Friday, July 01, 2016

A Moment of Nostalgia

1939 Malheur County
I live in what is thought of as one of the most progressive states in the union.  We think of ourselves in this way, anyway, especially those of us who live in the cities along central and northern I-5 corridor.  Roseburg, Eugene, Salem, Portland.  We embrace diversity, thrive on liberal ideas, enjoy the fruits of the state while guiding that state into the newest century.  President George W. Bush called Portland "Little Beirut" as we protested the invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq; we proudly accepted this title.   I am sure President Nixon wasn't any happier than Bush while we protested the war in Vietnam.  I love living in Portland and am pleased to be surrounded by those who easily accept everyone as they are.  It gives us such depth and variety.

But today as I was reading the Oregonian, it was seemingly news after news of bad breaks.  Murder and robbery and beatings and break-ins all over the United States.  In Milwaukie, Oregon, an 80 year old woman was shot and killed when a young neighbor had a fight with her boyfriend.  In a dramatic stance, she pulled out his gun, held it to her head, then instead of firing it on herself, she opened the door and shot it randomly out into the neighborhood.  It went through the wall of this delightful old woman's home and killed her.  Things are changing in our society.  More and more people are coming out as gay, lesbian, transgender.  We are once again discussing where to pee.  And technology has brought the world closer to us where we must pay attention to other cultures, societies, different ways.

Today it was a bit overwhelming, all this news.  I noticed an ad that featured photos of old-time Oregon and I realized I was nostalgic for these times--the early 1900s, 1920s.  And I came to a realization of how some people can yearn for these times--seemingly more simple and calm.  Things were as expected.  Life was good.  And I realized I wanted those times again.  I wanted to have life calm again.  And I could understand why people would say they wanted us to be "great" again.

But this didn't make sense when I actually thought about the emotions I was having.  The United States is already great.  The "again" is simply nostalgia...and with nostalgia we forget about all the other stuff.  Times weren't simpler; there were just different things new and changing, things we are used to being, having.  We know more now because technology has brought us news faster, more often.  We can read TWEETS faster than reporters can send out the information.

And reality comes: earlier times were not glorious.  Oregon was, and is still, one of the whitest states in the union.  We forbade Blacks from entering unless they were slaves and were needed for working.  The Oregon constitution, adopted in 1857, banned slavery but also excluded blacks from legal residence. It made it illegal for blacks to be in Oregon.  The laws made it clear that Oregon was a hostile destination for blacks contemplating a move west, and they proved to be remarkably effective.  Oregon had the largest Ku Klux Klan chapter west of the Mississippi River.  The KKK's focus in Oregon was against Catholics and Jews because our population of Blacks was so small the Klan could keep them as a secondary target.

And we brought others into the community--Chinese, Japanese, Chicano--to do our labor.  Forestry, building bridges, railroads.  And we treated them just as "special" as Blacks were treated.

But times changed.  I can imagine when the Black community started fighting back--the first NAACP chapter west of the Mississippi River was organized in Portland in 1913--how the people of Oregon nostalgically wished for those earlier, simpler days of the 1850s.

At this time, we do have one of the most progressive states in the union.  Do non-whites still have repression?  Of course.  Do we still practice racism and sexism and homophobia, xenophobia?  Of course.  We are still part of the United States.  But we are constantly working on changing.

So yes, let's keep America great.  Let's lower our shoulders and breathe in and out a bit.  Then we can accept that we are at times suffering from growing pains--knowledge and size and information--and that change is part of our life.

 Come join me on the porch.  We'll have some lemonade and biscuits, talk about life, occasionally yell at the kids walking past, and be part of our great community. 


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