During the early 1970s I had a short-sleeved sweatshirt that I really liked. I had a few, actually. I am five feet, nine inches tall, with excellent posture, and at the time I weighed about 140 pounds. Close fitting shirts with jeans flattered me. One of the sweatshirts was yellow and white, and on the front in big letters it said, “Puerto Rico Me Encanta.”
Mostly I just liked the look of it, the colors and the fit, and the way multiple repeated washings made it more comfortable and attractive. I was not political about any issue at all at the time. My only response to the politics of the day was to condemn every aspect of politics as quickly as possible. It was true, though, that I was favorably disposed to Puerto Rico, and Puerto Ricans. This was not long after I had found my first friends from Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic, and Cuba for that matter. It took a little time, but very little effort, for me to learn to like Salsa music. As for the young Hispanic men and women themselves, you could never hope to find companions more friendly, hospitable, loyal, and helpful than those Caribbean Latins, and no people on the earth offered livelier companionship. Even the guys were great cooks, and they always had the best (redacted). Your New York Latin friends would just plum wear you out. As in, “no, no thanks, I need to get a couple of hours of sleep before work.”
The shirt was political, I suppose, at least to some extent. Maybe I was advertising the subject so that other white folk could see that it was possible to get along with Puerto Ricans. More likely I was clumsily letting Puerto Ricans who saw me know that I was okay with that whole thing. I’m white, the story goes, but I’m not like those other guys. Whatever. The main thing to note is that of the one hundred plus times that I wore that sweatshirt, first in New York City and later in Los Angeles, no one ever mentioned it. Not one word, from friend, foe, or stranger. It was a non-event.
It was also a non-event to my friends, who were not all of one mind on such subjects. I had a lot of friends, many long-term and intimate friends, and I had no political litmus test for friendship purposes. Most of them were open-minded, many very much so, but some were subject to prejudices that were becoming old fashioned by the late 1960s. The subject came up, often in connection with music or sports, and there were arguments, but we were friends and those were just details. My shirt was beneath notice.
Things have changed, and not for the better.
I was reminded of this a couple of months ago when I saw a TV news article about a woman who was sorely harassed in public for wearing a Puerto Rico t-shirt. She happened to be Puerto Rican, which of course means that she is an American citizen. She was getting the business somewhere, I’m not exactly sure where, somewhere around southern Illinois, I believe, maybe near Chicago.
Things have just gone so wrong in this country that it’s hard to keep score of the decline in American manners. It’s embarrassingly ignorant in the first place that Americans know so little about their own country that they could imagine that a Puerto Rican should “go back to her own country.” She’s here, bro’, look it up. Passport; taxes; limited voting privileges; the draft. American.
These are the same America Firsters who hassle Sikhs imagining that they are Muslims, and therefore terrorists. That’s a stupid mistake, but it has driven a few of those America Firsters to kill some Sikh convenience store clerks, or burn down a Sikh place of worship.
Americans harassing Muslims in general is way out of hand. Calling anyone who happens to be Muslim a “terrorist” is stupid. Roulette is famously the biggest “fool’s game” in Las Vegas, but your odds of hitting thirty-two red on a Vegas roulette wheel are astronomically better than the odds that any particular Muslim is a terrorist. (Roulette: 37 to 1; that Muslim over there is a terrorist: hundreds of thousands, if not millions, to one. I’m no mathematician.)
And the poor Indians! Hindu, pal, Hindu, take notes, big difference! Man, they don’t even like Muslims! Wars have been fought! Get a clue! Buy a vowel!
This is all new behavior, and it is very disturbing.
The worst part is that the list of hated “others” keeps getting longer. The news media are in for harassment and death threats as we speak, unless they work for Fox News (Fascist Propaganda Central). Federal employees can be safely denied their promised COL raise this year, because they are on the hate list. Asians are getting the treatment for speaking anything but English in a coffee shop! Hell, go and find me a donut shop in L.A. where ALL of the employees aren’t speaking Korean! They’re all here legally, too, and by the way, most of them have American passports by now. If they feel like talking to other Korean-Americans in Korean, that’s their God given right.
Many more of us will be on the hate list before long, and the whole thing should frighten us and bother us very much.
But the poor Hispanics, the poor Latin Americans, they’re getting the worst of it. Them and the Muslims I suppose. The Hispanics, though, they’ve been here in America as long as anybody except the Indians. (I mean the American Indians. “Native American” has gone out of fashion, in case you didn’t get the memo). The entire states of California, Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico, and parts of Utah, Colorado, Wyoming, and Oklahoma were flat-out stolen from Mexico as recently as 1848. (Texas had been stolen previously by the Texicans, who included a lot of white New Yorkers and a lot of genuine Mexicans. GTT, MF! Look it up!)
I often wish that I could just shake people like some parents shake abused infants and yell in their faces, “look that shit up! Read! Don’t just watch Fascist Propaganda Central on TV!” But you can’t tell anyone anything anymore. They know it all already. The certainty alone is frightening. That combination of certainty and total ignorance will be the doom of us all.
“Puerto Rico, me encanta.” It’s a sin and a crime how terribly we treat our Puerto Rican brothers and sisters, all fellow Americans. The death toll from that Hurricane Maria is now up to way over two thousand people, and we’re still short-changing them on the relief aid. It’s a scandal, is what it is. And then the Puerto Ricans who were relocated to the mainland are treated like beggars from fucking Bolivia or something. When are people going to wake up?
Oh, I forgot, the answer to that question is: NEVER. Because they already know it all, and they don’t read, and most of them only watch Fascist Propaganda Central. May I please ask my fellow Americans under the age of forty-five or so for a personal favor? Don’t blame this shit on Baby-Boomers. You’re old enough to be part of the problem too, and anyone younger than you might as well blame you. It’s not your fault either. It’s partly the fault of our selfish, lazy-minded politicians, and partly the fault of the people with too much money, and partly due to the fact that human beings are just not that smart.
To my fellow Baby-Boomers, congratulations! At least we’ll be gone before the end.