From The Asian Reporter, V26, #23 (December 5, 2016), pages 6 & 13.
Alberto and Kolini and the Lion of Africa
Oregon autumn is over. Night takes afternoonís place at about 4:30. Iím
sitting on a north Portland curb. Albertoís out here too. Iím smoking a krotjong
kretek, heís looking long at his ivory 1967 BMW motorcycle. Jah tentu, he loves
his bike, and just as surely she loves him. A lot. Thereís a certain symmetry in
all that. Probably in good human relationships too.
And itís not what you think ó the reason why he and me, his bike and our
Northwest chill, are all sharing this crumbly St. Johns curbside. No, this is
not a scene out of some honky-tonk hit single. Itís not about a good woman
walking out or about bad love ending. Tidak-tidak, none of that.
Itís the exact same thing thatís stalling Kolini and me, Thursday afternoon
at George Middle School, long after all those lovely Tongan aunties and their
bright daughters have packed up their traditional quilting and left their sewing
circle. A traditional talking circle. Where family and community stuff gets
sorted. Where longing and joy get shared.
Kolini Fusituía and me are kind of the opposite of that, silence straightens
out our stuff. Silence restores balance. So weíre gazing out his classroom
windows, out to where Portlandís Pacific islander pillars are piling into
Voyagers and Navigators. Smacking doors and backing out.
He and me are slouching here and now, because weíre beat. Tired as carabao,
we say back home. Iíll bet his classroom chairís tubular steel is trembling,
probably bending, because Koliniís a giant ó heart chambers big as Georgeís gym,
shoulders broad as this blessed continent. After this breather, heíll coach
rugby. Rugby is WWF Dwayne Johnson- style football. Except no helmets, no
shoulder or kidney pads.
Regular guapos like Kolini and Alberto donít let ladies they love, good or
bad, mothers or daughters, see them weary like this. This moment is just us.
This gaze is for a minute ó maybe a little longer on account of this
exceptionally awful year. Weíre pausing like this, every community mechanico
will tell you, because itís the exhausted end of a year of national political
theater. And because weíre staring into the mouth of another epic American mood
swing. A recurring cycle, sure as Cascadia quakes, Oregon rain, Chinook salmon.
Jimmy Dogo hides his tiredness too. Sure he does. Sure he must. He is Singa
Afrika. Thatís how grand he is, back home and right here.
Iím leaning on Jimmyís back wall, itís a little after six. Most IRCO staff
have clocked out, many are already into their evenings of fixing broken parts
and broken hearts at all those disastrous street corners where River Cityís 70
or so vigorous ethnic streams intersect with a mainstream not ready for our
scale of shameless ambition. The "port" part of Portland needs improving.
Upgrading, if Native, settled, and New American families are going to integrate,
rather than disintegrate, into our global economy.
A river of rain drums determinedly on Jimmyís dark eastside office windows.
Community uncles like these, like this African Lion, like Special K, like A+,
work overtime to mitigate against an even gloomier darkness settling on the
folks we love. A problem weíre actually responsible for.
Let me explain. During this last decade, our newcomer communitiesí aunties
and uncles have urged and urged our familias to engage government. To practice
democracy. Our kids and grandkids, we said, will be healthy and happy only if we
engage their schools; if we direct our community cops; if we connect with our
community rec centers and our urban planners. Albertoís persistence, his
patience, with governors and legislators are legend.
Good governance, these guys told and told our familias, depends on the
governed. On us. Classical Jeffersonian stuff. All over our achy little earth,
people dream about democracy. Here we dream and do it. And for what we give our
democracy, we expect reciprocity. Itís that o-o-old familial interdependency
thing. Itís the communal sharing thing, thatís kept us tight for millennia,
angry waves and invading armies notwithstanding. Itís what will make America
sustainable in our increasingly wobbly world.
New Americans from all over ó from the chaos of Arabia and Afghanistan; from
the corrupt republics of the former Soviet Union; from the ethnocides of
Southeast Asia, East and Central Africa; from the grinding violence of Mexico,
Central and South America; from the sinking islands of our Caribbean and Pacific
ó love this democracy stuff. Like Kolini loves rugby.
While Iím leaning on Jimmyís ugly carís hip, heís urging deeply wounded
Rwandan grandpas and moms and kids out from behind apartment doors locked tight
against Portlandís grimmest neighborhoods. Engage government, he says. Here, the
governed must tell leaders how to govern us. Now, democracy is the antidote to
bitterness. Trust me, he says.
And not only Jimmy Dogo says so. The president of the United States of
America, says it too. That HawaiĎi-born, Java-raised, Harvard-schooled, son of
Kenya and Middle America, assured undocumented students brought here as babies,
he assured parents without felonies, that itís safe to come out from behind
those doors. Engage government, Mr. Obama said. Do that, and legal papers and
work permits will be on the table.
Americaís president is a bit humbled, tonight. River Cityís biggest believers
are stalled on chilly curbsides and slouched in emptied classrooms. Jimmy and me
are watching rain run up and down his windshield. Weíre all suddenly no longer
sure. Not of our nation. Not of ourselves. Paralyzed.
This paralysis, inshíallaah, must be temporary. And partial. It must only be
between you and me, inside this exhausted moment. Inside this doubt. Families
with rent and utility bills due tomorrow, must never see us like this. Dreamy
teens used to seeing their moms and uncles earnestly engaging government, must
not be betrayed. Not by America. Not after all that awfulness that sent us here.
The bottom line, and the end of this essay, is more about Oregonís policy and
business leadersí next moves than it is about our brown and black and blue
guapos. Our community mechanicosí commitment, their compassion, is clear. Their
persistence (stubbornness) is legend.
Also clear is where our Americaís impending mood swing will send our
institutionsí enormous momentum.
Will our institutionís leaders reciprocate with loyalty and love? These guys
need government to tell them, to their tired faces, that they and those they
care for, will be cared for. Like familia in good times and bad. Like A+ Alberto
and his faithful BMW. Like Special K and his tough and tender aunties.
* * *
The Asian Reporterís Expanding American Lexicon
aunties (Old World and New American): Term of affection and respect for women
in the speakerís community of nurture. With this form of address, comes an
expectation of familial reciprocity ó an exchange of duties traditionally
expected between elders and youngers.
BMW (German): Bayerische Motoren Werke. Since 1917, a Bavarian company making
aircraft, motorcycles, and cars much loved by elegant engineers and simple
carabao (Pan-Asian): Stubborn, reliable, working animal tenderly cared for by
Dwayne Douglas Johnson (Samoan): "Maui" in Disney film Moana. "The
Rock" in World Wrestling Federation (WWF) rings. Pro footballer and wrestler,
movie producer and actor.
honky-tonk (American): As used here, a style of county western music,
typically narrating a love gone very wrong, and about bad behavior following.
Similar bluesy stories run through "country" music of all continents and most
islands in between.
Jah tentu (Indo patois): Yes, certainly.
familia (Spanish, Indo, and Filipino patois): Family. As used here refers to
wider crew feeling and behaving in traditional interdependent ways. Every
gender, every generation, every kind of schooling does different things well ó
share those things for a bigger and better familia.
kretek (Malayu and Indonesia bahasa): A tobacco and clove cigarillo. Smokes
nice, tastes like heaven.
krotjong (Indo patois): A regular guy. Kind of "country." Also a popular
music genre. See: honky-tonk.
tidak (Malayu and Indonesia bahasa): Nope.
Tongan: A Kingdom of Tonga citizen or, as used here, a River City resident.
Tonga is a constitutional monarchy of about 102,000 people living there, of
about 23,000 living in California, and about 1,000 in Oregon. The Kingdomís 169
Pacific islands are about 3,200 miles southwest of HawaiĎi, and about 2,300
miles east of Australia.
Singa Afrika (Malayu and Indonesia bahasa): Lion of Africa. In traditional
cultures, great cats of the genus panthera, possess enormous spiritual gravity
as well as physical power. As used here, a dutiful elder with those attributes,
working one of Portlandís 70 or so ethnic streams.
* * *
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