Aunt #2 and her husband were driving down the road near their village. The couple’s destination or errand remains unknown. They came upon a government roadblock that had simply not been there the day before. Whether they failed to slow down quickly enough, tried to run it for some unfathomable reason, or just made inappropriate eye contact has never been determined.

The soldiers opened fire, and the truck skidded off the road. The couple, shot multiple times, died in each other’s arms. When my family claimed the bodies, the soldiers admitted that they had made a mistake, and they offered a curt “lo siento” for gunning them down.

The murder left their only child, Cousin #7, a two-year-old orphan. He soon came to America, where my mother adopted him. In an ironic twist, he now lives in El Salvador (more on this in a future post).

And that’s basically all I know about Aunt #2. To be sure, I’ve heard bits and pieces about her over the years. I’ve heard that she was a bit of a wild child and a gifted fabulist. I also heard that she loved fire ants (of all things) and could sew well. But I could be wrong about all of these things.

My grandmother rarely speaks about either of her murdered children. They are not even ghosts to her. They are reference points to a long-ago life – one that has a tenuous connection to the old woman living in the cold American Midwest today. In my presence, my abuela has acknowledged her dead son and daughter only when pressed, and she refuses to clarify or elaborate or instigate any discussion of them.

Similarly, my mother can offer only scattered information. When Aunt #2 died, my mother had not seen her in years – such are the gaps incurred within immigrant families. So she can offer only scant insight into her little sister’s life.

As such, my conjectures about her personality or the strength of her character would be misplaced. And after my experience writing about Uncle #1, I’ve learned that even well-honed family stories can buckle and alter over the years. The facts get smudged when the principles are gone, and honest attempts to portray people accurately (which is what I’ve attempted) sometimes lead to mistakes or disputes.

In truth, for most of us, it is only a matter of time before we exist only as a mysterious name and some fleeting snapshots, long-distant ancestors reduced to a jumble of letters in a box on the family tree.

So I stand no chance at capturing the vitality of Aunt #2, about whom, as I’ve said, I know little. Instead, I will offer this most basic of eulogies: rest in peace.


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