From The Asian Reporter, V27, #17 (September 4, 2017), pages 6 & 13.
A SPAMI response to our times
I am a SPAMI (Spanish Pop/Asian Mom/Muslim Islandboy). Saying so may sound
exotic, pero you know, we’re not a big deal where we’re from. Indonesia, where
families live and love in 700 languages.
Another fun fact: Ethnic ambiguity provides SPAMIs with certain secret super
powers. Among them, our ability to flow in and out of River City’s 70 or so
vigorous ethnic streams and our robust mainstream. We are by nature and nurture,
an observant and flexible folk.
For the record too, I’m one of those smart-alecky Affirmative Action admits,
a beneficiary of monumental 1970s American social engineering that produced a
generation of ethnic minority and immigrant mechanicos. A national mood swing
that landed our crew smack in the middle of many of our nation’s most
destructive and most instructive intersections. Our cohort has sorrowed and
celebrated a lot. We are consequently, tried and true blue believers in America.
Our shared America.
For all that, our generation of community mechanicos has arguably earned some
perspective on early morning White House tweets. And about that, please let me
suggest this: Our nation’s 45th chief exec doesn’t matter so much. Not really.
Yes of course, President Trump has let andjing buruk (unruly dogs) off
leash. But just as certainly, most Americans are good. Our institutions are
Evidence? Here’re three bites.
Soon after our household resettled in Oregon, I received notice to report to
the Selective Service System. To join a war in the very neighborhood our familia
just fled. Evidently, congress had decided to fund this system in an effort to
more equitably distribute the burdens of soldiering among all American social
classes. That’s good, right?
Bad for sure was the string of U.S. presidents who had committed tons of
treasury and misery to crushing several Southeast nations’ families where they
sleep, work, and shop. But balancing all that was Oregon’s senior senator —
whose modest church sponsored our refugee family — quietly counselling our
father to send me to our grandpa in the Netherlands. Wait there, he said, until
President Nixon winds down the draft and his ugly war. The beauty of democracy
is in its mix.
America’s institutional goodness righted our ship’s really bad starboard
Next example: Fast forward to a lovely Oregon autumn morning in 1997. A
friend is returning our son after a sleepover. As she parks curbside, she and
her son and mine see me facedown on S.E. 21st Avenue. A young blonde cop is
cuffing me. Her knee is planted on my back. Alhamdu’lillaah, none of them saw
her a minute earlier, dangerously adrenalized, her gun in my face.
After a year of trying and trying to ask her, her sergeant, their precinct
commander, and their bureau boss, who on earth she thought she was taking out, I
gave up. Maybe she was after a dangerous Mexican or an angry Arab. That ethnic
ambiguity thing has a downside too.
A month later a former Portland police chief, asked me to lunch. He said he
was sorry. He said I was a good man. I cried. We laughed. Over fragrant Viet
noodle soup, this broad-shouldered, big-hearted, blue-collar white guy and I
talked about our shared decade of him believing in our ethnic streams’
belief in participating in local governance. We talked about how he and we had
made community policing work. About how these braided beliefs, like our city’s
confluence of rivers Willamette and Columbia, make our idea of Portland
Settled and New Americans’ expectations of the best, our very best, always
make it happen.
My last example: Our national and state constitutions’ nail-biting insistence
on free individual expression has long permitted certain Portlanders their
racist rants. On April 25 of this year, 82nd Avenue of Roses Parade organizers
cancelled their annual celebration for fear of mayhem from opposing ultra-right
and radical-left demonstrators. After police dispersed both groups on April 29,
a man from the nationalistic crowd raged at several young Asian-American women
working at their community center. A month later, he did it again, this time
terrifying an African-American woman riding a TriMet MAX home after work. No
cops or courts stopped him.
The next day onboard an eastbound rail, three Portlanders — a kind dad, a
bright Reed College grad, and a PSU poet — got between that same white man and
two of our black teenagers, one wearing hijab. Our selfless father and our
handsome son died right then and there. Our brave poet earned a ragged scar from
his throat to his heart. One his grandkids will surely awe.
Three Portlanders rose to redeem who and how we are. The Muslim Educational
Trust and others raised $1.25 million to support their sorrowing familias.
Emanuel Hospital erased his medical bills. Portland State University committed
to covering his B.A. costs. That raging man is jailed, awaiting trial.
The cost of goodness
America is a science experiment. We make as much crushing bitterness as we
produce kindness and creativity — ask anyone anywhere on our achy little earth.
There’s a price tag stuck on the driver-side window of our system of
self-governance. A big one. Lots of small print.
Our educational and commercial and legal institutions are high maintenance.
Jihadis (real believers) constantly and creatively and kindly reviewing and
renewing how we govern our daily lives are what makes America work. And we are
working. Sure we are.
That quietly Christian U.S. senator constantly stewarding our constitution
plus this plain-spoken cop creating just enough room for our belief in local
democracy, worked it. Those simply sincere Portlanders, one father and one son
and one skinny poet policing public decency, worked it. They did, with all their
I am an affirmatively actioned SPAMI. Delivered into a half century of River
City’s most destructive and most instructive intersections. Here, in this still
imperfectly shared place on the chocolate shores of our generous rivers
Willamette and Columbia. My heart pounds with the thrill of it. With the thrill
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