Who we are

t_parade-17.jpg“Our country has changed,” Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts wrote three years ago in a majority opinion that found the landmark Voting Rights Act was being used unfairly against several states with histories of intimidation and violence toward black voters. Black voter registration has equaled white registration in many of those places and more have minorities in office, Roberts said, concluding the set of states covered by the act is based on outdated information.

The victorious lawyer for the Alabama county protesting the voting law took a more sweeping stance: “There is an old disease, and that disease is cured.”

There are plenty of things I could point to in order to show how wrong-headed this statement was, but this past week has been especially gut-punching. Following the presidential election, racial and religious assault and street harassment seem to have spiked. (Hate crimes last year jumped, too.) Black freshmen at Pennsylvania State University were unwillingly added to an online chat group about lynching. Groups of students across the country, including here in Arkansas, have led chants of phrases like “white power,” an American Nazi slogan. Speaking of Nazis: swastikas and other anti-Jewish nonsense are all over the place.

It’s all pretty nauseating and alarming and scary.

So I’m going to show a snapshot of the America I know a little better, the one that’s home to people who are black, Christian, urban, female, civilian, old, liberal, Jewish, transgender, straight, Buddhist, rural, military, gay, male, Native American, Muslim, conservative, white, atheistic, young, Asian, native- and foreign-born. I’ve seen them farming, dancing, building, worshiping, marching, laughing, crying, leaping, relaxing, serving and celebrating, among all of the other things we Americans do.

This is a tiny piece of who we are.

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_C1_6759.JPGStill, the truth is none of this is new. We’re the country that elected Barack Obama, and we’re the country that had several slaveholders among its founders. We’re the country that sings the praises of Martin Luther King Jr., and we’re the country that elected a successor to Obama who, despite his denunciation, is endorsed by the Ku Klux Klan and its ilk. We’re a country that holds up the immigrant or refugee seeking a new life as an idyllic symbol, and we’re the country that began by attacking the indigenous people and consistently treated each new wave of immigrants with suspicion or outright hatred.

All of this is who we are. We have countless things to do if we want to change it, but I think we can start with two: seeing and meeting and learning about each other a little more, and never saying or thinking that racism and other prejudices are “cured.” I know I’ll do what I can on those two things, at least.

These are just my thoughts, incomplete or flawed as they might be. Thanks for looking, and I wish you well.

Using your feet

_C1_8553.JPGNothing like the salsa under a clear sky.

We’re two-thirds of the way through Hispanic Heritage Month, which in part commemorates the independence of Central America after centuries of Spanish rule that stretched back to the conquest of the Maya. The city marked the celebration with a two-day festival this past weekend near Lake Fayetteville. It wasn’t as colorful as I hoped — apparently I should’ve been there at the very beginning — but the air was filled with good spirits and zestful music, and a few brave people from the U.S., Venezuela, Mexico and other countries ventured out of the shade for some competitive dancing. A day-long fútbol tournament carried on up the hill.

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_C1_8433.JPGI’ve realized recently I should’ve stuck with the Spanish practice. I studied it for six years, including two semesters in college, but it’s a use it or lose it sort of deal, and I haven’t used it. Plenty of Latino people speak English just fine, but many don’t, and whether I’m trying to write stories about them for work or take their picture for this blog, I’ve wished many times I could explain and have a conversation in the more comfortable tongue. Same goes for the Marshallese around here, though that seems a much steeper challenge. We’ll see if I can get back in the Spanish saddle.

(Edit: All of this is also a good argument for hiring more Latino and Marshallese journalists in the first place.)

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_C1_8663.JPGThanks for lookin’.

Dan

The Stage

_C1_2392This sunset came Friday — a perfect birthday gift. It was a tough week here. On Thursday, a solitary locomotive a few miles south of Fayetteville collided with a small, stationary passenger train it had been sent to help. No one was killed, but most of the 50 or so people on the two trains were jostled around pretty well, and a few were seriously injured. The AP and the Wall Street Journal had picked up the news by the time I left work.

It was a lot for us at the newspaper to deal with, but obviously the ordeal was far more agonizing for many people on the trains, including the driver of the aiding locomotive, who officials said was among the most severely wounded. I hope everyone recovers as well as they can.

_C1_2358Within half an hour of the accident, several dozen emergency responders in ambulances, fire trucks and deputy cars swarmed Highway 71 near the tracks, including a lot of volunteer firefighters I recognized. At least half a dozen agencies were involved coordinated their efforts. Even Benton County to the north sent ambulances southward to make sure all of this county remained covered.

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_C1_2382Whatever’s going on with us humans, the seasons keep moving on.

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_C1_2424As the sun neared the horizon Saturday, giants made of papier-mache and cloth gathered in Fayetteville’s Wilson Park to put on a play: It was time for the eighth annual Puppets in the Park. At least a hundred people, mostly families, sat and stood in a semicircle to watch a story about good and evil told only with music, gestures and caricatured masks.

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_C1_2525Here, the Coyote leads the small Mud People to a better home, watched over by gods of the Sun and water. The goats helped. It was a simple, archetypal story, and the crowd gamely supplied enthusiastic cheers for the Mud People and boos for the grotesque villains along the way.

I’d never seen anything like it in person, but I loved it. The play felt old somehow, as if it were the re-enactment of a religious tradition kept for hundreds of years somewhere else in the world. The Art Experience of Fayetteville, which organized the event, also gave the story a political edge, setting it in the context of the tens of thousands of unaccompanied children who came to the U.S.’s southern border earlier this year.

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_C1_2606The show ended with dancing.

My birthday weekend drew to a close today, but this evening I finally got what I wanted most after a tough week: a hike.

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_C1_2691---CopyThanks for looking, and take care of yourself.

Dan