Friday, September 24, 2010

Fearing Difference...

Are you familiar with Timothy Egan’s column that occasionally appears as an Opinionator piece in the NY Times?  The paper says that his essays are “on American politics and life, as seen from the West.”  [Here]  Egan’s writing adheres to that formula and his essays are often refreshingly different from the usual mindset coming from New York or Washington.  
In 2001 Egan was awarded a Pulitzer Prize for National Reporting for his work on a series How Race is Lived in America.  [Here]  Among the six non-fiction books that Egan has written is The Worst Hard Time, an account of people who had lived through the Dust Bowl of the ’30’s.  His latest book, The Big Burn: Teddy Roosevelt and the Fire That Saved America, recounts the 191o forest fire that destroyed about three million acres of forest land in the West and prompted the building of the present forestry service.
Those are Egan’s recent writings and are evidence of his very impressive liberal credentials.   And so it was with particular interest that I read his September 21st column, Curse of the Scorned Class, datelined Milan, Italy.  Egan described being warned in the train stations in Northern Italy of the supposedly old gypsy trick of having a baby thrust into your arms while another gypsy steals your wallet.  He was warned again in Turkey of another trick.  This time it was an old female gypsy who would bump against you while another would steal that same wallet.
The gypsies or Roma, as they are also called, form a large European underclass.  Eagan quotes the English publication, The Economist, as declaring that the Roma constitute “the continent’s worst and most ill-managed social problem.”  [Here]  It seems that now France is joining other European countries (Italy, Denmark, Sweden and Austria) in trying to expel their Roma. 
The Roma have been the focus of vicious discrimination before.  The Nazis tried to exterminate them all.  Thousands died in the death camps and, according to Egan, 30,000 were shot in German occupied-Russia and the Baltic states. [Here]
Egan tells us that the French President Sarkozy is riding this deportation theme to bolster his own sagging leadership numbers.  Sound familiar?
Governor Jan Brewer of Arizona leaps to mind, doesn’t she?  She, too, was caught with her popularity sagging.  After all, she only got the governorship because Janet Napolitano was picked by Obama to head up Homeland Security.  Brewer grabbed at the nearest and easiest racist target and is riding it to an election victory--at least that’s what the polls tell us.  She made up some scary stories, such as beheaded Mexican bodies found in the desert.  When the stories turned up to be total fantasy, she shrugged her shoulders and walked away.  

But her payoff?  She not only has the GOP nomination for Governor, but the polls show that she will probably beat Democrat Terry Goddard by a wide margin in November.[Here]    

I have had no direct personal experience with the Roma.  I do remember when I was a small child in suburban New York many, many, many years ago, my mother one day snatched me up from our backyard where I was playing and rushed me into the house.  She locked all the exterior doors and pulled down the front shades.  (I can still remember Mother’s fright and agitation.)  When I asked her what was happening, she simply said, “The gypsies are coming!”  That phrase puzzled me then and puzzles me today.  Way back then, the incident bolstered my growing suspicion which continues to this day that sometimes adults act idiotically.
Unfortunately, they can also act callously and hurtfully and even criminally, as seen today by our attitudes towards our newest immigrant population, our Mexican neighbors.  The Village always has trouble dealing with folks who look and talk differently.  We played those games with the Irish and then the Eastern European Jews, Slavs, Puerto Ricans and now Mexicans and Moslems.
When will we ever learn?...

No comments:

Post a Comment