Published Articles by Doris Weatherford

Houston and Hispanics

September 4, 2017

I’d like to be a pollster in South Texas right now, asking people if they prefer that billions be spent on building a wall to keep Mexicans out -- or if they would rather spend those billions hiring hardworking Hispanics to rebuild their homes and businesses. I think very, very few would opt for a wall. Instead, Texans will be eager to hire plumbers and carpenters and other laborers willing to do the work that few Americans want to do.


And geez – who would think that a wall would work anyway? Mexicans know about boats, and there are plenty of places to land one along the Gulf Coast, Houston included. And I do believe they have heard about airplanes, too.


No one in government has demonstrated such dumbness since the French during the 1930s. They invested huge amounts of money to build the Maginot Line, a fortified wall against potential German invaders. They had good reason to fear Germany, which had attacked France in 1914 at the beginning of what we now call World War I. But when Hitler decided to again invade in 1940, he simply went north of the militarized zone, overran the little countries on the North Sea, and entered France through Belgium.


Let me recommend re-reading Robert Frost’s thoughtful poem, Mending Wall, and pay particular attention the line: “Before I built a wall, I’d ask to know what I am walling in and walling out.” We haven’t given nearly enough thought to those we are walling out – or think that we want to wall out. We need them, and not just in Houston. Crops are rotting in fall fields from California to Maine, as farmers can’t get enough harvest help this year, entirely due to Trumpian rhetoric.


Our national economy runs on exploited immigrants, and always has. Look back historically: the periods of greatest prosperity also are the eras of greatest immigration, and the worst economic collapses run parallel with isolationist policies. There is a direct correlation between the Immigration Quota Act that went into effect in 1924 and the Great Depression that began in 1929.


Moreover, the modern economy has its wheels greased by a tax factor that wasn’t applicable back then. The Social Security system that began in the 1930s means that today we have giant corporations collecting payroll deductions from undocumented employees, knowing full well that these frightened workers won’t try to file for their tax refunds, let alone on their earned Social Security benefits. This is especially true of agribusiness and the food industry, which long has recruited workers from Mexico. I’m hoping that the Tysons and Perdues turn their chicken pluckers’ money over to the federal government, which would subsidize the rest of us – but maybe not. Maybe they keep it for themselves, maintaining one set of books for employees with Social Security numbers and another set for their undocumented workers. Now that is a subject worthy of attention.


A Wider World with Netflix


I had a nice chat with a young man named Dave (who had a slight Spanish accent) at Netflix last Friday night. Probably because I called at the beginning of a holiday weekend, he clearly had plenty of time. He expressed interest in my name, so I explained that the “wether” was the lead sheep when a flock crossed the “ford” of a waterway, and he was glad to have learned something new that day. My question, though, almost stymied him. I asked why Netflix doesn’t seem to have an alphabetical list of all of its intellectual properties, and he explained how to browse by genre. I already knew that; what I wanted to know was if, instead of typing in “British mysteries” and looking through a bunch of things (many of which truly belong in the “horror” category), I couldn’t instead just look under the Ts for “Touch of Frost,” a mystery series we watched before and would like to see again.


He was so quick that he had entered “Touch of Frost” before I did, and it came up as unknown. We pondered this, and neither us could find an answer as to why Netflix would buy something and then not continue to make it available. Maybe the license is only for a short period of time? But why? The producers of such relatively obscure series surely would like to keep their work on the shelf. Instead, the Executive Suite Guys seem to assume that everyone wants to watch what everyone else is watching. Most plots are mundane, set in the US, and feature lots of gunfire and explosions. I’d like to see more shows that at least subliminally introduce another culture, things like “Jewel in the Crown” in India and “The Road From Coorain” in Australia and “The Flame Trees of Thika” in Africa. And I’d like to see if they are available on Netflix without the hassle of browsing a genre, especially given that there is no genre for “historical fiction.” Librarians could teach these folks a thing or two about categorizing and cataloging.


Dave understood, and we worked out a faster way to search by desktop instead of by the TV remote, and using a pencil and paper, I made a list for Hubby and me to enjoy during our regular evening cocktail/TV time. The list has about twenty titles and should hold us for a while. I had to draw a line on my paper, though, as both movies and TV shows were mixed together on the computer screen. We really prefer to follow a TV series, something that allows time for character development as the plots go along, but the first we watched was a movie – and we switched there from a British TV series. (Yes, we do love BBC. If the British Broadcast Corporation had fundraisers like our PBS, I’d send a check.)


We switched from “Foyle’s War,” which we had watched several years ago and decided to do again. It’s set during World War II in coastal England and features a detective dealing with ordinary crime in an extraordinary time. It begins in 1940, when everyone expected imminent German invasion -- but because we had watched it before, I knew that the episode for May 1945 would be the last I wanted to see. When the German threat was over with VE Day, the enemy switched to being Russians, who had been allies the day before. I despise Cold War flicks and the amoral spies they feature, so that was enough of “Foyle’s War.” But the first couple of seasons do an excellent job of portraying a seaside town with bombers in the sky every night.


I recommend it, and I also recommend the first movie we watched from my list, “The Boy in Striped Pajamas.” It begins with an eight-year-old German boy and the big party his parents throw when his father, who wears an SS uniform, is promoted. The child doesn’t want to leave Berlin, but has to. Living in a rural mansion with the windows curiously covered, he is desperate for a playmate. Finally he crosses into the forbidden forest that screens his home from what he thinks is a farm and becomes friends with a starving boy of his age. The other child is too weak to throw a soccer ball over the barbed fence, so they just sit and talk. Slowly it dawns on him that the “striped pajamas” are prison uniforms and that the “farm” is a concentration camp and that his father is its commander. Made in 2008, “The Boy in Striped Pajamas” should have attracted more attention.


So as I typed “SS,” I decided to explore its meaning. It’s an abbreviation for “Schutzstaffel,” which several sources translate as “Protective Squadron.” It began in Munich in 1925 as a bodyguard for a youngish Hitler and quickly grew into a large paramilitary organization. Not part of the actual army or navy, the SS was more akin to our CIA in rooting out potential enemies – which, by their definition, included Jewish children. The “Schutz” part led me to believe it was led by someone with that name (a horrifying thought, given that “Schultz” was my mother’s maiden name), but I knew that its head was the cruel Heinrich Himmler. It turns out that “schutz” is an ancient term for the head man in a village, particularly the tax collector. “Staffel,” I reasoned, should translate to “staff,” but wrong again. It has implications of echelons and formations in a military sense, not the civilian idea that “staff” implies in English. So “Protective Squadron” is about right, but it really should translate as goon squads or just plain bullies. Watch out for ‘em. They have recently demonstrated that they want to rise again.


A Warning from Washington


From the Washington Post, to be precise. Our daughter sent us the electronic version of a Post story on July 28 about the hurricane that is overdue here in Tampa Bay. I assumed that our local paper had run it and I missed it, but it turned up last Sunday, September 4. I have no idea why it took the Times so long, but you missed it, you should find it online and read it. Writer Darryl Fears uses an intimate, interesting style in trying to get our attention on the disaster that one day will hit. And for how many years now has the Congress failed to address the issue of flood insurance? Our Senator Bill Nelson innovatively proposed a mutual interstate insurance compact between coastal states, but the Republicans in control at both the state and federal level resist even this.


It will happen. Most of Tampa will be under water even deeper than that of Houston. We know that in an 1848 hurricane, water rose to the second story of the only structure that had a second story in the then-tiny village. Look around at everyday traffic and try to envision how we all will get out of here in an emergency. Elect people who believe in planning, people who are willing to face the inevitable future.


doris@weatherford.com




Doris Weatherford writes a weekly column for La Gaceta, the nation's only trilingual newspaper. With pages in Spanish, Italian, and English, it has been published in Tampa since 1922.

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