October 14, 2008
Ed Tubbs (San José EJ)
Perhaps my sons and a few others could tell you the ethnic makeup of our San José neighborhood. Until they moved, the consequence of a divorce, were the Arroyo’s. Rudy, an ex-St. Louis Cards pitcher was Puerto Rican. The Nguyen’s, Vietnamese, bought the home. Directly across the street was a Filipino family. Immediately east of them was a Hispanic single mom. Still heading easterly was Avery and his wife and their daughter, African-Americans. Next door to Avery was an Egyptian family. The Hoyt’s, a white couple were the neighbors on the other side of me. Then another white couple, and finally, on the corner was a Persian family.
Contrast this with the community in which I was raised: Allen Park, a 100% absolutely white suburb, six miles down river of Detroit. And Melvindale. And Lincoln Park. And Wyandotte. And Dearborn. All, like the rest of the communities that surrounded black-core Motown . . . not a single brown or black face in the mix. Mix? Yeah. The “mix” was white Presbyterians, white Methodists, white Catholics, white Lutherans, white Anglicans, and white so forth. But then, we could always point to Morris Zumberg. He was a Jew. Hanging with Morris showed you weren’t bigoted. Had some Jews, but no black ones.
And talk about the pressure in the 50s and 60s to conform. And Italian food was Chef-Boy-Ar-Dee. And Chinese was Chun-King.
After my active duty stint in the Army, and a delightful year in Denver, for almost four years, while attending college, I lived in Ypsilanti, just outside Ann Arbor, the home of the University of Michigan. Ypsi had another nickname: Ypsi-tucky. Because of the good paying auto assembly jobs at Willow Run and Ypsi and Wixom and the surrounding area, Ypsi-tucky was the ultimate Mecca for the white hill folk fleeing the economically and educationally barren knolls and valleys of Kentucky and the other financially and culturally vacant Appalachian hillbilly states.
I doubt many places in the South could compete with Ypsi for inbred racial bigotry. I’d often mock the ignorant ethnocentrism of these refugees as, “If yooo ain’t bettern a n****r, wutt is you bettern?” They needed to be able to point to some group, to sustain their illegitimate claim to some level of personal merit, and blacks had always been handy, even if they had never acquainted one. The pervasive ignorance was as shocking to me as it was revolting. The molecular fact that none of us got to choose our parents never made it to the water these folk drunk. (I know, the word is “drank,” but “drunk” was used for effect, considern who we wuz talkin’ ‘bout.)
And Lord, how many times I’d hear, “He’s a good worker,” used somehow as a compliment, I will never be able to sum. Mules and asses are “good workers.” But they’re not particularly smart workers. I never, ever heard someone called a “smart worker.” Being smart in Ypsi was not prized, working like a mule was. And a good job was working on the assembly line, not being one of the engineers designing the vehicles that were put together on that assembly line.
On the other hand, in San José, it was as night the day that your son or daughter would go on to college. If you lived in Palo Alto or Cupertino or Sunnyvale, it wasn’t merely college, it was one of the country’s top colleges. The proposition that high school was “it,” was more of an apostasy than wearing white after Labor Day in The Hamptons. It just wasn’t a part of your contemplative inventory.
During the late 70s, Vietnamese émigrés began to heavily populate the area. (In fact, however I don’t know whether the demographic yet remains true, through the 80s, San José was the third most populous Vietnamese city, after Hanoi and Saigon/Ho Chi Minh City! On Capitol Expressway, two blocks west of McLaughlin Avenue, is a memorial where three flags fly: the United States flag, the California State flag, and the Vietnamese flag.)
Some looked rather askance at the influx. Others, like me, greeted it enthusiastically. The academic bar would be raised. It wasn’t just raised, the poles upon which that bar would rest had to be extended considerably! Regardless whether the changing field was greeted, or merely accepted, pretty much getting along with each other was the way life was lived. As a product of the growing non-white population, Caucasians became a minority. And we had to get along, not focus on race, nor focus on religion or religious differences. Indeed, religion wasn’t an especially evident part of anyone’s life. Temples seemed as much a part of the residential landscape as churches, which were not themselves all that noticeable. With the exception of parts of Oakland and San Francisco’s Hunter’s Point and Bay View districts, the Bay Area was John Lennon’s Imagine realized, likely more than anywhere else in the US.
As example, one evening my teenage son Andy and I were returning to our car, parked in the parking lot of one of the area’s major grocery chains. From the car next to ours, a chorus of young female voices sang out, “Andy, Andy . . . He’s our hero!” My son was on the high school track team. And the young women were all black, as were Andy’s high school friends. (The friends of my other son Chris, Andy’s younger brother by 2½ years, were Latino.)
Bob Hebert, in today’s New York Times, wrote about how wholly unprepared and unconcerned we are that we are unprepared for the challenges confronting us, challenges that require higher math skills, higher educational skills than we currently possess. By and large, the US is a country of the blind trying to lead the blind in a world composed of countries with better than 20/20 vision. (http://www.nytimes.com/2008/10/14/opinion/14herbert.html?th=&adxnnl=1&emc=th&adxnnlx=1223996581-S6/6nM+rnWmR+SSZNYNmOg) Hebert quotes from an article written last week by Sara Rimer, “The United States is failing to develop the math skills of both girls and boys, especially among those who could excel at the highest levels . . . and those who do excel are almost all immigrants, or sons and daughters of immigrants from countries where mathematics is more highly valued.”