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Her face at first just ghostly turns a whiter shade of pale

by anna at 06:47 PM on March 24, 2004

I'm watching TV. Up pops Johnny Cochran, touting "America's law firm," located right her in DC. I'm thinking, cool, now I'll know who to call if ever I'm accused of beheading my wife.

I'm also thinking about what a divisive influence he and the Jesse Jackoffs of the world are. I've long thought they overstate the role of racism in everyday life, solely for personal gain. To the contrary I believe most folks are colorblind.

Or so I thought until this real estate ordeal began. Otherwise progressive-minded people have this gaping blind spot when it comes to one group: unassimilated Hispanic immigrants in their 'hood.

Enter Andrea, a Jewish lady we know from our days as Cub Scout den leaders. She's what you might call an activist Jew. She campaigned to have the traditional Christmas party nixed in favor of a generic "holiday celebration." So you'd think she'd be sensitive when it comes to minority concerns, but no. She's been "neighborhood shopping," scoping out areas to gauge the level of unassimilated immigrant penetration. On this basis alone she chose where to relocate her family. I'd imagine others have done the same as the mass exodus here kicks into high gear.

One of the houses we viewed was a rooming house full of Hispanics. They held an open house. Now most sellers try to put their best foot forward by cleaning up and vacating the premise. Not these guys. Debris was strewn about. People were sleeping everywhere. The MBR was locked. I heard moaning and not the good kind.

Their trashcan's lid was down and winds were gusting. Garbage blew into the neighbor's yard. Out he storms, unleashing a stream of obscenities. He gathers up the trash and hurls it into their open garage. I got a closer look at him and realized it was Dave, another guy we know from the Scouts. His son was in our den. After touring the eyesore we paid him a visit and boy did we receive an earful.

He complained that they spoke no English, were too numerous to count and that they threw raucous parties. He told us he too was planning to flee, because "it" seemed to be infiltrating his enclave. Evidently the very presence of that rooming house has been cause for much turmoil and discussion among longtime residents.

My Cuban friend Anabel stresses that she flew into LaGuardia first class, as opposed to some rickety raft off the coast of Miami. Even my easygoing wife recoils when Latino landscapers make suggestive kissy-kissy noises at her. "I'm a goddamn grandmother for Christ's sake," she snaps at them.

I must draw a critical distinction here. It's not the general Hispanic population that has certain persons so riled up. Who doesn't love J. Lo, Ricky Martin, oo-la-la Salma Hayek and rent-a-guitar-legend Carlos Santana? Rather, it's immigrants who seem disinclined to assimilate themselves into the population at large.

The crackpot Pat Buchanan wrote about this in a surprisingly lucid tome called The Death of the West: How Dying Populations and Immigrant Invasions Imperil Our Country and Civilization. He thinks America isn't so much a melting pot now as a tossed salad. The components are still in the same bowl but they don't meld together anymore.

And maybe he's right. Could Jackson Heights, NY or El Paso, TX (where not being bilingual can act as an effective bar to gainful empoyment) be our future? Is that necessarily a bad thing?

comments (11)

My neighborhood is middle class (the working class kind, not the Lexus-and-Jaguar kind), and about half Asian and half Hispanic. I love it when our neighbors across the backyard throw loud crazy parties with mariachi music. And I think it's neat to see the parking on the street fill up every Sunday after church, and see people strolling between their relatives' places in their Sunday best. My Hispanic neighbors have a presence, and keep the neighborhood festive. The Asian neighbors don't ever make trouble (except when trying to poison our cats, but those were renters), but they are also basically invisible. Like if the Big One hit, I don't know if they'd come by to make sure we were okay.

Anyway, the boarding house problem sounds like a straightforward zoning and rental agreement issue. There are probably too many people living in the house, so why haven't the neighbors gotten City Hall to send over an inspector? That's all it takes. Then the renters get evicted.

Also, if the gardeners are flirting with your wife I think protocol is for you to do something about it. What, exactly, I'm not sure. Threatening looks are good, but that could lead to blows. You would need to be prepared to "bring it," as they say. Anyways, perhaps you guys need to take it with a grain of salt: 1) Hispanic men in general will flirt shamelessly with anything without a beard, and 2) isn't this the same thing that perfectly Caucasian construction workers would do anyways?

by jean at March 25, 2004 1:27 AM

Well, for the bilingualism being an impediment to jobs, that's a debate we in Ontario/Quebec know very well -- at least, those of us who live near the Ontario-Quebec border. We've been covering that one for years. :)

Same deal with the melting pot vs. stew or whatever it's called. My thoughts have always been that a certain amount of assimiliation should be expected, like standing for the national anthem -- if you're going to join the country, respect it -- or learning one of the languages maybe a bit to get by... but there's nothing wrong with keeping one's own culture and so on.

Of course, to some extent, I think a new immigrant should learn a bit about the customs and so on for their new country -- it helps integration and means that you won't be getting in trouble with people for offending them over something major to them, but minor to you.

I'm striving to be coherent here, and it's tough.

by Jen at March 25, 2004 7:03 AM

Well, the ambivalence some folks have about this "issue" is understandable. My wife doesn't really think the suggestive noises are a big deal. Maybe she finds it flattering in a way. And I agree that a Hispanic presence can liven up a neighborhood. It's a long-held tenet that diversity itself is good. But I agree with Jen that some effort should be made to fit in a bit and maybe reach out to your neighbors.

by anna at March 25, 2004 7:50 AM

What bothers me is that a lot of the people who would probably really bitch about how immigrants need to assimilate are the same ones that will traipse all over the world expecting perfect English.

When I went to Mexico EVERYONE staying in our hotel spoke English. At meals, I would hear people at other tables repeat themselves loudly and rudely to the waitstaff if, god forbid, the generally multilingual staffer didn't understand their mumbling northern/southern accents. "I said I WANT MUSTARD, not CUSTARD."


As far as reaching out to your neighbors, I think EVERYONE in this country could do that more. We are one of the most frigid countries as far as getting friendly with our neighbors. One thing I loved in Colombia (sort of like what Jean described) was how everyone hung out outside, sitting and parks, talking to their neighbors, playing cards... Why are we so damn secluded from each other?

by Linz at March 25, 2004 9:51 AM

Anna, what youíre talking about doesnít sound like a racial thing, but a shitty neighbor thing. Youíre getting conflict because the neighbors arenít obeying or understanding city laws. That negatively affects you and your property value. Iíd be mad too. In this racially charged country I live in, it seems way too often that if someone stands up and criticizes someone of a different race they get labeled a bigot. Itís an easy way to respond to criticism. So, instead of saying anything, people hold it to themselves and build up steam.

by MrBlank at March 25, 2004 10:03 AM

I think the friendliness with neighbors is a regional or even neighborhood by neighborhood thing. When I was growing up, everyone in the 'hood knew each other, were outside as long as the weather allowed, and hung out on each others stoops talking. Where I was living last year no one talked to anyone, but where I live now, it is very friendly again.

by mg at March 25, 2004 10:22 AM

Maybe Pat Buchanan needs to bone up on his chemistry so he can convert the dogmatic pessimism engrained in that book title to a more enquiring optimism. A melting pot, like a salad is, is just mixture of particles. Not to split cucumbers too thinly but I'd like to see what data he uses to distinguish between a tossed mix of iceberg lettuce and tomatoes, versus a lentil salad, versus tabouli or baba ganoush, versus a fondue. They're all just particles of varying size. As for my own experience, my grandmother was a hispanic migrant farm worker, no education above 4th grade, lived in a house with a dirt floor and worked int he canneries. Much of that part of my family still speaks spanish. My Dad came over from Germany as a young boy, and from day 1 was forbidden from speaking german in the house. Both families assimilated just fine, though at different rates, and each still have traditions from the past that serve no detriment to anything otherwise considered "american".

by chris at March 25, 2004 4:23 PM

Chris I'd urge you to read the book. I'm no fan of this nut, and I agree his title is downbeat, but he does have a lot of solid numbers.

And it's funny what people had to say about ethnic backgrounds versus just plain bad neighbors. We have an extended family of Mexicans across the street. They bought the house from a real good but lazy-ass friend of mine. In short order they've turned it into a shining gem with new siding, paint and windows. But like Jean said, they kind of keep to themselves when their daughters aren't coming on to me. Different story, different day.

by anna at March 25, 2004 7:50 PM

Mmmmmmmm. Mexican daughters.

by Ezy at March 26, 2004 10:01 AM

You tell me: I'm standing in my yard and senorita saunters up to me holding a cookbook in English. The recipe is pretty straightforward but she claims she doesn't understand and wants me to 'splain it. So I do and she's all, "So, are you a good cook?" I half expected her to ask me to cook the damn thing. She then commences to telling me all these other Unnecessary Things About Herself. A sure sign, or at least it was back in the day...

by grandpa-anna at March 26, 2004 6:16 PM

I've known black people and mexicans and I often called them niggers, mudsharks, border jumpers, jungle bunnies, spics, as well as other things and you know what... they were some of the best friends I've ever had. I think all the people who take racism so seriously are the people who make it such a problem. Me and my friends always. And people who complain about how racist everyone is and how they're always discriminated usaully seem to be the most racist of all. I don't see a big deal about skin color, nationality, or culture. I think if u live in a neighborhood of hispanics u should invite'em over for a BBQ and get to know'em. Go to one of their "raucus" parties. BTW as yall have probably already noticed, I'm not a very good speller so just bare with me.

by Jerry at April 22, 2004 2:19 PM

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