Posts Tagged ‘Community Journalism’


Thank you for visiting my blog, which I am dropping for art and health’s sake. I will leave it in cyberspace for anyone who might want to browse through the 43 months of archives.




Goodbye, Tooth Fairy!

Tooth Fairy

©2004, 2016 By Bob Litton. All Rights Reserved.

NOTE TO READERS: The article below was written back in 2004.  At that time, I submitted it to one of our local weeklies. The publisher/editor never printed it. I did not ask him why, but I supposed, with substantial grounds, that his reason was that it was “soft news”; i.e. material that had no immediate relevance for the populace but was a rather small matter that yet could in fact disturb them— they might avoid their local barbers and dentists. Also, while he puts out the best chronicle in the three-county area in the sense that his reporters cover ”hard news” (governmental, political and social events) more fully and accurately, he doesn’t have much appreciation for feature articles or what used to be called “familiar essays” (a common element in the “Talk of the Town” section of New Yorker magazine), which are my forte. So, this article has been stuck in my files all those years, yet I believe it still makes engrossing matter for the intellectually curious reader.

     I have altered the names somewhat, reducing them to initials, because I did not have permission from the subjects to include their full names, although they knew I would publish the article sometime, somewhere. Also, the barber retired half a dozen years ago.


◊  ◊  ◊  ◊  ◊  ◊

There’s new news and there’s old news—but they are not always so simply distinguishable.

Take for example a recent trip to the barbershop for my monthly trim. I went to K. N.’s barbershop. Usually, one of the other barbers cuts my hair, but on this day I had the honor of K. N. himself shearing my mane. After he had done the basic work, he pressed out a palmful of lather and smeared it on my neck. It had been I don’t know how many years since anyone had done that.

“Since when did you start shaving the neck?” I asked. “I thought shaving was out ever since the AIDS scare happened.”

“Oh, we’ve got these stainless steel razors now,” he said. “I used to use Solingen steel blades from Germany. Other barbers used Sheffield steel from England. But they both had pores in them that retained blood. Now I use stainless steel. And I use it only one time.” The stainless steel blades, we discovered after looking at a box, are made in the U.S.

The State of Texas Barber Board, K.N. told me, sent out new regulations about ten years ago ordering barbers to quit using the porous razor blades. They also had to get rid of their strops and hones.

K.N. said he doesn’t offer shaves, even though they would be allowable with the stainless steel blade. He quit shaving years ago, he said, “because people have skin blemishes—like moles. And when you lather a customer up you can’t see the moles.”

About ten years ago was also when the Center for Disease Control, or CDC, sent out regulations telling dentists to modify their practices in the interest of reducing the potential for transmission of HIV, according to local dentist J.F.

The regulations were a response to the case of a dentist in Florida who a decade ago allegedly infected five patients with the AIDS virus, J.F. told me. However, he said, all five cases involved different strains of the virus.

My conversation with the doctor about AIDS developed when I went to see him about tender gums. As I sat in the chair I noticed that the ordinary chairside spittoon was missing.

“Where’s the spittoon?” I asked the dentist’s hygienist as she was sticking a tube in my mouth.

“Oh, we can’t use those anymore,” she said, “because of AIDS.”

What she had stuck in my mouth, J.F. later told me, is called a high-speed suction tube. It removes all that saliva and blood we used to spit into the spittoon. Also, J.F. said he has a line separator in his alley so that there is no possibility of backflow.

The doctor told me the amount of regulations controlling dental practice these days is voluminous. And some of them are ridiculous, he added.  “The virus lives only minutes—some people say less than a minute—out of its moist environment,” he said. “But the regulations are so stringent; we can’t even give a kid his tooth to leave for the Tooth Fairy*. That tooth has to be treated as ‘medical waste’.”

While I was still there, J.F. called up the CDC to get a more definite fix on how long the HIV can live outside its fluid environment. However, they refused to give him a specific time period and said only that when the virus dries out it dies. They added that the hepatitis A virus could live several weeks in the open air before dying. (They obviously didn’t want to give the Tooth Fairy any wiggle room.)

So you see how a news story that began back in the early 1980s, when Ronald Reagan was president, continues to ripple into the 21st century. And how our daily lives are continually and probably forever changed in the minutest of ways by the event that created the story.

*Fairy: I don’t know how widely the folklore of the “Tooth Fairy” extends, so perhaps I should relate it briefly here. Children’s “baby teeth” begin to drop out at about age six. Generous, loving parents sometimes tell their child to put a dropped tooth under his/her pillow so that the Tooth Fairy can remove it and replace it with a small coin, such as a dime.


A Relaxing and Working Journalist’s Week

Out in the county © 1981, 2011, 2015 By Bob Litton

Wandering all over Dallas and Ward Counties

Some warnings to readers: This is another column from my much-diminished pile of ancient columns and feature articles. It dates from November 1981. Another interesting facet to this gem is that it illustrates how inflated one’s perception of his own stature and domain of authority can become if he lingers in any position or place too long. < Claiming that Dallas is Ward County’s north forty!!! Bosh!!! Presuming to exhibit how a lady’s coat needs cleaning!!! Pish!!! > Oh well, I was young then…and handsome and wise. I need to alert you to the fact that this column is about 1,300 words long, so don’t feel disloyal if you begin to yawn and want to wander off to your bed or couch. I tried to make the piece engrossing and exciting, but it’s not a cliff-hanger mystery tale, people. My genius can only accomplish so much. However, you won’t offend me at all if you don’t finish perusing. Just rest in your nightmares.

∗ ∗ ∗ ∗ ∗ ∗ 

The following column is rated R.  It is recommended for adult reading only.  It should be read only at night.
Well, I finally got off to Dallas for a brief vacation last weekend. I suppose you’re wondering why I’d include Dallas in an “Out in the county” column.  It’s this way.  I’ve begun to look at Dallas as sort of the “north forty” of Ward County.  That’s because every time I fly up there I see someone from Ward either going to or returning from Big D.  This time it was N.R. Bragg, a retired gentleman who lives out in Thorntonville.  Also, my traveling companion on the trip was Tom “Delegate” Murray, recently elected president of the Ward County Democrats. In Dallas, I gave Tom a whirlwind tour of the “cultural pubs” along Knox Street, and then he went on up to Denton while I visited family and friends in the Metroplex.

One strange new phenomenon I noticed along I-35 was a motel called the “Non-Smokers Inn”.  Later, my mother showed me a Bob Greene column explaining the innovative inn.  It has apparently just opened up, and the owner — who had recently lost some friends to emphysema — had sworn not to allow any smokers, either registrants or employees, to stay there if they smoked a single cigarette.  Even the construction workers, Greene noted, had had to be non-smokers, a requirement which no doubt slowed the construction schedule.

∗ ∗ ∗ ∗ ∗ ∗ 

During my brief sojourn in the big city I was just in time to attend the final reading at SMU’s annual literary festival.  At one of the entrances to McFarlin Auditorium, I encountered old friends, an English professor and his wife, who were greeting people at the door in their capacity as two of several departmental hosts for the week-long event.  I had wanted to sit in the back so I could make a quick exit if the mood struck me, but they insisted I sit with them and piloted me up to the fourth row. Featured reader for the evening was Donald Barthelme, a frequent contributor to New Yorker magazine, so you can imagine what the pieces he read to us were like — short, comical, sophisticated.  However, I must have molted off my cultural skin during two years in West Texas, because I sat there like a cigar store Indian bemusedly examining the brown tweed coat on an elderly lady directly in front of me.  Two long strands of detached hair were lying along the right shoulder of the garment, and I was mightily tempted to remove them for her.  But, I feared she might jump like Little Miss Muffet or turn about indignant at my officiousness if she happened to detect my action.  Then again, she might never know. The issue was resolved when Barthelme began his last reading.  The theme of it had something to do with chronometry, I believe, and each paragraph ended with an oft-used barnyard phrase “…and all that s—!”  The lady with the hair-littered coat and her male companion of an equally advanced age, after hearing Barthelme’s selection nearly to its conclusion, arose and left the auditorium. The author, it seemed, had wrenched my opportunity to do a good deed that night right out of my grasp.

*  *  *  *  *  *

Another event which I consider historic (although I missed it by three or four weeks) was the demise of Henry’s Café on Hillcrest across from SMU.  Saturday morning, I walked across the campus, fully relishing the prospect of a breakfast such as I had enjoyed with musician friends at Henry’s virtually every Saturday for many years.  I was shocked upon finding instead a remodeled building with a sign over it saying “Dixie’s Hamburgers”.  What Dixie’s called a breakfast was a scrambled egg and sausage pressed between the halves of an English muffin. Time occasionally marches with a rather abrupt tread.

*  *  *  *  *  *

Back at Midland-Odessa Airport, Tom and I spent a good while locating my dust-covered Pinto.  It was already dusk when we drove out onto the highway, and I said, “Sure glad you waited to come back with me, Tom.  It’s a long dull drive between here and Monahans, and having you to talk with will help me keep awake.” By the time we reached the caprock, Tom was slumped in the carseat — asleep.

*  *  *  *  *  *

A couple of days later, Sgt. Jim Vaughan of the MPD said to me, “Something really weird happened while you were gone, Bob. I got a call from the Homicide Bureau of the San Antonio Police Department. They had traced your license number on the NCIC and wanted to question you about a bunch of assaults in San Antonio. They asked me, if they described your car, could I find you. I told them they didn’t have to describe it. I knew what it was, I said, a brown Pinto and you were our editor.  Then they said, ‘That can’t be. The car we’re looking for is a Mustang!’”

*  *  *  *  *  *

In the more conventional mode of “Out in the county”, I ventured into Wickett Tuesday afternoon. There I was informed by City Secretary Sherry Adams that the building permit fee had been raised to $5 from 25 cents at the last council meeting. I asked Sherry why it had been raised so much.  “The fee should have been raised a long time ago,” she replied. “It costs us more than 25 cents just to get the information we need. The permit’s original purpose was to get people in here so we’d know what they were doing. Now there are several people in town who haven’t gotten a permit and they’re adding on or building a new building.”

*  *  *  *  *  *

At the Wickett Post Office, I met Postmaster Don Bowen, who has served in his present position ten and a half years, although he started with the post office in Monahans in 1965 and still resides there. Bowen is an out-going sort of fellow.  His favorite leisure time activity is bowling.  Several league trophies are prominently displayed in his post office.  “I enjoy the fellowship,” he told me. “I enjoy it when I win and I enjoy it when I lose.” The postmaster informed me he is putting mail into 330 rented boxes, about 100 more than when he came to Wickett ten years ago.  Twenty of those boxes belong to businesses.

 *  *  *  *  *  *

One of the businesses served by the post office is Luckie’s Grocery, a family-owned operation in Wickett for 36 years. (And that is the correct spelling!) In the grocery store, I met not only the present proprietor, Olaff Luckie, but his father and the store’s founder, W.B. “Barney” Luckie. “I moved here from Eola, Concho County, in 1944,” the elder Luckie recalled. “I worked for Wickett Refining Company until I got crossways with the boss one day and he fired me. Then I was talking to a salesman one day and he told me, ‘There’s a little grocery in Pyote and you could make a lot of money there if you run it right.’” So, Barney got his grocery business started in Pyote, and when son Olaff got out of the navy in 1946 they moved it to Wickett.  “In ’46 nearly everybody here was working for Gulf or Cabot,” said Olaff. “Nearly every account we had was with people who worked for those two companies. Now it’s practically all servicing companies here, about twelve of them.” “Yeah,” said Barney, “and they can’t find anybody to work or it would be even more of a boom town than it is.” Added Olaff: “If the work force in this country would put in a seven-hour day for eight-hours pay, commodities would go down in price ten percent — but they just won’t do it.”  — Monahans News, November 19, 1981


The Perils of Journalism

Bob Litton in office at Monahans News in 1980

The author in his office at the Monahans News in the early 1980s. He believed it was always advantageous to look severe–or serious at least–when visitors intruded on his daily cogitations.

© 2014 Photos and Text By Bob Litton. All Rights Reserved.

Most of the folks who have read my blog posts over the past two years are aware that my only “professional” jobs were as a journalist and sometime school teacher. (I’m not sure whether Food Stamps and AFDC eligibility caseworker for the State of Texas fits into the professional category, since only two years of college, with any major, were required for that position.) And as for carpet sales, I put too many years into that; it was always a stop-gap measure while I tried to figure out what I really was capable of doing.  Anyway, I have always considered journalism as my true calling, despite its hazards.

Yes, life in the newsgathering world can be risky: Just recall the numerous reporters and photojournalists who have been imprisoned or killed in the Middle East, in Mexico, in China and in North Korea. But we have a dangerous situation here in the United States, too, although not as extensively nor as intensively, yet, as in other nations.

Years ago, I was very subtly threatened by a county sheriff. Oh, that was an adventure! The sheriff had been caught by the feds using funds designated for prisoners’ meals for his own benefit; he was placed on probation and was allowed a much smaller pay check, I suppose until he restituted the funds he had pilfered. All that occurred before I took up the job of reporter for the small daily in that West Texas town. However, while I was working there, the county attorney took me aside one day and informed me that the sheriff was regularly soliciting contributions of five bucks each from county employees. I didn’t know what the county attorney expected me to do about the situation; it looked to me like a job more appropriate for his office.

Then one day, I got a telephone invitation from the sheriff’s secretary inviting me to a little get-together over at the courthouse. I went. Inside, I was directed to an average sized meeting room where a bunch of the deputies and the secretary were sitting around looking at a birthday cake; it just happened to be the sheriff’s birthday. Although not especially small, that room, filled with all those people, looked cramped. I couldn’t believe I had been summoned away from my desk for a birthday party! I suddenly felt trapped; it reminded me of that scene in The Adventures of Robin Hood where Robin (Erroll Flynn) “crashes” a Norman feast, toting a dead deer over his shoulders, and engages King John in a bout of threats and insults before he is attacked by a roomful of the sheriff’s henchmen. I was not as bold as Robin, but I managed to sit through the rigmarole, which included a speech by the sheriff in which, at one point, he subtly threatened me in a manner that could be defended as jocosity. I can’t remember the exact words but it was something about finding me out on a dirt road.

That incident did not happen in Monahans, but in Pecos. However, I faced a few threats in Monahans as well. In most cases they were not threats of physical harm, and one, in fact, did not appear to be directed toward me individually but against the newspaper building or City Hall, which was right across the street. I had been out gathering news one afternoon, and, on my return, another staff member told me that a small explosion had occurred out in the street. The concussion had broken the pane of one of the newspaper’s plate glass windows; City Hall had no windows facing the street there. However, a young woman walking down the sidewalk had been frightened nearly out of her wits.  I wrote a column for the next edition castigating the anonymous prankster — if in fact it had been only a prank. Borrowing the term from a Marlon Brando film (One-eyed Jacks), I called him a “gob of spit” and invited him to sue me for libel. The next day, I was getting my haircut, when our local barber opined to one of his other customers waiting in a chair, “I don’t think anybody is going to take Bob up on that invitation to sue.”

On another occasion, the threat was more direct.  One young man whom I had listed in the “Police Report” as being charged with DWI came to my office and asked me why I had put him in the report. I explained to him that I reported all arrests for any offense from public intoxication on up. He left, but the next day I noticed him across the street, lurking in an alleyway and half hidden by the corner wall of City Hall. He was gazing at the newspaper building. I called the police station and asked the sergeant who answered to go out the back entrance and come up the alleyway behind my presumed potential assailant. Before he could do that, however, the suspect came across the street and into the newspaper office. The sergeant followed him and stood in my office, against the window, while my visitor voiced his negative opinion about me and “Police Report”, then left. A few months later, I heard that the visitor had shot a Border Patrol agent to death in El Paso, where he had reportedly moved. My informant told me that he had been acquitted of murder, manslaughter or whatever.

Backing up a bit in time, one day during the first month of my term in Monahans, the citizens were shocked by two deadly motor accidents in a single day. The first collision occurred on the Kermit highway just a few miles north of Monahans. Two pickup trucks collided head on, while the morning sky was clear. Two men in the southbound truck were killed; as was the driver, alone, in the northbound truck. I drove out to the site to photograph the scene and get a report from the investigating officers. One of my photos — remarkably evocative in the narrative and the artistic senses — revealed the single driver’s leg in front of the seat, twisted abnormally and protruding through the open door of his truck. One of the investigating officers told me that a letter found in the latter truck led him to believe the driver had been reading while driving.

I had the issue before me of whether to publish that photo: to do so would bring it home to the public that vehicles are not the only things damaged in a collision, but their occupants as well; to not publish it would spare the deceased’s family the additional pain of viewing their relative’s painfully unpleasant last moment spread on the front page. I decided not to publish, although I have pondered that event since then several times and have concluded that I should have done so; it might have caused readers to be more cautious. A state trooper at the time urged me to pictorially publish a subsequent violent scene, saying, “We have feelings, too. We don’t like viewing those accidents, but we have to.”

I was still struggling with my decision on that accident when, at dusk, another accident happened on the west-bound lane of a street not far from the newspaper office. An elderly woman, who police believed might have been blinded by the setting sun’s glare, rammed her car into trailer that was parked on the side of the street; she died. The woman and her car had been cleared away by the time I got there. The investigating officer speculated that the setting sun’s glare had blinded the old lady.

The next day, a state trooper came to the newspaper office and asked me to write a column urging people to keep their eyes on the road while driving. I did so, rightfully supposing he had been referring to the first accident described above. However, after the paper was distributed that Thursday, the grown grand-daughter of the woman who died in the second accident came in and upbraided me for insinuating that her grand-mother “had her head up her ass”. Of course, that had not been my meaning at all, but I did not dispute her accusation: she was angry, grieving, and seemingly not rational enough for any explanation. Also, I did not know but what the old lady might have been distracted or too old to be driving. But it did not end there, the grand-daughter tried to get her two male cousins to beat me up, which, after discussing the matter with me, they declined to do. Then, a year or so later I saw her in one of the bars; and when she noticed me she started whispering to a young man on a stool beside her. He glanced around at me, then turned to her and shook his head, indicating “no”. That was the last time I saw her.

On a lighter note, I was enjoying beer and a pool game one Saturday afternoon at Charlie Chailland’s Game Room when we heard a crash outside. A few minutes later, a policeman came inside and said to me, “Bob, looks like you’ve got a new car coming.” I followed him outside and saw where a “nipple up trailer” had become disconnected from the truck that was hauling it (while the truck was turning left) proceeded across the street, and struck my Ford Pinto. The neck of the trailer had ploughed through the driver’s side door and hit the hump right above the transmission. If I had been in that vehicle I would have lost at least one leg. Fortunately, the nipple up service was owned by one of our local auto dealers. We settled for a couple of hundred dollars above the Blue Book value of my car and a new truck at wholesale price.

While all that negotiating was going on, however, I needed something to carry me from one news event to another; so I bought a bicycle. One day during this interim, the newspaper publisher and I decided to do a little “horsing around”.  So we unplugged my phone, gathered my .30-.30 rifle and my notepad, and went out into the street for a photo shoot. However, we did not publish that particular photo, but another one…minus the rifle and the phone…shown below:

Bob on the job after a trailer wrecked his car

Not all journalistic risks are actual; there are also those fantasy hazards. One day, for instance, a Star Wars character copy-cat wandered into town promoting something, although I do not remember just what. We chatted awhile and then horsed-around awhile, pretending that Darth Vader was doing the local editor in. Our conversation was pleasant and I suppose interesting but not interesting enough for me to put in the paper; I don’t think we published this photo there, so this is a first time publication of Darth Vader attacking Bob. A few months later, I read in another periodical that this Darth Vader wannabe (or perhaps another just like him) had been ordered by New Mexico authorities to cease their promotion game or face civil action:

bob and darth

Well, so much for the perils of reporting. You might be able to gauge from the above why I suffer from just a slight case of paranoia.

Be cautious out there..especially if you’re a journalist. Okay?


Favorite Photos — Album I

Old Masonic Lodge on Hwy 67 somewhere between Brownwood and Dallas

© 2014 Photos and Text By Bob Litton. All rights reserved.

During my first few years as editor of the Monahans News I would return to my hometown of Dallas about three times a year taking the US67 route. That way is more dangerous, in a sense, than is the I20 route because it is (or was during the 1980s anyway) a two-lane highway and I too frequently found myself caught in an unorganized “caravan” of vehicles; at such times, passing three or four other vehicles by going into the oncoming traffic’s lane is a dare-devil’s game. However, on the positive side, US67 is much more scenic and — except for the occasional “caravan” — more relaxing.

It was while I was headed to Dallas one day that I noticed the “ghost Masonic lodge” above, somewhere between Brownwood and Weatherford. It must have been the time of my high school class reunion because I had the newspaper’s camera with me and there was no other reason for me to be toting it to Dallas. I am always attracted to objects (and people, too) who are not beautiful in the conventional sense but are uniquely odd. Here was this old general store-like structure that looked like it was probably dangerous to enter and yet with the Masonic emblem still dangling from a post. I just had to capture that image for myself and for posterity. I have not driven on US67 again in more than twenty years, so I have no idea if that “ghost lodge” is still standing.

Collapsing structure south side of Hwy 80 just east of Barstow

An even odder structure captivated me a year or so later — this old prairie shack on the south side of TX80 a few miles east of Barstow in western Ward County, Texas. A local ranch foreman informed me recently that such little one-room shacks are  (or were) used as resting spots by cowboys settling in to rest a bit off their horses or as shelter from storms. But, as you can see, what makes this particular shack uniquely interesting is that it has become severely weathered and warped and pushed almost to the ground by West Texas winds. I frequently passed it during my years at the Monahans News when I traveled to Barstow to gather news. Eventually, of course, I saw as I drove by that it had finally collapsed.

Children in the Rain

Not all my interest resides solely in empty, weather-beaten buildings, however; I do have a place in my mind’s pleasure palace for people, both young an old. One part of my job at the Monahans News was to go out with the camera and try to find appropriate images that told a story whenever there was a change in the weather. Too often we had to rely on scenes of vehicle tires splashing through rain puddles or sliding on black ice. One day, however, I was much rewarded with a unique scene — the brother and sister above illustrating the fun a good rain can be. Oh! How that image arouses memories within me of my own childhood joy of building little mud dams by the curbside to divert a small stream of rainwater!

Shine Wilcox & Joe Brandenburg in Eleanor Eudady's Store 1981

But, we old folks can have our charming moments, too. Above is a couple of old timers who resided in Grandfalls, Texas, about 19 miles due south of Monahans, during the oil boom years of the 1930s. This photo was taken during one of my trips to Grandfalls for news-gathering and to collect tall tales for one of my columns, the heading of which was “Out in the county”. The fellow on the left is Shine Wilcox, and his companion (to your right) is Joe Brandenburg as they appeared in 1981. They are sitting and gossiping like a couple of cracker barrel philosophers in the grocery store owned by Eleanor Eudaly, Shine’s long-time girlfriend. A friend had informed me that Shine was unique in that he had a deep-well fund of local lore in his memory, and that every time he told a story the account was exactly as he had told it on previous occasions: My friend averred that such is not the case with most people. I asked Shine to give me some juicy anecdotes with which I might make my column bristle. His answer: “Nope! Can’t do that. Too many of those people are still alive.”

I will have a few more photographs to present for your entertainment (I hope) in the near future. For now — in case I do not publish anything between now and the approaching holiday — Happy Thanksgiving, everybody!

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


By Bob Litton

Note To Reader: This is another of those essays I wrote in a time long, long ago and in a place far, far away. However, I think it is still timely.
— BL

In the summer of 1977, while I was editor of a small weekly paper in the Texas Panhandle, I wrote a feature article about an 86-year-old woman who, it was said, had been the first girl born in the little town.

As a young woman she had attended a nearby college where she majored in art.  Back in those days, I’m told, most young women who sought a higher education were in reality attending a “finishing school”.  That is, they were improving their graces while awaiting a proposal of marriage.  As soon as they got married, they packed away their palettes or, if music majors, relegated their talent to Sunday hymn-singing.

At any rate, that’s what this woman did.  She quit painting.  “I couldn’t stand the smell of the turpentine,” was her excuse to me.  Apparently she never considered water colors.

She became what I call a “squaw”.  She concentrated on home-making.  She allowed her brain to atrophy by not using it for anything more complicated than preparing the weekly grocery list.  She surrendered all judgments to her husband and a great deal of the conversation as well.

In fact, I had a difficult time getting the information for my article because every time I asked her a question, her husband would answer it.  And most of his answers related more to what he had done than what she had done.  The husband had had a rather interesting life of his own as one of the city’s leaders, but the story I had come for was about the woman and I was determined to get it.

One peculiar exception to this lady’s squawism was that she retained her membership in her own church.  She was a Methodist and he a Baptist.  Each Sunday for the 50-odd years of their marriage they had walked to separate churches to worship.

With that anecdote as background, perhaps you will understand why I am more pro-women’s rights (and obligations) even than many feminists.  I want to see them paid the same as men for equal work and do the work.  I’m glad to see them take responsible positions in political parties and in government.  But, I want to see them fight in wars, too, pay the same insurance premiums I pay, relinquish their advantage in child custody litigations, and even open doors for themselves.

The main thing, however, is that they learn a job skill that will help them survive if their husbands die first.  I don’t know what happened to the couple in the anecdote above, but I do know that, if he had died during his working years, she would have been a basket case—unless a second husband quickly appeared.  She didn’t know how to do a damned thing that would earn money except be a maid.

Many elderly women now on Social Security — their husbands’ Social Security — have to live within the meager bounds of their government checks.  Although the law allows them to earn a certain amount, they simply don’t have any saleable skills.  If they had learned a trade of their own, the burden of life in their sunset years wouldn’t be as heavy.

In yet another way women were hamstrung by the social dictate that they be ignorant and helpless in certain areas.  By never being taught by their parents and husbands how to deal with car salesmen, home repair workmen, and the like, when they became widows they were left vulnerable to con artists.

I suppose in a way I’m beating a dead horse.  Women have gained a lot in the workday world since World War II, when the conflict made their entry into the factories a necessity.  Some of the economic inequities still exist but are being whittled away day by day.  Yet, in individual instances I still see squawism of the old sort: A story was related to me just yesterday of a man retiring on a pension and then divorcing his wife of forty years, leaving her with no income and no job skill.

And, although the Democrats made a big deal out of the fact that a woman had finally been nominated as vice-president by a major political party, the fact remains that Geraldine Ferraro supposedly lost the Southern vote because of the attitude that “a woman belongs in the kitchen barefoot and pregnant.”  This despite the historical experiences of Queen Elizabeth I, Queen Victoria, Golda Meir, Indira Gandhi and Margaret Thatcher.

Yes, there is still a long way to go.

November 1984



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