Archive for the ‘Ethnic Groups’ Category

Bob’s Apology to the Children of the World

© 2016 By Bob Litton. All Rights Reserved.

O little children, how I regret the need to write this letter to you. If we big people had done our duty for many years now, this apology would not have been necessary. You might not be able to read or comprehend by yourselves what I shall say here, so you perhaps should wait until you are a little older and have learned more and bigger words. (I will try to rein in my tendency to use complicated words, but that is very hard to do.) Or your parents might sit down with you and reduce the content to your level of understanding. I doubt that they will, because it could be too embarrassing for them.

I don’t have any children of my own, but there was a time when I deeply wanted a baby. However, I was already past the age when being a good daddy was practicable; and, anyway, I didn’t have a wife. A mommy is just as important in a child’s development as a daddy, usually more so. But my being childless is not really important: I am still just as responsible for our troubles as any parent.

But, let’s get on with the basic message I want to share with you.

The world is in a sad situation right now, both in an environmental way and in a social way. Perhaps the primary cause of that sad situation… (Let me introduce a new word to you here: dire. I would rather use that word than “sad” because, although it contains much the same meaning, it also means more. You see, a situation can be “sad” and yet limited; it might affect only one person or just a few people, and it might be just a temporary mood. “Dire”, however, adds more meaning — the element of threat. If something is a threat then it is neither tied to a mood nor likely to be temporary; it could mean the end of all life, even all things.)

One current threat is Climate Change. The Earth’s temperature is increasing; at least that is what about 300 of the world’s scientists have told us. And many things that we can see, if we look at them, appear to back up the scientists’ claims: the Arctic ice is melting, threatening the habitat of the polar bears and the Eskimos; the coral reefs, on which many sea creatures depend for food, is receding; the schedules and flight patterns of migratory birds are changing; and, perhaps the simplest test of all, the recording on temperature gauges is inching upward year by year. And those are just a few of the observable changes.

Now, a sizable minority of the world’s population refuses to acknowledge these changes or to attribute them to Man’s use of energy sources that come out of the earth, such as coal and oil. And other people, who might recognize Man’s guilt in all this mess, don’t have the political will to do anything about the problem. What hinders them is that to take the urgent actions needed to try and reverse, or at least moderate, disaster would require eliminating some industries, such as coal-mining and oil/gas-drilling, which have employed many people — perhaps your daddy or mommy — for a long time. You can understand, can’t you, why your parents, if they work in one of those industries, would fight to keep their jobs? They want to be able to feed and clothe you just as they have always done. And when the cost of a solution closely affects a person’s family his or her range of vision becomes severely narrowed.

Another threatening element in our world’s scene is tribalism. If you are Americans, you probably think that only the Native Americans (formerly known as “the Indians”) live in tribes. Actually, though, we are all members of tribes in that our facial features, skin colors, cultural attitudes, political arrangements, and even spiritual beliefs are shared by varying fractions of the world’s population. Throughout the centuries, tribes have often been in conflict with one another; this is very noticeably the current case in the Middle East, Africa and South Asia. But it is also an issue in Europe and the United States, where mass migrations of peoples who are fleeing oppression and poverty in their homelands continue. Especially when a bunch of them move to any one country, they tend to congregate in the same area so that they can share themselves with others of their own culture and language; thus, we have neighborhoods that become known as “China Town” or “Little Mexico”. Large influxes of peoples bringing with them their traditions, religions and other cultural habits appear threatening to native peoples, who want to protect their own cultural norms from alterations. Now, some of the native people — particularly the farmers — often welcome the foreigners because those refugees are willing to do work that some natives do not want to do. That causes quarrels between the farmers and their urban neighbors.

There are also, naturally, more practical problems that come with mass migrations: how to house, feed, clothe, educate and medicate the foreigners. The governments in Europe, the United States and some African countries are wrestling with those problems right now. A subtle and dangerous aspect of this social turmoil is the element of racism and religious bigotry involved. Ethnic jealousy and political partisanship also are part of this poisonous mixture. Such a seemingly small matter as whether a Muslim woman should be allowed to wear her religion-prescribed head scarf in some places has engendered debates in parliaments and the media.

Religion itself is a major element in the world’s general conflict. In the Middle East, one branch of Islam attacks another branch over the question of who was the rightful successor of Mahomet as leader of their religion. In China, the government is again trying to extinguish Christianity. And here in the U.S., one political party is working hard to infuse the Christian religion more deeply into our political system; they want to establish Christianity as the official religion of the U. S.. In all our conflicts, a primary element is the “us versus them” mentality, and that is especially true of the religious divisions.

Then there is the question of how you children are going to earn a living when you grow up. Robotics and mechanization are already reducing the number of humans who are needed for many types of jobs. In Japan, I read recently, they are already using robots to work the reservation counters at airports. A batch of sociological studies all indicate that many more positions will be taken over by robots over the next 25 years, including those of lawyers, doctors, and news reporters. So, what will you do? How will you spend all your “free time”? How will your food and shelter be paid for? Don’t expect the owners of factories and other businesses or the political officials to care: they want to eliminate the need for human employees because doing so will save them money. Why should they spend that savings on your needs?

Now, I should give credit to those grown-ups who are trying to solve some of the problems I have too briefly described above. There are many individuals, companies and even governments who are altering their practices regarding gaseous emissions from factories and vehicles, which are a major cause of the Climate Change problem. There are also some statesmen who are trying to tamper down the social strife caused by religious and cultural differences.

And there are your parents, who had enough faith in humanity to bring you into the world. I feel some mental and emotional conflict within myself at this point because, on the one hand, I wonder at their wanting to bring children into a world full of direful and daunting difficulties; while, on the other hand, I admire them for their faith and for providing us with you. The solutions will require people — intelligent, energetic and loving people — to discover and put them into practice.

Thus I leave you, Children of the World, with my most heart-felt apology for the messes we have left for you to clean up, and with my earnest hope and encouragement for your success.

Bless you,

Bob Litton

The Ultimate Texas Brags

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A Halloween decoration set up this month in the yard of a modest-size home just a few blocks from the author’s residence. (Photo: Courtesy of my ol’ fast-drivin’ buddy, Pancho Castillo, Las Cruces, NM.)

© 2015 By Bob Litton. All Rights Reserved.

NOTE TO READERS: I really wanted to wait until October 30th (the day before Halloween) before publishing a post about one of our favorite festival days. However, since I have to travel 65 miles next Monday to have another molar extracted, and 205 miles on Tuesday for a cataract operation on my left eye — the right eye was operated on last Tuesday — I realized that I will be either too busy or too tired to write this post the coming week. Of course I know that I could compose it now and hold off on publishing it until October 30th; but, as I have mentioned before, I haven’t the will-power to hold any production in my hot little hands more than a few hours. That’s just part of my horrific destiny!

*  *  *  *  *  *

Too Big

The booklet of out-sized jokes Texas Brags was first published in 1944 and reportedly saw as many as 20 later editions. Amazon.com’s site indicates the book is now out of print. Written by John Randolph and illustrated by Mark Storm, Texas Brags at the time was seen purely as a joke book full of exaggerated depictions of what it was like to be a Texan and to live in Texas; it was not taken seriously by many people, not even Texans.

Now, though, the title of the booklet, as well as its tone, has been adopted by our governor for the design of the state’s official web page. It is another example of the governor’s office’s on-going drive to lure industries from California and elsewhere. It turns my stomach.

Nonetheless, I am a Texan, and the bigness applies even to me. At the first of my time in the air force boot camp, I had to march and go to classes and chow wearing the initially issued pith helmet for an extra two weeks while the supply clerks located a fatigue cap that would fit my 7-5/8 skull.

Ever since then, finding shoes — without special-ordering them — has been an increasingly onerous task: it seems that with each additional millimeter in foot length the choices in patterns decline.

A month ago, a VA doctor ordered an elbow support pad for me. When it arrived, I could not pull it above my wrist; it was a Size Small. There were four other sizes available, according to the box my pad came in. I measured my elbow and discovered to my surprise that I would barely be able to insert my arm into the Extra Large, for my elbow’s circumference measured 33-1/2 cm, while the Extra Large was designed to fit elbows from 32 to 34 cm. But I got a replacement, and it will do.

The size problem more insistently struck home a year ago, though, when my dentist, pointing to an x-ray, said I had the largest sinuses he had ever seen.

And then, last week, when I was being prepped for the cataract surgery on my right eye, the ophthalmologist noted that the depth of that eye measured 27 mm, while the smallest depth is 21 mm, and the average is 23 mm. I asked the doctor if there is any advantage to having a large eye depth.

“There is a slight risk of a tear or a detached retina,” he replied.

“I don’t get it,” I said. “I’m not quite six feet tall, and I am not nearly as heavy as a lot of men I see, yet I hardly fit into anything. And now you tell me that even my eyeball is bigger than normal.”

“It is all a matter of proportion,” he said.

So, nothing to brag about, I concluded.

*  *  *  *  *  *

And back we go to Halloween

Every year about this time, the media get saturated with documentaries about vampires and werewolves as well as the more academic aspects of our celebration of the dead — for instance, the contrast between Anglo-America’s treatment of Halloween and that of Hispanic-America’s. (It is a more serious event down south — “El Dia de Los Muertos” — where the natives allow themselves a more intimate relationship with the dead.) There are also the simply entertaining televised features such as Charlie Brown’s adoring the “Great Pumpkin”; and Hallmark Channel’s “The Good Witch” both frightening and enlightening a small New England town.

Last year, I published on this blog a “mood editorial” about Halloween which I had written for The Shorthorn, UT-Arlington’s student newspaper. Some of you might enjoy perusing it today at: https://boblitton.wordpress.com/2014/10/23/reflections-on-a-jack-o-lantern/

I haven’t much to add to that piece. I still prefer Halloween and Thanksgiving to all the other festivals in our nation. Halloween is not a holiday, i.e., the public offices and schools do not close on October 31st. And yet more money is spent during October than is spent on Christmas, New Year’s Day, or any other celebration here. That is what I have read in newspapers over the past few years, and I still find it hard to believe. To think about it for a minute, though, we buy a hell of a lot of candy during this month, and chocolate is pretty damn expensive. Then there are the costumes — rigs often designed to win contests at parties. The parties themselves are probably not cheap either; but I don’t go to any, so that is just a supposition.

When I was a child, I enjoyed the “Trick-or-Treat” part of Halloween. Since then, however, I lament the fact that “Trick-or-Treating” has become rather too dangerous; mean-hearted people have taken to slipping razor blades and poison in the sweets they parcel out to children who knock on their doors. Many communities have adopted the custom of arranging parties in public schools and community centers in lieu of letting their children roam the neighborhoods.

Even though some of my neighbors’ children still go out with the treat bags after sundown, they usually don’t visit my apartment complex, for the residents here are either elderly or not all-together in their wits…or both. In past years, I have bought a “bargain-size” bag of candy to dispense, but none of the little brats knocked on my door; so I, dreading the resultant weight gain, had to eat all the little candy bars. I don’t do that anymore: I just turn out all the lights after the sun goes down and venture off to my favorite bar.

For a Halloween “treat” I will provide you below with the URL to Mussorgsky’s “Night on Bald Mountain”, a segment of Walt Disney’s 1940 film Fantasia:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SLCuL-K39eQ&list=PLQhqbTXltizz431wjB6XwyX2GLQYCZZi3
Enjoy!!!

Fin

 

 

Obama Among The Best

© 2015 By Bob Litton. All Rights Reserved.

I am a pessimist when considering humanity’s future. I believe the chance for our survival for even another century is less than fifty percent. Therefore, I will acknowledge before writing any further that the assertions in this letter will probably be moot in a few decades or less. I simply want to argue that future historians—if there are any—will reach a consensus that Barack Obama was the greatest American president since Franklin D. Roosevelt.

Here are the reasons why:

Obama faced an extremely antagonistic Congress when he was first elected in 2008, yet he tried to negotiate and compromise with the Republicans in the beginning. At the outset, Speaker John Boehner declared he and his henchmen would insure that Obama’s first term would be his last. The Republicans in general “pulled at his pants legs”, placed stumbling blocks in his way, continuously. They blocked or stalled his appointments time after time. They sought out every little flaw in his proposals and, instead of taking rather simple steps to rectify them, used them as excuses to toss out the entire proposals. (I am thinking specifically of the Affordable Care Act here.) It was classic racism from the get-go.

Nevertheless, Obama, in his first year on the job, went so far in accommodating the Republicans that he began to worry me and other liberal supporters, including New York Times columnist and Harvard economics professor Paul Krugman: we felt Obama was “giving away the store”. However, the President grew out of that mindset before his first term was over and began to hold his ground more firmly until, in his 2015 State of the Union address, he really became feisty. Many people, including some TV commentators, thought he went a little overboard there, espousing goals that they viewed as a “bucket list”. I did not. I saw it as a range of desirable goals we all should work hard to achieve.

Obama and his team managed to track down and kill Osama bin Laden, a task which George W. Bush shunted not many months after a blustery vow to subdue the master terrorist. Over an eight-year period, the George W. Bush apparatus never caught or killed Osama bin Laden. The terrorist was killed during the night of May 11-12, 2011—the third year of Obama’s first term.

Obama patiently led the nation during a long and frustrating campaign to dig us out of the worst recession since the 1930s. Our economy is generally healthier now than it has been since Bill Clinton’s presidency. Unemployment has declined to a manageable level, our trade deficit has improved, and our national debt has begun to recede. Obama worked against strong resistance and great technical difficulties to create a national health program. Similarly he struggled to solve the immigration problem while Congress deserted Washington, heading for the hinterland to fight for their continuances. These were tasks several past presidents and Congresses promised to address; but, except for Clinton’s failed effort, none of them ever did.

We still have problems with social class and wealth disparities, low wages, and an increasing number of homeless people. However, these are problems Obama—and to some extent even Bush—inherited; the difference is that Obama has tried to push Congress above sloganeering and into practical actions to eliminate those problems.

I am not claiming that Obama is perfect. I have read and heard reports that he is aloof, even arrogant, but so was Lyndon Johnson. (Hell, for that matter, so am I.) He has been criticized for indecorous moments—such as saluting with a cup of coffee in his hand and wearing denims in his office. I think his aides should have prevented the first, and the second complaint is silly: I don’t care if Obama works in his office in his pajamas, as long as he is not engaged in an official meeting there. Now, the third such incident—his entering an international conference room while chewing gum—did strike me as uncouth. But then I recall Tom Jefferson’s two-faced conniving, bankrupting spending habits, and slave-ownership; and Obama’s little peccadilloes don’t seem worth noting.

But the most admirable of Obama’s achievements has been what I perceive to be his unflappable patience. After having read about and witnessed the endurance of most of our Black folk over the centuries, I have reached the point of believing endurance and patience are part of their genetic makeup.

Although I recognize and try to accept that we do not have enough future left for any potential historians to agree with the above remarks, because too many of us humans—everywhere—are ducking our heads in the sand, I feel some gratification in having this opportunity to share my applause for Obama with the community.

Finis

NOTE TO NON-BLOGGER READERS: WordPress has its program set up where only WP bloggers can register “likes” and “comments” on this page. However, if you are a non-blogger, I would be glad to hear any helpful criticisms you might wish to share and, therefore, have left my email address in the “About” page (see button above the title of this post). Please, no “snarky” comments, or I will have to delete it.
Thank you for reading.
BL

In Memorium: Henry “Snake-Eyes” Fuller

Henry Fuller -Ol' Snake Eyes- Retired from employment as custodian in 1983

Ol’ ” Snake-Eyes”, as we used to call him around the newspaper office, where he came on Wednesday and Friday nights to pick up papers to sell, was one of my favorite denizens of Monahans. At the moment depicted above he was singing “Amazing Grace” with his admirable, bass voice; but you can’t hear him, of course.

Note To Readers:  The following feature article was originally published in the Monahans News in 1983. I am publishing it here for two reasons: (1) It reveals quite graphically the restraints and hardships borne by African-American citizens during the first half of the 20th century as well as the various tones racism could take from one section of Texas to another section of the same state, not to mention the rest of the nation; (2) I consider it now a memorial to one of my favorite people. Perhaps I should have said three reasons, for I hope any persons out in the world who read it will gain, through it, the most vivid perception of this good-natured man that the written word can portray.

Please be aware that I have not edited the flavor of Henry’s speech. My leaving his words as he spoke them in the Black patois of the Southern U.S. was not the result of condescension. I simply wanted to share Henry’s manner of delivery in the same way as I heard it, as closely as ink and a piece of white paper would allow.

Also, I should remark on Henry’s nickname. I never asked him how he acquired the moniker “Snake-Eyes” because I thought I could guess correctly: I thought it had something to do with his white irises and dark pupils and their resemblance to a toss of dice coming up as a deuce. However, it occurred to me years afterwards that the reference might be to a gambling habit, in which Henry frequently lost because all his tosses came up as “snake-eyes”. However, I doubt that Henry was ever so careless of his income as to gamble any of it away.

Henry had a penchant for nick-names. He even invented one for me: “Shirt-Tail”. He was commenting on the fact that, when I was bending over the long composing table and pasting up pages, the back bottom of my shirt frequently pulled loose from my pants and dangled.

* * * * * *

‘Snake-eyes’ retires

© 1983, 2014 By Bob Litton. All Rights Reserved.

“There wasn’t nothin’ but sandstorms when I came out here, wasn’t any rainstorms,” recalls retired Ward County custodian Henry Fuller of his journey from Tyler to Monahans in February 1948.

Henry, known to many of his friends as “Snake-eyes”, originally intended to return to East Texas after the six-month pipe-laying project he had contracted to work on was completed.  “I was a pipe-fitter for the City of Tyler,” he explains. “Jack Forga (city manager of Monahans) borrowed us from the City to lay water and sewer pipes in Monahans.  Two of us came out here first on the train — me and L.D. Ryder. Kelly came later and Tommy Hutchinson and Tommy Tucker.

“Claude Chance came a couple of months later, and my kids rode in his truck.  They slept in the truck.  Black folks didn’t stay in motels in those days.

“I didn’t know anybody here then. I came to stay six months, and I stayed forty years.”

* * * * * *

But our story is getting a little ahead of itself.

We ought to note that Henry was born Aug. 8, 1916, in Galilee, near Tyler in Van Zandt County.  His father, who farmed on ten acres of land, was married twice; so Henry ended up with five brothers, three sisters, seven step-brothers and five step-sisters.  “None of them are alive now,” he tells us.

“Back in them days you weren’t mean, ‘cause they’d whup you for anything like you’d stole somethin’.  My step-mama whupped me for dippin’ snuff.  One time she whupped me with a bullwhip.  I thought she was mean, but now I think she didn’t whup me enough.”

Besides strict discipline, Henry also believes that the simple diet of his early years was better than what kids eat nowadays.  “I’d eat a sweet potato as big as my arms, a piece of bread and some milk; and I was stronger than a bull.  You didn’t hear of people dyin’ then of heart attacks or cancer.  You might see someone with a skin cancer, but you didn’t see no one dyin’ of a heart attack or cancer.”

For entertainment, the best pastime was teasing a billy goat.  “In that red land country there was a billy goat, and we’d aggravate him and he’d chase us and eat us up if he caught us. We’d run up the steps of the (Masonic) lodge hall to get away from him.  That son-of-gun was bigger than a Shetland horse!”

* * * * * *

Henry says he left school after the seventh grade and took up the pipe-fitting trade, which is what eventually brought him out to Monahans.  However, he suffered a pelvic bone injury when a ditch on Doris Avenue caved in on him.  After that, he left the contractor to work for the City on a two-man trash truck crew.  “I was one of the first to work on a trash truck here,” he recalls. “We had fifty-gallon barrels back then.  Just had one trash truck. We’d go to work at 4 a.m. and work  until noon. The other crew would start at noon and work until about five.”

In 1956, he left City employment to work for the County.  “The pay was better; but they paid only once a month, while the City paid every two weeks. I didn’t think about that,” he says. “I worked for the County from 1956 until last month. They say I ‘dodged in twenty-seven years.’”

Besides his job at the County, Henry took care of the lawns of several locally prominent persons, including (former Ward County Judge) Toon Estes, Lillie Tatom and Hugh P. Cooper.  Occasionally, he even found himself baby-sitting for these people.  For instance, there was the time he caught Pearson Cooper, Allen Williams and Skipper Butler smoking grapevine.  “I rapped ‘em on the ass,” he recalls with a gleeful laugh.

* * * * * *

In his mature years, Henry “Snake-eyes” Fuller’s leisure moments are concentrated on drinking cold beer, listening to the radio (“News only, I’m too old for that music!”) and attending church every other week.  “I go to St. Matthew (AME); my wife goes to Mt. Zion Baptist.

“There’s only six of us in the Methodist Church, counting the preacher.  He comes from Crane, so we meet only twice a month; but we manage to pay the preacher and put a little in the bank, too.

“I sing in the church. Sing bass. We sing ‘Amazing Grace’ and all those kind of songs.”  You have to hear “Snake-eyes” sing “Amazing Grace” to appreciate the fact that he does have a good voice for singing.  Also, you have to hear him talk in his own special jargon to glimpse the character of the man.  You can’t really say his talk is “Black talk”, because he seems to make up his own vocabulary.  Words like “didybitecha” aren’t words with any particular meaning; they are nonsense syllables spoken for comic effect.

“Snake-eyes” has reached his own reconciliation with the White and Black worlds.  It’s a little bit dated: “I stay in my place and they stay in theirs.”  But, he’s too old to change, and for him West Texas was from the first — back when he was young and still seeking a fairer share of the social and economic pie — far ahead of East Texas in its attitude toward Blacks.

“Monahans has been good to me, That’s all I got to say. I got more friends than Carter’s got oats. I own my own home and I got money in the bank. White people treat you more better here. In Tyler they wouldn’t even sell me a pack of cigarettes.”

— Monahans News, May 5, 1983

                                                                        Finis

NOTE TO NON-BLOGGER READERS: WordPress has its program set up where only WP bloggers can register “likes” and “comments” on this page. However, if you are a non-blogger, I would be glad to hear any helpful criticisms you might wish to share and, therefore, have left my email address in the “About” page (see button above the title of this post). Please, no “snarky” comments, or I will have to delete it.
Thank you for reading.
BL

World Not Made In Our Image

© 1980, 2014 By Bob Litton

NOTE TO READERS: This essay was originally published in the Monahans News under my “Just Between You and Me” column for March 20, 1980. It relates to the events surrounding the assault on the American embassy in Iran. However, while looking over this and other old writings in my files, I was struck by the uncanny resemblance to our current involvements in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria.

* * * * * *

The American temperament developed long before the Revolution.  In fact, some might well argue there could not have been an American Revolution without such a temperament.*

However, America did not really have an articulate voice until Walt Whitman.  And, for me, what was most peculiarly American in Whitman’s expression was his insistence on being a person of contradictions.  He did not blush at such an admission, but rather proclaimed it.

I think that quality of being an American makes it easier for me to accept contradictions within myself, especially in regard to my attitude toward my country.  Right now, for instance, I am both proud of the U.S.A. and embarrassed for us.

I am proud because, in spite of aggravation and incitement, we did not react with military force against the Iranians when they took over our embassy there.  Some claim, and probably correctly, that such assaults don’t happen to the Soviets because nationalistic terrorists realize the Soviets would not hesitate to sacrifice their own countrymen in order to save face.  To a degree, that is what they are doing now in Afghanistan.

To argue that we should do likewise—i.e., act like brutes to achieve at least a grumbling respect—is to say we ought to forgo our notions (or ideals?) of developing a civilized world.  If a person who cherishes his own honor succumbs to a temptation to act dishonorably because he realizes his opponent has no intention of acting honorably and therefore is likely to prevail, then he who compromises will have already lost part of the contest, because he will be allowing the opponent to dictate the terms by which it is to be fought.

I’m not claiming we have not acted as brutes before.  We have.  But, we are also growing as a nation, and I choose to look on certain sorry episodes in our history as teething stages in our maturation.  The very fact that we publish those episodes is an index of our maturation.

The embarrassing aspect of the Tehran captivity is that we are allowing the Iranian militants to siphon every ounce of publicity possible out of it.  In a manner similar to our mercurial economic news, newspapers grab up every new note of hope and disillusionment.  It seems that every time the Iranians see their great moment slipping from page one to the inside pages they pull some new publicity stunt to retrieve their position on page one.  AND WE LET THEM DO IT!

I suppose such manipulation is unavoidable in a nation with a free press; and, as much as it disgusts me, I would rather put up with the manipulation than lose the first amendment.  Still, I often feel like screaming at my countrymen, “Quit expecting other peoples to play by the rules.  Quit expecting them to keep their commitments.  Quit expecting honor from them.  But, never stop expecting those qualities from ourselves.”

— The Monahans News, March 20, 1980

* For more detail on “American character traits”, see http://www.icyte.com/system/snapshots/fs1/5/9/a/c/59accd6acfd8372a8372b65d71592281c22e12c2/index.html

Finis

From “Mexican” to “Hispanic”

©1980, 2014 By Bob Litton

NOTE TO READER: The following column was originally published in the Monahans News on August 21, 1980. I am republishing it here, as I have done with several other articles from that newspaper, because I believe it is still timely. I have made a few small changes to reflect knowledge gained from subsequent events and my own developing reflections on the topic.
– BL

One of our Anglo readers asked me the other day where the word “Hispanic” came from and what it had to do with Mexican-American culture.

It was one of those embarrassing moments for me because I knew I had used the term in a recent news story. I also knew I had picked it up along the way during my perception of the rapid flux of events called U.S. history. Somehow or other it had replaced a series of terms—namely, “Mexican”, “Mexican-American”, “Latin-American” and “Chicano”.

But as to its etymological derivation I wasn’t too sure. I had a vague notion of some place, probably an island, which was called “Hispaniola”, but I wasn’t even sure where it was located. I admitted my ignorance to her and promised I would research—and write a column on—the term.

Well, the first place to start, obviously, is the dictionary.  There I found under “hispanic”: “(L. Hispanicus, fr. Hispania, Spain, Iberian Peninsula – icus-ic): relating to or derived from the people, speech or culture of Spain or of Spain and Portugal.”

And under “hispanicize” we find: “to make Spanish; a: to cause to acquire a quality, qualities, or traits distinctive of Spanish culture or Spaniards (to hispanicize the conquered Indians): b: to modify (language or a particular word or expression) to conform to a language characteristics distinctive of Spanish (“beisbol” is hispanicized “baseball”); c: to bring under control of Spain or Spaniards.”

And finally, “Hispaniola”: “an island in the West Indies comprising the Republic of Haiti (west) and the Dominican Republic (east).”

Now, as to the business of measuring the value of “Hispanic” as an ethnic designation against the other terms, I can only gauge it in terms of cogency, as an Anglo journalist is bound to do. Frankly, I prefer it to all the other terms, partly because of its brevity and partly because it is cultural rather than national. How can you call anybody born in the United States a “Mexican”?—especially when they are of the third or fourth generation in this country.  For that matter, there is not a little irony in the fact that persons of Irish, Scotch and Welsh (i.e., Celts) descent are lumped together with sons of the English as “Anglos” (i.e., Angles, a Germanic group).

Similarly, “Latin-American” or “Mexican-American” really denotes only peoples below the Rio Grande. Both North America and South America are still America. For United States citizens to distinguish ourselves as “Americans” is slightly arrogant.

And Chicano?  Said to have been in use among Mexican-Americans from c.1911, “Chicano” was probably influenced by Spanish chico “boy,” also used as a nickname. The adjective in English has reportedly been in use in the U.S. since 1967. To me, “Chicano” bears too much the connotation of the street gang, of the Chicago thug.  Or perhaps of “chicanery”, which means subterfuge.  Good riddance to that term.

Yes, “Hispanic” strikes just the right note.  It encompasses all the peoples, whether of the Western or the Eastern hemispheres, North or South America, who share a common language and, at least to a degree, a distinctive culture derived either from Spain or from Portugal.

And also, bless it, it doesn’t require more than a column’s width to be type-set.
The Monahans News, August 21, 1980

UPDATE:  The following addendum, I concede, is impressionistic. That is, while its import is reflective of a fairly recent, personal perception, it might actually be more reflective of an older, more general usage. Anyway, the realization occurred to me while I was preparing the above essay for its reprinting that yet another term seems to have superceded — or is superceding — “Hispanic”: that term is “Latino/Latina”, a designation that has been around since at least 1946 (according to my dictionary).

I had thought that there was no definitional difference between the two words. However, there is a significant difference; but, since the difference did not proceed full-grown from my forehead but from Wikipedia, I will defer to that source’s distinction between the two:
Latino (/læˈtin/ or /ləˈtin/)[1] is a term used chiefly in the United States to refer to people of Latin Americanextraction or descent, though the term has also been incorrectly used as a synonym for HispanicHispanic is a narrower term which only refers to persons of Spanish-speaking origin or ancestry, while ‘Latino’ is more frequently used to refer more generally to anyone of Latin American origin/ancestry.”
– BL

Great-grand-pappy Sevald O. Lund, the Painter (1852-1939)

One of Sevald O. Lund’s Western frontier paintings. Of the same generation as Frederic Remington and Charles Russell, Sevald liked to depict cowboys, Indians and loggers as much as he had the fishermen of his home country, Norway.

©2014 By Bob Litton

I have perhaps made it more than enough clear in previous posts that I aspired in my early youth to be an artist, particularly an author who illustrated his own writings. Well, it should also be obvious from those posts that I let my artistic talent wither, damn near atrophy. For several reasons, during my university years, I decided to concentrate on writing. From time to time, I returned to my paint brushes and clay, but mostly I just left them alone.

However, muscles notwithstanding, the blood within me still carried as much in the way of pigments, figuratively speaking, as it did ink. And one of these days, I am going to run away from this computer keyboard and employ those water colors I bought just over a month ago. It is difficult to elicit a true sense of color tones from words.

It could be all a delusion, but I believe I inherited my visual art talent from my great-grandfather on my mother’s side, Sevald Olsson Lund, a Norwegian immigrant whose family settled in Wisconsin in 1865, when he was thirteen years old. He was my maternal grandmother’s father. Since he died almost three months before I was born, I obviously never had any opportunity to meet Great-grand-pappy; yet what my mother related and what I have read[1] about him written by Carlin Hibbard, a gallery manager and art consultant in Wisconsin, has almost convinced me that his “timorous nature” and “community artist” genes have descended into my nature. I have always abhorred confrontations, and my work as a journalist was always devoted to “community newspapers” and a radio station. Also similar to Sevald’s nature was the natural, simple emphasis in my few artworks and my inclination to produce them primarily for my own enjoyment and that of acquaintances. And, finally, I never anticipated — and therefore probably never deserved — making much money from them: my ancestor was more of a self-promoter than I (he had to be to make a living), but not much more. He had to earn a good portion of his livelihood from farming (for a while) and painting houses and coaches.

Ms. Hibbard sums up her evaluation of Sevald Lund as artist this way:
“Lund painted for his own enjoyment, but also with an eye toward the desires and interests of those around him. His works varied according to their use and according to their prospective owners, be they businessmen, Norwegian relatives, or grandchildren. It is, therefore, not surprising that Lund is difficult to describe stylistically. His repetition of motifs and the flat schematic manner in which he painted some of his large early works…gave them something of the primitive flavor of work by artists who had developed their own personal techniques and ways of solving pictorial problems. However, Lund cannot be classified as a truly naive painter because he, at the same time, showed an acquaintance with such academic techniques as modelling…, perspective…, balance in composition…, coordinated color, and the ability to portray atmospheric light effects. Furthermore, if one were to look only at his Norwegian farm paintings one would probably classify him as a folk artist nostalgically depicting scenes from his past. These pieces, painted primarily for friends and relatives, were executed with the sort of straightforward simplicity and sincerity that is typical of folk art while lacking its flat and linear quality.”[2]

Although Sevald did not study art in a school, he did work for several years as assistant to German immigrant Jacob Miller, who had studied at, and been credentialed by, the Royal Academy in Munich. Hibbard, in her essay, tried to link Lund to other 19th century artists of note, comparing him stylistically and/or thematically to Herbjørn Gausta (1854-1924) for his “quiet realism” and to Edward Hicks (1780-1849), whose “painting procedures were a mixture of the primitive artist’s personally achieved methods and knowledge he had gained in the handling of pictorial space and depiction of figures from his work as a sign painter. Like Lund he cannot be really classified as a pure primitive or as an academic painter….What they have in common is being artists of the people, satisfied with serving their immediate community.”[3]

Although Sevald painted at least one religious painting, for a Lutheran church, most of his paintings were landscapes (especially of farms and logging camps), marine scenes (wharves, fishing boats, and ships at sea), bucolic scenes (cows and sheep), still lifes, and cowboys and Indians. Readers can get a good idea of the scope and quality of his works at this URL site:
http://picasaweb.google.com/slund5/SevaldOLund#

There are also a couple of home movies accessible on YouTube showing Sevald and his immediate family about to depart on an excursion; but what they are celebrating, I have no idea. The main reason I mention it here, since I doubt that many readers will be interested in visiting those films, is that they were filmed by one of my great-aunts, Aunt Kristine (“Kit”), who also had some artistic talent, which she developed enough to coach me. Another of my grandmother’s sisters, Aunt Jo, was a commercial artist who did fashion drawings for a newspaper and illustrated at least one youth novel (which I no longer possess).

Ms. Hibbard notes that Sevald gave many of his paintings to relatives, especially to his grandchildren, of whom my mother was one. Mother gave me the one she had: a water-color scene of some sheep resting in the shade of a beech tree; and my great-aunt Jo gave me a water-color of a steam ship…with masts (?) docked at a wharf. My sister-in-law has one of his seascape-with-boats water-colors.

I have instructed my heir and power-of-attorney friend to send my Lund pictures to the Chippewa Valley Museum in Eau Claire, Wisconsin, after I am released from this “vale of sorrows”. That museum already has a large permanent collection of Sevald’s artworks. Knowing that many of his paintings are scattered now throughout the United States, particularly in California and Texas, they have requested that any present owners donate theirs to the Chippewa Museum.  They also had a special retrospective of his paintings and carvings during the period June 16, 1990 through January 6, 1991. Wish I could have gone to view it.

* * * * * *

[1] Carlin Hibbard, “S. O. Lund, A Community Artist from Norway”, in Marion Nelson, ed., Material Culture and People’s Art among the Norwegians in America, (Northfield, Minn., Norwegian-American Historical Assn.: 1994), pp. 176-198.

[2] Ibid. p. 193.

[3] Ibid., pp. 194-5.

S. O. Lund

Finis

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