CINCO DE MAYO, SHIFTING DEMOGRAPHICS,
AND MY GREAT GRANDFATHER
By Resistance Fighter Robert Cacciopoli
May 22, 2001
NEW YORK STATE (Robert Cacciopoli) May 5, 2001; Cinco de Mayo -- Call me a nut, call me a fool, call me a liberal - but in addition to trying to instill in my children a sense of family tradition beyond the Memorial Day/4th of July/Labor Day BBQ (and my family traditions - southern Italian and Puerto Rican, and my wife - Irish and German), I (we) also try to instill an understanding of other cultures. We celebrate Chinese New Year, we celebrate Mardi Gras, and we celebrate Cinco de Mayo, and we celebrate by cooking our version (pretty darned good, if I do say so myself!) of the food of the culture that we are honoring. And we try to round the experience off by playing appropriate music on the "stereo" as we cook and eat.
So today I'm frying up onions and garlic, starting our Cinco de Mayo dinner, and listening to Tish Hinojosa on the CD "Aquella Noche" - I don't speak or understand Spanish, so I'm just savoring the beautiful sounds of the language - and I have one of those "Paul on the road to Damascus" moments, a thought, an idea, that ricochets around in my skull, bouncing back and forth, gathering up seemingly disparate bits of information, and weaving them together into something coherent. At first I stand stunned - I see the Bush Bros., the stolen election, the rush to push the Cheney administration's big business agenda in something resembling clarity - then I grab a piece of paper and start to jot down what I can remember. My wife starts to stir the pan, breaking my concentration. As I look at her I realize that the onions are beginning to burn. Transcendent moments may make time stand still for you, but it doesn't stop hot oil in a frying pan!
And what was it, you might ask, that caused me to almost ruin dinner? It was Spanish, the language.
Listening to Tish made me think about a conversation I had with my son recently. He was wondering what foreign language he should sign up for in school next year, his top two choices were Italian or Spanish. Since I've been trying on and off for years to learn Italian I thought that was a good choice, thinking maybe it would force me to get my act together on this (I thought of the bonding potential - father and son learning Italian verb conjugation together!). But I had to concede that his rationale for choosing Spanish was valid, that more people speak Spanish in America than Italian. That thought brought to mind all the articles that I've read about the latest census, how "whites" were now a minority in many major cities, how the Hispanic population was growing nationwide. I recalled an article in today's local paper about how the number of registered republicans was dwindling on Long Island due to the growing Hispanic population, who tend to register as Democrats. And then it made perfect sense why the Bush Bros. are governors in states with large and growing Hispanic populations, why they speak mangled Spanish at any occasion, why the pResident is courting Mexico so hard, why Jeb married a Hispanic woman (and even converted to Catholicism, if I remember correctly). The white power establishment is not dumb, they recognized these trends years ago, and the Bush family (part of the white power structure) made sure that they would have two attractive potential presidential candidates to court the Hispanic vote in 2000. (This was the lesson of the republican anti-immigration initiatives in California that turned that state into a democratic bastion - don't piss off the Hispanic voter.) This can also partially explain why the republicans made such a lackluster effort to oppose Clinton in 1996 by nominating the charismatically challenged Bob Dole. The Bush boys needed some time to achieve presidential "stature", so they were being groomed for the 2000 election. The republicans already knew that they couldn't defeat Clinton in 1996 (despite everything that they had thrown at him, he still remained popular!), but knew that they could make Clinton's last four years in office a living hell (as they had made his first four - and, heck, maybe ol' Ken Starr could find something to impeach him on), so they were not too concerned about loosing, as long as they could prevail in 2000 (and ol' Bob had carried a lot of water for the party, so he deserved his shot at history). There was still a window of opportunity in 2000 (a census year), but after that the demographics would start to change the political landscape, a landscape that would not be favorable to the republicans and the corporate interests that they represent. Call them what you will, but the corporate power structure takes the "long view", and they don't mind losing a battle if they can win the war.
So although W's play for the Hispanic vote wasn't going according to plan, but with assurances that Florida was in the bag from the smaller Shrub, W ventures into California during the last weeks before the election to do his Hispanic courting thing. When the news hits from Florida panic sets in. Projections about Hispanic population growth and voting patterns (despite republican attempts to win them over with "compassionate conservatism" and "education reform") suggest that republican presidents may be an extinct species for the foreseeable future - and the window of opportunity is closing. The corporate interests have invested heavily in this campaign, and they want to see results. There is no real "fall back" position. If a Democrat wins then the window may close completely, maybe in four years, but certainly in eight. And there it is. Because the demographics (and time) were against them, the corporate interests had to "go for broke", and killed whatever vestiges of the illusion of Democracy that were left in America.
Since the coup I have been trying to understand why the repugs risked a real constitution crisis by their naked power grab. Had some democrats (any, actually) chosen to stand with the Congressional Black Caucus there might well have been a crisis, and who knows where that would have taken us? The repugs might have gambled that the dems would stay true to form -that is, spineless - but they had no way to know for sure. It was, in fact, a risky move, fraught with danger. As it turned out the dems rolled over, and Al Gore officiated over the theft of his presidency, and the gamble paid off, but I still wondered why they were so desperate that they would risk all on this one throw of the dice. When I look at this question in light of the shifting demographics, it begins to make sense. They really had nothing to loose in this, and all to gain. If Gore won then they faced the almost certain possibility of having to wander in the political wilderness for years to come, and if they lost the gamble they faced the same future...but if they won the gamble...If they won then they had at least 2 years (the make up of the new congress was already know at this point, and Strom could kick over any day!) to try to reorganize the priorities of this country to benefit the ruling class for many years to come. It was a gamble worth taking. And if I look at what has happened since, in light of the shifting demographics, all of their plans make sense. First off, it explains the sense of urgency in this administration. They know that their days are numbered, as is their razor thin majority (remember Strom). Second, it explains the time frames of the items they are pushing. Tax plan, energy plan, missile defense plan, etc., all are long term plans, existing for longer than even a miraculous 2 term Cheney administration. They want this massive redirection of the country's wealth to continue for at least a decade. The tax plan alone further strengthens a permanent hereditary ruling class, and the energy and defense plans would ensure that the coffers of big business interests will always be overflowing. Populating the courts with members of the Federalist Society will ensure a pro business/anti democracy slant on the justice system for decades to come. This is, simply put, the white power structure's last stand, and absent any principled opposition, this may be the future that we and our children will unwillingly inhabit.
Although I started this on May 5th, it got delayed by the realization that I was able to finally access the Ellis Island web site after weeks of trying. For those who may not know, Ellis Island is a small island in New York City harbor, that housed the Dept. of Immigration's main facility for processing the huge wave of European immigrants that came to the New York City (and the northeast) from 1892 to 1924. Several weeks ago the Ellis Island Foundation made available, on-line, all the information that they had about every person who passed through that facility. As an amateur family historian/genealogist, who knew that all my ancestors passed through here, this web site is like the holy grail. But for weeks after it opened it was inaccessible, I could not even fully load the main page, midnight, 2 AM, 4 AM, 6AM, it was always jammed. Then last Tuesday I got in! Not for long, but long enough to find out who was traveling with my great grandfather when he came to America on April 18, 1911 - it was his wife (I knew this from family stories, but had no proof,) his four youngest children - my great uncles and aunts!, and a cousin's father, only 20 at the time, a family mystery solved! The rest of the week was involved in navigating a still overloaded web site (they say over 100,000 hits per hour), slowly discovering answers to questions that no one in my family remembers. And I thought about my ancestors, what made them leave what is arguably one of the most beautiful pieces of real estate on the planet (the southern coast of the Bay of Naples) for an uncertain future in a foreign land, one that didn't particularly like "eye-talians". (The answer is the grinding poverty that most southern Italians at that time lived in.) Why did they gamble it all on one throw of the dice? And then I saw the parallel, desperate people do desperate things. When loosing the dice toss means you're no worse off than you are now, but winning means that you might be better off, you toss the dice, you have nothing to lose!
I think of my great grandfather, would he recognize the country that he came to 90 years ago? Certainly not New York City, where he lived for the last decade and a half of his life. The immigrant neighborhood where he lived is long gone, the tenements replaced with high rise apartment buildings. And would he recognize his 90 plus great grandchildren, and the world that we live in - with our cars and cell phone and computers? He was a simple man, a peasant really, but by all accounts a kind and generous and good natured man, I'm sure that he would be proud but amused by how his descendants turned out. But I am certain of this - and I am certain because a sense of fairness and justice seems to flow through the blood of all of his hundreds of descendants - that he would recognize how the "land of opportunity" that he escaped to has begun the resemble the near feudal world that he escaped from. My great grandfather and his children escaped from a world where the majority of people worked for the interests of the landowners. A world where the peasants would say "...We plant and we reap wheat but never do we eat white bread. We cultivate the grape but we drink no wine. We raise animals for food but we eat no meat. We are clothed in rags...". A world where unending drudgery for bare subsistence was all that they could hope for. (And then there was America!)
That the corporate interests in this country, aided and abetted by their political puppets, envision a slightly more "humane" version of the feudal system, is absolutely clear to me. Explaining what I mean about "humane feudalism" is a whole other essay, but briefly - we'll have plenty of food and drink - if you don't mind pesticides, salmonella and arsenic, we'll have clothing - courtesy of third world slave labor, we'll have mindless entertainment and wanton consumption - and smog alert days and unexplained cancer clusters, and we'll be jerked around so that we are always worried about making ends meet - a little blackout here, a little gas price increase there - a fearful populace is a docile populace. And this is my point - my great grandfather had someplace to escape to - I don't, we don't. This is it, this is my country now, and this IS America ("And then there was America").
This is another reason why I must oppose this illegal corporate coup - I owe it to my ancestors, who placed so much faith in the promise of America.
Robert Caccioppoli - 5/22/01
P.S. - A must for those who resist the BBBR, buy a copy of Vincent Bugliosi's book "The Betrayal of America" and keep it handy. Anytime that you feel your anger subside to manageable levels pick it up, flip to a page (any page) and read.