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alking Story 
by Polo


From The Asian Reporter, V28, #19 (October 1, 2018), pages 6 & 8.

Why we canít fix nothing

Jah tentu (yup for sure, in Indo patois) next Saturday early Iím borrowing my best bud Albertoís cherry 1967 GMC pickup. And Iím hauling a ton of orange Craftsman power tools, Stanley socket sets, even that vintage pig-iron hand auger our dear Pop grabbed for some odd reason just before we sprinted for our lives off our beloved Spice Islands ó off to Tedís Tool Shed they go. Way out on S.E. Powell.

Of course, me telling you about next weekendís purge is just a literary trick to seduce your peepers into sticking to my essay. And sure, Why we canít fix nothing is an attention-grabber. A concession to our shrill times. Overstated improper English is normal now.

Shameless starts aside, I promise some substance at this essayís core. Important stuff. Actually, a simple proposition that took me 50 sweaty years to work into the 1,200 words that follow. Five decades, from our just-arrived refugee familyís 1968 heartbreaks over the murders of Bobby Kennedy and the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., all the way to mayor Tom Potterís 2008 invitation to Portlandís 70 newcomer communities to participate in local democracy. Right up to last week.

And that proposition is: We cannot fix the unjust and unkind societal machines weíve built, they daily disable us all. By "we" I mean my generation of stubborn community mecanicos. By "disable us all" I mean both the dehumanization of folks on top, the kind leaving no bruises. And the distortion of our families below.

We are not up to fixing our damaging institutions. Not us refugees from colonialism. Not our tried- and-true American minority leaders. Not our mainstreamís elected officials with their armies of 8-to-5 public administrators. Surely not Oregonís staid captains of finance, manufacture, or trade. Not now, not here, on our shared northwest corner of this grand continent.

Scaling from the macro to me and you

By leading these institutions, some Americans make billions. By carefully conforming, most of us make middle class. By just complying, many communities avoid social and economic isolation. The "others," those startling lot of us who cannot smooth in ó America shoots dead or locks tight or deports. We all play our part. My complicity level allows me to buy weekly groceries. New Seasons. To pay monthly rent. Westside. To dress well our pretty kids, every next school year.

Our institutions overwhelm. Standing up against one is like standing on any weekday morning MAX track. Accordingly, my 2018 goals are more modest. My 50th year as an earnest participant in our American experiment will amount to no more than a sorting of my contribution to it all. My part, is all I can possibly know. And all I can manhandle.

This accounting starts with evaluating what all newcomer communities do amazingly well, year after exhausting year. Everywhere. Which is adapt-adapt-adapt. My grandparents and parents conformed to four regimes; inside my and my brothersí lifetimes our family adjusted three more times. We are as tough and elegant as bamboo. This flexibility plus those knucklehead Craftsman and Stanley tools Iím trucking to Tedís Tool Shed next weekend, have made all of us happy and healthy. Alíhamdulillaah. Thank God.

After adaptiveness, the second thing I do well is self-discipline. Our grandpa, our pop, and his four boys were all athletes. Even though South Salem High and I failed each other, sports got me into universities. Adrenaline is my performance-enhancing drug of choice.

The fear hormone has fuelled my over-training for coaches, my over-producing on cannery and warehouse floors, my over-preparing for courts, legislatures, downtown boardrooms, Middle Eastern and Southeast Asian frontier provinces. Year after ferocious year. I love it ó both the drug and my bright superhero tights and cape.

My third secret power: In our Indo community, folks called our pop and our momís older brother "hakim," which translates to justice. Unlike western systems that adjudicate who and what is right or wrong, hakim reconcile our differences. We expect hakim to enhance societal harmony, not blame or bless us. The thing is, our neighborhood still has to stick together after your divorce, after our business women brawl, after your and my stupid sonsí knife fight.

Downside of brown superheroes

The consequences of ethnic-stream elders like me addicted to our acutely adaptive, uber-achiever, peacemaker duties, were likely not foreseeable in the Reagan Eighties, back when our immigrant communities substantially self-administered the integration of anxious diasporas, one after another from Southeast Asian nations suddenly abandoned by the United States, from ethnic states under the dissolving Soviet Union, from genocides in East then Central Africa. Though okay, the consequences of our old-school ways are obvious today.

Our traditional elders and savvy young civic activists stepped double-time into what quickly developed into an awfully asymmetrical relationship with our mainstream dance partners. We agreed to a division of labor and love that relieved Anglo America of its responsibility to make room, to make ideal, to make peace. Policy leaders held on to their intermittent appearances to make nice.

Hereís a quick dip into how it works, and how it doesnít, in Portlandís metro area: We are blessed by about 100 newcomer elder aunties and community uncles ó analogize their work, if you must, with that of our elected officials and public administrators. Each of these is supported by their robust volunteer ethnic army. Across ethnic streams and into our robust mainstream, these crews integrate our families and businesses, our faith and civic associations, into the life of our splendid cities. They daily do the publicís business, as is expected of us. Lots of sorrowing, lots of celebrating. Decade in, decade out.

Pero theyíre doing our public business for nonprofit agency compensation of about half the bucks plus benefits Iíve been earning since working at City Hall. After five and on weekends these superheroes keep right on doing it. For free. About 12 of these community anchors have been dutifully at it for 45 years, another 12 for 20, easing-in successive flows and ebbs of energetic families, businesses, civic and faith associations from all over our achy earth. For this they earn enormous respect and affection. Social and spiritual wealth swell Oregonís Native-American, African-American, and newcomer communities.

In 2018 the Big Question is: Why would Anglo-Americaís mainstream do anything materially different to better our ethnic streamsí share of this blessed continent, given our stubborn elders already working really hard at contorting our ambitious familias, at cultivating compassion, at making settled and new Portlanders alike, feel okay about this lopsided arrangement? Name an incentive.

Time to retool

Herein lies the "port" part of Portlandís paradox. Today, weíre at about 20 percent foreign born (25 percent for Beaverton). Nearly half of our packed classrooms are ethnic minority kids. No City Club study is necessary to project the cost to all Portlanders in misery and treasury if we donít better share both the benefits and the burdens of this blessed place.

Itís not only a progressive Pacific Northwest problem. A few years ago, our daughter Caricia was doing public-health research in post-Katrina New Orleans. Over a Cajun shrimp PoíBoy, she thought aloud about how little care that old cityís wet, cold, and now houseless ethnic minority community expect from their government. Because, as their elders explained, "itís aaalways been like that" in their personal and communal memories. A long-long time.

Now, if this essay was about Kiev, Karbala, Kandahar, or any other failing city fled by 120,000 or so of us Portlanders ó or if this were still 1980-1990s River City, when our really robust refugee neighborhoods never expected inclusion from national or local leadership ó then doing what our community elders daily do might make sense. Back there, we knew nothing about good governance; back then downtown leaders never said they cared about us.

Itís that bad old Jakarta sultan-thing our ancestors and elders told me about, itís that New Orleans bad-bargain our bright daughters and beautiful sons try and try to tell us about. It is at last, the good reasoning thatís trucking all my knucklehead tools to Tedís Shed early next Saturday. Stacked in back of Albertoís beautiful í67 pickup. Aduhíillaah! (OMG!)

Come Monday morning, Iím clocking in ready to share with settled and new Portlanders alike, all our responsibilities for making us room, for making us great, for making us peace. Inshíallaah.

* * *

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