Veterans Day

I am the son of a veteran. I am the nephew of a veteran. I am the friend of veterans.  I am the friend and relative of future veterans.

Veterans Day–formerly Armistice Day, marking the end of the “Great War” (World War I)–is a day of both gratitude and moral urgency for me.  I know enough in my own life to not stereotype the motivations and nature of participation of the men and women who serve in combat roles in the US military.  My pacifist and anti-nationalist politics don’t preclude me for having a deep respect for people who bring politicians’ decisions into reality, however willingly or not they do so. Knowing both a little bit about the results of those actions, that respect comes with a certain sense of sadness, too. Even if one survives, there are few who participate in war who are spared by it.

And that frames the moral urgency of a day like this.  Veterans Day is a day to focus some thought and attention on assuring the future demise of the holiday.  We live in a world where the prospect of war seems immutable until we discover the depth of the prospect of peace.  Then we should be compelled to act to end this human folly.

I long for a day when there are no more veterans to mark a day like this; when people never have to make the choice whether or not to “defend their country”; when families never have to suffer the pain of separation and loss; and when the involvement of the US in millions of human lives around the world is not dominated by its ability to bring death and suffering.

Barack Obama is about to make a decision on the war in Afghanistan. At this point, all that is unknown is how many more troops he will send.  It is the wrong decision. You might feel like you don’t have the expertise to say that; like the military leadership who is asking for more troops represent the select few who can really judge. You would be wrong if you thought that.  That you do is perhaps understandable, but it is also part of the problem.  When we abdicate our responsibility to think and feel like humanists we contribute to the obliteration of any humanist possibility.  The sad truth is that there are those who think that any military situation can be “won” militarily.  History is proof that this is not the case. The future need not continue to confirm this further.


Four Twenty

Today is an underground holiday, of sorts.  Nobody knows when it started, or how it started, but, I assure you, more people than you can imagine will partake in it.


“Four Twenty” (or 4:20 or 4/20) is something of an urban legend, (sub)cultural joke, and community-building practice all rolled into one.  (Hehehehe, he said “rolled.”)  For those of you who don’t know (and, really, if you found this, you do) it refers to a time of day (and, annually, a day of the year) when people are supposed to get high by smoking or otherwise consuming marijuana.

Depending on the generation “observing” the feast, it has been alternately a form of collective political rebellion (thumbing one’s nose at a law prohibiting the very celebration in question); a mark of a distinctive generational status (“we” get high but “they” didn’t); and a form of nurturing an “imagined” community (no matter where you are, if you get high at 4:20 or at 4:20 on 4/20 then you are not getting high alone).


As with any cultural phenomena based more on rumor and humor than on any single historical event, there’s no particular reason for this.  Legend has it that 4-20 is the part of the criminal code somewhere which makes smoking pot a crime.  It’s not, but that doesn’t stop the story from being told from one generation to the next.  Others have (more recently) linked it to urban legends about happenings at high schools (the time detention got out at one; the locker number of where one dealt the contraband at another).  I suspect the events at Columbine in 1999 may have had something to do with linking it in the collective memory to some kind of high school rebellion, but those rumors, too, are just that.

The tradition continues, however, as it probably will for the, well, forever.  As somebody who works on a college campus, I am never surprised to see the “next” generation’s participation in this version of “pot culture.”  Ten years from now, most of those doing what they’re doing, will either be non-smokers remembering their youthful indiscretions, teetotalers trying to get the “drugs away from our children,” or addicts.

Which will you be?  Huh?  Yeah, I’m talking to you.  Imagine that!  Me!  Talking to you!!  And we’ve never even met!!!  And you’re just sitting there, at your computer, with all that belly-button lint!!  And I’m using so many exclamation marks!  Did you ever notice how that word was spelled: e-x-c-l-a-m-a-t-i-o-n.  The word “clam” is in there?  And “mation”!  My god, I have to Google search “mation”!!

But, today, they were people who alter their mental state by imbibing an herb that modern U.S. society has decided to criminalize.



César Chávez and your day off

Today numerous places in the 8 states that officially recognize Céasar Chávez day are observing that holiday with a day off.  The actual holiday is on March 31st, the day of Chávez’ birth.  Unfortunately, like MLK day and other holidays, an “observance day”–a tactic devised to give people a three-day weekend and a non-interrupted work week–is quickly becoming the trend.

Next Tuesday, I’ll have some things to say about the life and legacy of Chávez but, in the meantime, let me just say that the use of Chávez’ memory to create a three-day weekend is kind of grotesque, especially considering the people he struggled for (farmworkers) don’t have today, or even tomorrow, off.

So work me beauties, and be thankful that you work in a place where you can read a blog go to the bathroom when you want, and not develop crippling, life-shortening back ailments.  (Of course, only if you do work in such a place.)

“Your cousin from Mexico is here!”

It has been occurring to me lately that nobody is coming anymore.

Growing up as part of an extended family that spanned a national border, one of the regular occurrences I came to expect (in particular near the holidays) was a visit from a “cousin” or “tío” or tía” from Mexico.  While these were most often the cousins, uncles, and aunts of my mom and her siblings, if you know how family works in a large Mexican clan, just about everybody is a cousin, uncle, or aunt.

You see, my grandparents are from Mexico.  My dad’s dad was actually born and raised in New Mexico, although his family’s life and sensibility straddled the literal border as much as it situated itself on the southern side of the cultural one.  My dad’s mom immigrated to L.A. as a young child, just before the Depression.  For all intensive purposes, she is the generation of Mexican ethnic discussed by historian George Sánchez in his book Becoming Mexican American.
My mom’s parents were both born in Mexico and did not immigrate until the 1940s, in their respective adult lives.  They left a lot of family behind, although my abuelita was later joined by one of her brothers and one of her sisters.  For both, the vast majority of the people they called family–brothers, sisters, and those siblings’ children–lived in Mexico City and its surrounding environs.

As part of the family in L.A., we were a popular destination for visits from down south.  These varied in their frequency and size depending on the economy of Mexico and the price of airfare, but on a fairly regular basis I could expect to meet, hug, and kiss somebody I had never before met or do the same to somebody I had met at regular intervals in my life.

These visits were fun, awkward, mysterious, significant, and loving for an acculturated Chicano kid growing up in the 1980s.  These were people whose visits often brought joyful tears to the eyes of people I knew and loved well.  They were periods of the abscence of the English language.  They meant fantastic food and trips to Disneyland.  They were moments of cultural significance for me and, in many ways, historical as well.  This is when the “real” Mexico came to our watered down one.

Over the past decade, most of my grandparent’s siblings have passed away.  Many of their nieces and nephews have also died or grown too old to make the travel.  (Even my abuelita, who is the youngest of her siblings, made her last trip to Mexico years ago.)  We still have a lot of family in Mexico, but they are increasingly the “new” generation, the children of people my mom and her siblings remember as children and young adullts.  Even for the ones who used to come visit and remain healthy in their middle-aged lives, the economic situation of the hemisphere and the price of fuel make the hopes of a visit pure fancy.

As the holidays approach, I just started to think about how I hadn’t heard of a visit in a long time.  What does this mean for our family?  Our connection to Mexico?  What does it mean for our family in Mexico and their connection to the United States?  Maybe it’s just part of the assimilation process.