Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Tuesday Tidbits: The Issue of the Closer. No, Not *That* Closer.

Polarizing issues are, by nature, very frustrating. Take Hockey Weekend Across America, that happened weekend before last. Super cool thing to nerd out over all weekend, and then the Sports TalkRadios fired up the engines the following Monday talking nothing but NBA All-Star Weekend and Daytona 500. I jumped down a couple of throats via texts and tweets, but it turns out that hockey is not actually a polarizing issue. Rather, there’re just tons of people in this country that don’t care about it. And then a funny thing happened: Royals closer Joakim Soria told the media that he wanted a new nickname. The Kansas City Star wrote a bit about it, Twitter perked and sizzled for a few minutes, and Sam Mellinger even created a list of semi-suitable replacements.

One of my colleagues texted me a few suggestions, none of which were worth mentioning, and I chose not to participate in the texts and the tweets for one reason: I felt polarized. (Non-interesting side note: I work in a hugely Hispanic community, and for over two years now, I’ve been driving past mechanic garages and services stations that have “Polarizados!” on some sign or billboard. Everywhere. And because I didn’t know any better, I’ve allowed myself to remain convinced that there is some concept in the auto-repair industry that has been divisive enough to create separate philosophical camps. Then I went to San Diego this summer and my cousin was like, “Check out these tight shades I just bought. Polarized.” Apparently, you can have your sunglasses or your tinted windshields produced in such a fashion that glare does not exist, which would’ve been helpful on any of the 4,000 times I crested a Colorado mountain pass looking directly into the sun thinking, Well, this could go fine or I might drive off a cliff.)

Anyway. Not only do I work in a heavily Hispanic community, I have been working with numbers of Hispanic people for the last decade, most of which are Mexican. I’ve worked with a Hondurenan, a couple of Salvadoranos, a Guatemalteco, and so forth and so on. Mostly Mexicans, though, and that’s fitting since it appears to be our southern neighbors with whom folks take issue when it comes to illegal entry into the United States.

Obviously this has been an issue for some time in this country, but it really blew up last year with all of the racial profiling and documentation requesting happening in Arizona. It was talked about on the radio, discussed on TV, dissected in Internet columns, and yes, even in my favorite local dive bar, it came up. I must pause here to say that my favorite local dive bar kicks some serious tail. It’s a dingy little family-owned Irish pub that just celebrated its 32nd year in business. If you’re in good with the ‘keeps, you can swill a beer and fire down a heater inside after the doors are locked. You can play darts, Golden Tee, and shuffleboard. You can admire the fantastic collection of sports memorabilia they’ve accumulated over the years, and you can eat a pizza, drink seven beers and have three shots and your tab’ll be like $8.50.

But, if you’re on the north end of the bar, you gotta deal with the smell of wafting sulfur. If you’re on the south end, it kinda smells like pee. If you’re washin’ up in the men’s room, you’re drying your hands with that blue cloth towel, and no matter where you are in the joint, chances are, you’re gonna wind up dealing with a dose of racism. Some of it comes from the customers, some of it comes from the staff, but either way, it’s there, and it freaking kills me. I won’t get into what is typically said, but suffice it to say that when this business was going on in Arizona, the mentality was that it was no big deal to profile and ask for papers because “they shouldn’t be here in the first place.”

If you take that quoted bit of text for surface value, there’s an aspect of it to agree with: It is, in fact, illegal to enter this country without the appropriate paperwork. Where the polarization begins, though, is when you refuse to entertain any notion beyond that. And I think this is where the roots of American political ideology begin and end. It may come as little shock that a good number of the bigots at my dive are staunch Republicans. I am far from being the least bit politically informed, but these are the conclusions I’ve drawn: 1) Democrats can tend to care for the well-being of people other than themselves. 2) Republicans cannot.
I’m no better, wiser, or more compassionate than the next guy, but I look at “they shouldn’t be here in the first place” and I nod yes in agreement while saying, But they are.

I then take it a step further and ask why, which has been typically greeted with gems like, “Duddn’t matter,” “I have the right to be here,” and “They’re breaking the law,” among others.

Truth of the matter is that I don’t have to ask why. I know why. And the following examples are why the Soria story bothered me the way it did.


Frank is about to turn 32. When he was 11, he saw for the first time factory in which his father worked. It was a bottling plant outside of Monterrey. His father has worked there for 19 years. He has never once called in sick. He has never once complained while on site, and he has never once been late. He has also never once had a raise. He has worked what we know as overtime hours in every single, save three exceptions, week of those 19 years. And he has never once been paid time and-a-half. He has had two knee surgeries, four herniated discs, and two broken fingers, all of which were work-related, all of which his family still cannot afford to pay for each month. Frank’s father’s wages for a week are enough to buy meat for the family for a week and two fountain sodas.

Frank remembered his father telling him for most of his life that Frank should aspire to one day move to America where financial security for Frank’s immediate and future lives could be more easily obtained. When he was 20, Frank did just that. He procured two dishwashing jobs in Denver, and worked most of 70 hours a week for 10 years. He was able to save enough money to purchase a plot of land near his home town and open a bar. Frank’s tavern began turning a profit two years in. Things were looking as if Frank’s hard work were going to pay lasting dividends until one Thursday evening in September.

Patrolmen armed with semi-automatic weapons stormed the saloon a few minutes before nine, destroying various pieces of the property and assaulting a few patrons as they approached Frank at the bar. The commotion coming from each officer’s mouth was hardly discernible, but it quickly became clear that they were accusing the bar owner of trafficking cocaine in and out of the establishment. When Frank’s lead cocktail server slammed a drink tray on the bar and proclaimed the scenario preposterous, one of the police wasted all of two seconds before piercing her brain with a slug.

Several cops began herding the remaining patrons out the front door while the captain of the operation illustrated the simplicity of how the server’s death would be deemed self-defense by producing an antiquated revolver from his waist band and placing it in the dead woman’s hand. The message was made clear that any additional confrontation would bear similar results. Next, the captain was handed a satchel, from which were drawn three dozen plastic-wrapped packages that contained white powder. A separate, smaller clutch appeared. Bundles of currency were removed from it and placed in the drawer below Frank’s till.

Frank and his remaining staff were arrested, charged with possession of cocaine with intent to distribute, ownership of the establishment seized by the government. The new proprietors re-opened the following afternoon, and continue to draw a profit today. The d├ęcor, goods for sale, hours of operation, and all details associated with Frank's remain the same, save for the sign out front that once bore his name. Frank has been incarcerated for 27 months, his assets seized, his family financially unable to bond him out. He has yet to be given a court date.


Rosa and Charlie, Sr. had the same idea as Frank’s father, only they weren’t interested in waiting for their children to make the move. They did it themselves. Los Angeles was where they made their home. Charlie got a job in a garage. Rosa gave birth to Daphne that fall, and around the time she found out she was pregnant with Charlie, Jr., Charlie, Sr. had gotten heavy into the L.A. gang scene. Rosa pleaded with him to stray from it. She knew it was only a matter of time before something dangerous would happen to, or near, their family. She began skimping on groceries, returning home from the Laundromat having only washed bare essentials, stashing every leftover quarter she could. When she finally had enough saved, she waited, one Sunday evening until Charlie had come home and passed out. She and her two children boarded a bus with only a duffel bag full of diapers and snacks among them.

After many tears and two sleepless nights back in her hometown of Durango, Mexico, Rosa boarded her third bus in four days. Her destination this time was St. Paul, by way of El Paso. And she was going alone.

It took Rosa five years to save enough money to travel back to her parents’ -– who Daphne and Charlie, Jr. called mom and dad -- ranch for her kids. She had suspected they would be sad to leave, but she had failed to calculate exactly how sad. By the time the children were in middle school, the monthly arguments of when the children would be able to visit their mom and dad in Mexcio had become intolerable. “The summer before Charlie starts high school,” she told them.

But that summer came and went without a visit, Rosa’s mother and father insistent that the children not come due to unprecedented levels of crime and danger penetrating numerous rural areas of the country, theirs included. The children, continued to plead, however, and the spring of Charlie’s sophomore year, Rosa was ready to make the arrangements for their travel, even though her parents swore that, after sundown, their community was still not a safe place, even for a visit. It was on a Sunday morning that she received a phone call from her mother informing her that Rosa’s youngest brother, the only one of five that had remained in Mexico, had been murdered.

Ricardo had been hanging with some friends at a nearby park the previous afternoon. Per the usual Saturday tradition of him and his friends, they spent the sunny day there eating carne asada, chomping bites of raw jalapeno, drinking beer, and kicking around a soccer ball.

It was also at this park on this same Saturday that a band of drug dealers –- narcotraficantes -– engaged in a transaction, and Ricardo, along with his friend Alberto, accidentally witnessed it. One of the gang members approached the two, who’d walked away from the group to use a port-a-john, discreetly flashed a gun, and told them to get in his truck. The men were driven some 10 minutes from the park, where they were decapitated, castrated, and drug by chains from the truck for a quarter of a mile before their bodies were abandoned. The murders were reported to the police, who did nothing. In fact, one higher-ranking officer alleged that the deceased had been the ones in the act of committing the crime, that their demise made for “a safer Mexico.” Charlie and Daphne are still waiting for their chance to visit.

There are those two stories, and there are hundreds more. There’s the family Rodriguez, who saw three of their six children murdered in the last 18 months, each a separate incident in different rural Mexican settings. Each an innocent bystander. Or the story of Juan, who agreed to work undercover for the Mexican police, only to find out that the same Mexican police that hired him later indirectly alerted the Mexican mafia, who gathered Juan and his sisters in a barn, and made him watch as they raped them, stabbed them to death, then severed Juan’s tongue.

So, this is why, when Kansas City Royals closer Joakim Soria says he wants to shed his nickname for one that does not suggest any form of violence, it should be taken seriously, not made light of. There are two things to take from this story, and those are: 1) There is an immeasurable amount of corruption and gruesome violence happening in Mexico right now, and the forces behind them appear to be growing in numbers. 2) If Mexico, proud country that it is, barely pays its people enough to buy one staple per week, and that problem is only multiplying into others, and the “land of opportunity” is right there above you, wouldn’t you bail, too?

I personally don’t like being hungry. It’s no fun being scared, and I’m certainly not interested in getting murdered, so frankly I don’t have too big of a beef when it comes down to the immigration issue. I’d like for both countries to be able to monitor the situation with minimal expense to our federal government, and I’d like for the people coming into the country to follow the laws and procedures and pay the taxes. But the truth remains that the United States sort of has a lockdown on allowing people from Central America and Mexico – especially Mexico – to obtain citizenship right now because there’s just too many people wanting to come here. But really, can you blame them?

In the meantime, let’s find “Jack” a nice, new, wholesome nickname. After all, he plays for one of our sports teams, and you don’t ever hear the gripes, or even the questions regarding athlete citizenship status. Forget the papers. He’s our closer.


old no. 7 said...

I take issue with one small portion of this fine post, and that's the generalization that one political party universally feels one way about race and the other feels the opposite.

I'm a proud Democrat, and one big reason for that is the fact that over the course of recent American history the party has stood up for civil rights and the plight of less fortunate people. One of my major beefs with the current Republican party is that many, perhaps most of its membership is either subtly or overtly racist on issues like immigration. I do believe that much--but certainly not all--of the most vicious opposition to Obama stems from Republican racism, and the Arizona immigration debate is no different.

But to stereotype Republicans or conservatives with that broad a brush is, in my opinion, not much different than any Republican generalizing about Mexicans or blacks or welfare recipients. I'm never a fan of saying "All *blank* are *blank*" (with the exception of Raider fans). This includes Latinos, Republicans, women, college students, pit bull owners or motorcycle riders.

I've come across many Republicans that are incredibly open-minded on race but sober and serious on immigration and entitlement programs. After all, no nation can responsibly admit every human that wants to live there without some measure of control, just as no nation can afford to have too large a fraction of its population on the dole. Likewise, I've met many Democrats whose racial attitudes are massively fucked up. There are plenty of racist Democrats, and plenty of socially progressive Republicans who simply abhor big government. Lots of Democrats voted for Bush and Reagan, and plenty of Republicans voted for Obama. These groups are not monoliths.

So let's save our sweeping generalizations for Raider fans (they all smell like dive-bar urinal), and call Soria what he is: Future Tampa Bay-Ray.

bankmeister said...

Then it should read: 2) Republicans perhaps do so in fewer numbers.

Thought I'd qualified it enough with the "I am far from being the least bit politically informed" preface, and phrases like "can tend to."

Guess not.

bankmeister said...

More than anything, though, I'm glad you made your annual March appearance to dog on something I've written.

Cecil said...

Nickname ideas:

The Running Soria

Joakim the Dream


old no. 7 said...

I liked the piece and I said as much. Didn't like the generalization--if I'm not welcome to comment feel free to ban me. You're the moderator.

bankmeister said...

The point is that the generalization was blanketed in caution, bulleted with my ignorance. Your points are really, really good ones, but you make it sound like I was stating that as fact. It was clearly, in my mind, an opinion based on a few select experiences.

old no. 7 said...

Look, I'm not trying to belittle you or start some dumb flame war. But let's say that random dive-bar denizen "X" has just a few select experiences with Latinos and they're all negative, and he therefore forms an opinion and states that "All Mexicans are scum and should be deported." That individual is, by definition, ignorant. He hasn't taken into account the totality of the issue, hasn't allowed himself to look at all sides or walked a mile in the shoes of those he stereotypes.

Do you let him off the hook? Is he cool just because he doesn't know otherwise?

Cecil said...

Further nicknames:

So Fresh, Soria

Fireball Taco Face

old no. 7 said...

Fireball Taco Face FTW.

old no. 7 said...

Although I do like "Soria Something Something Charlie Sheen."

bankmeister said...

Also not interested in a flame war, but, again, to go back to the text: "I am far from being the least bit politically informed, but these are the conclusions I’ve drawn: 1) Democrats can tend to care for the well-being of people other than themselves. 2) Republicans cannot."

I do believe, that in that passage, you will not find anything that suggests quote/unquote all blank are blank.

I was of the belief -- be it correct or not -- that, by definition, the most basic Republican philosophy = less government so that I can have more of my money and be left alone to do as I please.

Further belief -- correct or no -- that Democrat ideology suggests more government to, for lack of a better phrase, provide for persons outside of yourself. Like Medicaid, for example.

So when I write, "can tend to," I find it preposterous to translate that as: All Republicans are racist towards Mexicans.

In sum, it seems that you're perhaps reading between the lines, then broadcasting an analysis that's a touch skewed. And I don't get how/where I would be letting anyone off the hook.

bankmeister said...

Furtherest nickname:

Joakim "The Eastwood Buscemi" Soria

old no. 7 said...

If I were to read between the lines, I might infer from this post that anyone who jokes about Soria's nickname is insensitive to border violence and racist. I chose not to go there.

But when you say "Rebublicans cannot"--as in "cannot care for the well-being of people other than themselves"--I take issue with that. It is, in my opinion, way too broad. This would suggest that no Republican has ever volunteered, given to charity, saved a life in any capacity, donated blood or a kidney.

And just because someone wants smaller government with fewer social services does not mean they want NO assistance of any kind. Just like someone who proposes an expansion of welfare programs isn't automatically in favor of UNLIMITED assistance with no checks or caps in place.

Too much of our political discourse trafficks in these all-or-nothing absolutes. Republicans smear Democrats as out-of-control socialists, while Democrats label Republicans heartless racists. In reality, nothing proposed in mainstream politics in this country is anywhere near the extremes that opponents demonize it as. Actual socialists laugh at the idea of our country coming anywhere near their ideals, and real life racists think even Rush Limbaugh is a hopeless lightweight. We're talking about incremental differences--in tax rates, spending and moral judgement--on a vast spectrum that no one here has any real inclination to slide very far.

It's your opinion, and you're entitled to it. If you honestly feel that no Republican has any capacity to care for the well-being of others, that's your thing. I disagree. I think that while many Republicans are hostile and bigoted, many more are charitable and responsible. Favoring small government doesn't make you the devil. I will concede that Republicans, as a whole, are assholes. That's a generalization supported by science.

bankmeister said...

So we go back to the text for a third time: "can tend to".

Here's a different example: The New York Yankees can tend to spend a lot of money on payroll. The Kansas City Royals cannot. In the first scenario, "they can" is appropriate terminology because the Yankees have, in fact, done that. In the second, it's appropriate because the Royals have not.

Can tend to.

Are capable of trending towards. Meaning, Republicans, as a whole, have typically not demonstrated a global consistency of suggesting that they care for others.

That does not say they have never. It does not say they will not ever. It does not say they are all identical in their beliefs and practices.

What's more is that I clarified the original word selection in my response to your initial comment.

You chose not to go there, there being what 98.3 percent of the post was about, and instead focused on a (suspect) word selection that occurred fairly early in the piece.