Friday, June 11, 2010

Produce, Profiling, and Parity in Politics

I love alliteration. I've had fun this week preparing this blog. Hope it gives you a smile or two. (Blogger had new templates so I'm having some fun with a new look.)

When driving back from Las Vegas a couple of weeks ago, we were approaching the California border and saw the agriculture checkpoint up ahead. My friend Pat said, “They won’t stop you. You’ve got a military sticker on your car.” I said, “I bet they do.”

I was right. The agent asked: “What kind of fruits and vegetables do you have today?” I thought that was odd. I mean, he didn’t ask, “Do you have any fruits and vegetables?” He assumed I did and wanted to know what kind.

I felt “produce-profiled”. I didn’t give him any cause to think I had fruits or vegetables. I didn’t have banana peels on the dashboard or strawberry juice on my shirt. What made him think I was smuggling fruit into California? I mean, I don’t like fruit and vegetable smugglers any more than the next person, but in that moment I felt resentful. Where was the VCLU (Vegetable Civil Liberties Union)? Should I report this to PETO (People for the Ethical Treatment of Oranges)?

Okay...I’m through with the tongue-in-cheek. What I do want to write about is being an immigrant. I came to this country when I was five-and-a-half. Several months later my mother told me one day that I was going to be naturalized. Not knowing what that meant, she went on to explain that “you’ll be a Scottish little girl when you go in and when you come out you’ll be a full-blooded American little girl.”

I was struggling with understanding English as it was spoken in Paterson, N.J. while I retained much of my Scottish brogue. At school my accent brought about giggles and stares when I declared, “I dinna’ ken” when I didn't know the answer to a question. Little by little, the Paterson “twang” blended with the brogue and there was a period of time when I wasn’t understood either at school or at home. It was during that period that I had to ponder my mother’s explanation of citizenship.

Lying awake that night I had visions of large nurses wielding larger hypodermic needles and removing all of my Scottish blood and replacing it with American blood. I didn’t think it was such a great idea to become an “American little girl”.

The next afternoon when we went to the courthouse at the appointed time, I eyed the railing in the center of the stairs leading to the front door. I wrapped my arms and legs around the railing and screamed bloody murder, refusing at the top of my lungs to go into the building. To say we drew attention would be an understatement. Passersby glared at my mother thinking she must be abusing me and inbetween wails I pleaded for someone to save me from my impending total-body-transfusion.

After several minutes my mother managed to pry my fingers from the railing and she literally dragged me down the hallway (still screaming of course) and into an elevator. When we arrived at the Immigration Office, my photograph was taken (if Webster's needs a photo to go with the word "waif" I recommend that one). Then my mother raised her right hand and swore to the authenticity of my birth certificate and the fact that she had been born in the United States and a few minutes later we were given my naturalization papers. That was it. No needles; no blood; no nurses, just a nice man and a piece of paper. Why is it that your most humiliating moments are the ones that remain crystal-clear after 60 years??

I don’t mean to trivialize immigration, or citizenship. I had the opportunity to “choose” my citizenship when I turned 21. Until then I had dual citizenship to both Great Britain and the United States where my parents each had been born. I remember making the choice of America and registering to vote when I was 21 (that was the age to vote back then). I was with Delta when I voted in my first presidential election. I fumed for days over the fact that the State of Georgia went to George Wallace before my absentee vote had even been counted. I felt nullified.

For a little more tongue-in-cheek while on the subject of voting, I might as well tell my solution for political parity. I think if the country is going to become involved in running banks, automobile companies, and other previously “public sector” entities, then we as taxpayers should be considered “shareholders”. If you are a “contributing shareholder” (i.e., you pay taxes) you should get to “vote your shares” the same way you do if you own stock in a corporation. Every taxpayer would get additional votes based on the amount they contribute (your “tax shares”). If you don’t own any extra voting shares (you don’t pay taxes and you are on the receiving end of tax dollars), you would still get your one vote. What would the outcome be? If the politicians wanted the votes (plural) of the people who held all of the share-votes, they would be answerable to them for their decisions. Gosh, what would you call that? Being answerable to the shareholders just like the Board of Directors of a corporation? I know: we’d call it “political capitalism”.

Rule for this blog: Above all else, keep your sense of humor.

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