Wed, Aug

I Remember … And I Wonder

ALPERN AT LARGE - National identity and ethnic cohesiveness (or divisiveness) in our region and state is in the news a lot today.  Governor Brown has just signed into law the Dream Act that allows illegal immigrants the right to taxpayer-funded financial aid at public universities and community colleges (link), but vetoed a bill that would have in effect restored affirmative action … despite his verbal agreement with it in principle.

We have not one but two future light rail lines in our county that should be uniting our communities, but yet racial animus has complicated and delayed their planning and construction.

And so I remember … and I wonder …

I remember growing up learning how white Europeans had a deplorable history of conquering, enslaving and destroying the cultures of Native Americans, Africans and Asians, and I wonder if the descendants of past empires of both hemispheres are as earnest in commemorating and educating the children of their own past savagery as Americans and Europeans now are.

I remember learning of how Jewish families like my own have been enslaved, forced into ghettoes (a word that is originally a part of Jewish history) and even exterminated by foreign armies, pogroms and finally the Holocaust, and I wonder why there is still a question of why the nation of Israel is necessary as more nations persecute and force Jews from their borders.

I remember learning how Hitler’s Final Solution was “final” only after his original plan to deport the Jews from Germany and Nazi-occupied Europe was thwarted by a world unwilling to accept the Jews, including a United States led by one F.D.R., and I wonder how much this is taught to students, and to the world, when it comes to the precarious survival of Jews everywhere.

I remember at age 12 lying on the ground in a fetal position as four Latino boys repeatedly kicked me in the face and body, and being told “we don’t like Whiteys”, and I wonder they are alive and regret that, or whether their rage led them to jail or death (or both).

I remember seeing the misery and loneliness of a smart, friendly and kind black friend who grew up in a white neighborhood, and who had trouble fitting in with either white suburbanites or bused-in black inner city students in our high school, and I wonder if his subsequent tragic suicide as a young man had anything to do that.

I remember being active in recruiting black and Latino medical students to my medical school, and I wonder why the black and Latino children of wealthy parents got the most benefit of the support programs (and yet had a deplorable rate of repeating years and dropping out) while those who hadn’t the wherewithal for receiving that aid (and who invariably didn’t get it) came from poorer backgrounds.

I remember the admiration and joy of black and Latino patients at seeing young black and Latino physicians, and I wonder how inspired these patients were at fulfilling the promise of their own lives.

I remember as an intern staying late post-call on two occasions, within a few short weeks, to be there for the families of two of the finest men I’ve ever known—one black and one white—and with the same age, first name and surname, and I wonder if they know that I still carry the memories of their father/grandfather’s deaths from cancer close to my heart.

I remember tending to a very old and very sick black man as an intern in Virginia, and him telling me how he grew up not having any white doctor who would help him, and I wonder how much he and his family took me to heart when I told him that he should be glad he lived so long that he could see how things changed for the better.

I remember hearing black patients ask me, as a dermatologist in the 1990’s, how they could be “white like Michael Jackson” and hearing white patients ask me how safe it was for them to get enough sun to be “as dark as a black person”, and I wonder if they realize how ridiculous their past requests must now seem.

I remember the happy gleam in the eyes of my Latino nurses who hear me speak Spanish to my English-learner patients, and who’ve heard me proclaim that medical Spanish should be a staple for physicians to learn in this state, and I wonder how consistent their sentiments are with the fury I’ve seen them express towards young Latinos who refuse to speak English.

I remember how the plight of both my transit-dependent patients and car commuting patients (mostly African-American) to achieve access to a clinic where I once worked played a major role in inspiring me to promoting transportation and mass transit, and I wonder how on earth the Expo and Crenshaw Lines became so caught up in race.

I remember looking at the attendees at a leadership meeting of my current medical group, and I wonder how the thoroughly-diverse racial makeup of the room was something no one has ever really commented on, and if they’re as happy as I am that it is a non-factor in a group that strives for excellence in health care.

I remember learning that there were once quotas on letting Jews into American colleges, medical schools and other places of higher learning, and that Jews were considered by many to not be “white”, and I wonder how silly that whole issue of race and religion must now seem.

I remember being told by advisors and counselors that (prior to Proposition 209 being passed), despite graduating college summa cum laude and in three years, I would have a tough time getting into a California medical school because I was white and male, and I wonder if (after having to go to med school in Texas) that whole issue of race is yet silly to enough people.

I remember hearing a fellow fourth-year medical student, who was an Asian male, described himself and his ordeal at getting into medical school (also prior to passage of Proposition 209) as being “the worst kind of animal” for acceptance into a California medical school, and I wonder if the silliness of racial quotas is recognized as a burden that non-whites suffer from as well.

And so I remember how we have now absolved the law-breaking of parents of children they brought into our country illegally, and how we now have a governor who favors resumption of affirmative action, and I wonder how the parents of native-born children and of legal immigrants, regardless of whether they’re Latino or Asian or African-American or white, can ever be brought on board to pay more taxes for a system that (in a liberal state such as California) is supposed to be past the ossified, counter-productive and divisive practices of quotas, racism, and judging a person for their appearance and not for their character.

(Ken Alpern is a former Boardmember of the Mar Vista Community Council (MVCC), previously co-chaired its Planning and Outreach Committees, and currently is Vice Chair of its MVCC Transportation/Infrastructure Committee. He is co-chair of the CD11 Transportation Advisory Committee and chairs the nonprofit Transit Coalition, and can be reached at [email protected] He also co-chairs the grassroots Friends of the Green Line at www.fogl.us.   The views expressed in this article are solely those of Mr. Alpern.) –cw

Tags: Governor Brown, racism, taxpayers, taxpayer funded, Jews, Latinos, Europeans, Native Americans, Africans, Asians

Vol 9 Issue 81
Pub: Oct 11, 2011