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Talking Story 
by Polo


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 motorheads everywhere.

carabao (Pan-Asian): Stubborn, reliable, working animal tenderly cared for by their families.

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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