AL FRANKEN IS A PROVINCIAL FOUR-EYED BIGOT
Por Humberto Fontova
The south comes in for great sport in Franken's new book. "The Republican party became the home to Southern bigots and still is today," he smirks early on.
"Evangelical Christians fervently support Israel to fulfil the prophecy of the second coming, the fiery death of all Jews!" he hoots.
South Carolina gets slammed for it's state flag. Bob Jones University for it's official dating policy. Washington Times Editor and native Arkansan Wesley Pruden gets smeared because his father was the chaplain (fifty years ago) for the White Citizens Council. "What's their chaplain do," smirked Franken. Then he convulses us with the punch line. "Offer solace to members after a particularly traumatizing assault on Black people?"
Franken contrasts the fiendishness of this hinterlander with his own father's noble association as a card carrying member of the NAACP. Ah yes, the NAACP. Recall that after the obligatory gurgles to Cuba's health care and education on a visit to Havana last year, NAACP head Kweisi Mfume cut a deal to sell Castro farm products from black farmers. During the kissy-poo session, Castro's most prominent black political prisoners were rotting in nearby dungeons .
"So what's a member of the NAACP do, Al?".... "Ignore the plight of black political prisoners? Play step 'n fetch to a mass murderer? Or just subsidize him and his lily-white regime?"
Not that Franken's alone in his south bashing. Far from it. Hollywood, The Ivy League, PBS...it's more than a cottage industry. To hear their chorus we were doomed in 1961.
When Cubans landed in the South's lap by the hundreds of thousands--when young Americans just starting the travails (and joys) of careers and families suddenly found masses of excitable foreign- tongued, octopus-eating strangers applying for jobs besides them, working besides them, worshipping besides them, moving in next door-- the potential for trouble was enormous.
In our case especially. We landed in New Orleans, deepest darkest Dixie, Red America with a vengeance. Worse, the city then hosted a huge NASA project, attracting blue collar workers from surrounding states, Texas, Alabama, Mississippi. Here's backwoods states synonymous with hate and murderous bigotry--and here's the social class most prone to it.
After all, Peter Fonda says Easy Rider was gunned down here. Oliver Stone says JFK's murder was hatched here. Paul Begala contemplates the place with a shudder. Showcasing it's villainy is a long- time fetish of Hollywood screenwriters and casters. We'd be lucky to get a welcome with mere tar and feathers. Firebombs and nooses were more likely.
My father was a political prisoner in La Cabana's dungeons at the time, listening to the gallant Che's firing squads every dawn, wondering when his turn would come. My mother wondered too, but she didn't much time to indulge in things like despair. She was alone in a strange country, penniless and friendless ,with three kids to somehow feed, shelter and school. Two nephews were also under a death sentence after fighting to the last bullet at the Bay of Pigs.(Don't me wrong. We had it relatively easy. Most residents of Little Havana can relate stuff ten times as hair-raising and heartbreaking. The Milian family of Las Villas, for instance, lost 12 of it's men in the freedom-fight. Recall the Sullivans of WWII, but triple the heartache.)
Anyway, a knock on the door and a burly stranger visible through the window wasn't exactly comforting. We hadn't been living in the humble apartment complex for long when it came. We peeked through the window....."AHHH!! Is that a WHITE HOOD?!!
No, it’s Mrs Jeffrey from next door with her bleached blond bouffant.
"And what's he carrying?... AAAHHH!! Is that a shotgun?! A rope?! A bomb?!"
No. It's a basket of fried chicken. And that's Mr. Jeffrey behind her. He's coming to offer help translating that job application.
The Jeffreys were originally from Texas. To Paul Begala that’s religious nuts in Waco and sadistic yahoos dragging people to their death behind pick-up trucks. To us it’s Mrs. Jeffrey with her big basket of food, and more importantly, with her big Texas smile. A few days later she'd take Mami shopping with her. Next day she'd console her during another sob-fest.
Mr. Jeffrey was a WWII and Korea vet and knew some Spanish. I'll never forget him sitting next to my grandfather, swerving from fiery rage to silent sympathy while apologizing to him in a heavy Texas twang for the Bay of Pigs – as if it was his doing, as if he hadn’t done enough for others’ freedom already!
As Mr. Jeffrey saw it, that was HIS flag on those ships off the Cuban coast. HIS flag on the planes overhead. And though he choked on the name, it was HIS President who gave them the order to scram. Mr. Jeffrey had seen that flag go up over Manila and Seoul. Dozens of his buddies who helped carry it fell along the way. He saw what that fluttering canvas meant to the delirious crowds who screamed and wept and cheered, knowing that freedom was at hand.
Dear Mr. Jeffrey, wherever he is today, knows that if his flag had flown over Pyongyang in 1953, North Korea wouldn’t today be a charnel house of mass-murder, starvation, and cannibalism--and rattling Nuclear missiles. If his flag had waved a little longer off Playa Giron we probably wouldn’t have been neighbors.
Next day, another knock......"AAHH!!.... Something's on FIRE outside! Is back that a burning CROSS?!
No it's Mr Simpson's Bar-B-cue. He always liked a BIG fire. Remember Eddie Murphy's early skit about his uncle Gus Bar-B-Cueing? "Now THAT'S a FIRE!"
That always reminded me of Mr Simpson from upstairs. It's actually Mrs Simpson at the door, asking us over--- in that hilarious (to us) Southern drawl-- to share in that mountain of chicken and burgers they're scorching. The Simpson's hailed from Birmingham. To Franken, Hollywood and PBS that's, the land of Bull Connor and fire hoses and nothing more. Next day Mrs Simpson knocks again, to offer us terrified children another ride to that strange school where nobody understands us ( bilingual education my **s! We learned English in two months!)....She'd also be holding a shopping bag.
What’s in that bag? Well, Mami’s in tears again, but these look different....ah, some clothes outgrown by the Simpson children, for us. (No way Mami! I ain’t wearing that!) And looks like a new blouse for her.
Next day and here comes Mrs. Boudreaux from across the street. She’s a local, from the land of – SHRIEK and SHUDDER!! – David Duke, to Franken and Hollywood. To us she was a perpetually cheerful woman with fuzzy slippers and a HUGE-bottom (Cubans always notice this) who’s bringing a big pot of Gumbo and a phone number of a friend who might have a job for grandad – and glory Be! – speaks a little Spanish.
They came almost every day, Mr. Franken. Just ask my parents.
And this was in the very gizzard of the "bigoted" and "hate-filled" South. When you’ve just fled a totalitarian hell with the clothes on your back, when you find yourself in a strange land not knowing the language, when nights are a sleepless, mind-churning marathon of worries: did uncle Pepe fall to the firing squad this dawn? Is cousin Manolo still in hiding? Where’s the next meal coming from? – how on earth will we pay for the kids schooling? with all this going on, that stuff helps, believe me. ( I speak here for my parent’s generation. I was seven years old. Seemed like a Disney adventure to me.)
Later in the suburbs another family became even more special. Years before, the lady had worked at a local plant riveting the hulls on the famous Higgins boats ("The boats that won WWII" according to Ike). One such boat carried her fiance to shore at Casablanca, another at Salerno, another at Omaha Beach where a burst from a German machine gun riddled his legs.
Almost 40 years later I watched him limping up the aisle, grimacing slightly with each step. Then he broke into a huge smile, while handing me his daughter as a bride.
As one whose family was almost suffocated by them, I’m here to tell ya that the arms of the "bigoted" folks of Dixie opened damn wide for these foreigners. And the embrace from Hollywood’s favorite caricature of "intolerance" and "xenophobia" and "hate" on these weird octopus-eating strangers was plenty tight and plenty warm.
We landed in the south, but I've heard compatriots relate similar stories literally "from sea to shining sea."
Nobody called them "the greatest generation" back then. I guess the perspective wasn't there in the 60's But thousands of destitute Cubans knew them (and still remember them) as "el pueblo que nos abrio los brazos" (The people who opened their arms to us.)