community communism

Yesterday was among the more interesting days I’ve had around my office. Jill alerted me that my column had been published, and at lunchtime my boss came back from the lunchroom congratulating me. I explained about the community columnist position and that I’d be writing once per month. We were having a thoughtful conversation on language and immigration when I got a page call from Mary on the other side of the office. Mary is one of my favorite Medico-Mart employees, she is gritty and sarcastic and has opinions about everyone, but more than that, she’s real and honest, and doesn’t take part in office-related crap – my kind of person.

Anyway, I pick up the phone in the middle of this conversation we are having in the vaccine deparment and I hear “Laura, Mikey says you’re a communist!” It was really funny at the time. Apparently “Mikey,” or Mike the warehouse guy who we also work closely with here in the vaccine department, got so excited when he saw me in the paper that he went over to Mary, who hadn’t seen the paper yet, and shouted something about me being a “community communist.” I told Mary she hadn’t seen anything yet. =)

This morning, a few people commented that they had read and enjoyed my article yesterday evening, one VP who was recently featured in a medical distributor trade magazine said during this year’s Christmas party, he and I can claim to be the only people who “got published” this year.

I fear, however, that I am becoming one of those people who is amused by mundane office happenings that aren’t really funny. When I first started here, I couldn’t believe the things that caused a ruckus around here – a sales rep cutting a watermelon with a large but dull knife, the billing lady simultaneously turning on the row of six dancing, singing stuffed animals that “decorate” one of the shelving units, test-driving around the warehouse on a posh motorized wheelchair that had just come in. I used to think all this was a little lame, but now, in my generally dull job, I find these things rather amusing too.

It’s also been interesting to read the comments I have gotten in my special Journal-Sentinel e-mail box since yesterday. There have been some really nice comments, and two really bad ones. I mean, people can be amazingly deluded and mean – if you want to know what I am talking about, read the comment by WO below my previous entry. That wasn’t all of it either. He also posted a column that described how with the birth rates among Latinos, white America is going to disappear during the next 50 years. I didn’t have the heart to tell him that when I have kids, they will be, in his words, of the “polluted” sort as well. Why can’t we all get along?!

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By the way, does anyone have a copy of yesterday’s paper – I only get my subscription on the weekend so I don’t have a paper copy. I could have picked one up on the way home but I didn’t have cash, then I went for a bike ride on my new bike and totally forgot. Dad? Can you save yours for me?

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3 Responses to community communism

  1. Jack says:

    Yep – we’ll save it for you. I’ve also got some copies.

    Great job on the column.

  2. Braden says:

    Hey Laura!

    I really enjoyed the column. You were appropriately measured in both tone and content (a skill that I could never really grasp) and I think you hit the perfect balance between personal reflection and commentary. Of course, I completely agree with your position, but in the interest of thoughtful discussion I’ll try to defend the indefensible.

    I’ll start with the suggestion that the current debate to make English as the official language has gained a substantial amount of strength because of recent developments in local school districts. The push to provide bi-lingual education (which has been particularly strong in the Washington, D.C. district) is seen by many conservatives as the first step toward dismantling the institutions that are important for generating a shared American culture. Primary public education is the only institution through which the U.S. government (including states) can promote a sense of political community. For conservatives, that political community should be founded on several non-negotiable principles, including instruction in English. Why English ends up being one of those principles is beyond my ability to answer, but nonetheless it is consistently offered as a bedrock of conservative belief.

    Before we simply dismiss conservatives as wrong (always appealing), we might need to explore why they view immigration as a threat. Your recent post about the statistics of new immigration to primarily rural areas I think reveals the underlying cause. In most major metropolitan areas, immigrants incorporate into the fabric of what was already an immigrant culture quite easily. You’re completely right. Milwaukee has always accepted new immigrants and the recent arrival of immigrants from Latin America can be seen as one more wave.

    However, rural Wisconsin witnessed a different trend. Whole immigrant communities migrated to Wisconsin and established traditions and customs based, in large part, on how their lives were lived in Europe. For instance, Northeast (or middle East depending on your perspective) Wisconsin received a large number of German farming communities. Although these communities eventually assimilated into American culture, the strong community ties based on shared religious, ethnic, and linguistic characteristics became defining features of their community’s identity. Since these rural communities were so homogenous, they could rely on consensus-oriented decision-making to solve community problems.

    However, when new communities enter these rural areas with different religious, ethnic, or linguistic traditions it not only threatens the original community’s identity, it places pressure on the decision-making process. Should these towns offer bi-lingual education if the town now has a substantial, spanish-speaking immigrant neighborhood? Should Waukesha now conduct official government business in Spanish? Inevitably, these communities often turn toward policies that either discourage new immigrants or force immigrants to assimilate.

    Why can’t the answer be multiculturalism? This is a popular response, but it ignores the fact that we all place a very high value on establishing and protecting our own identities. Some identities are more restrictive than others (such as religious or ethnic) and cannot incorporate every potential member. I think it is human nature to vigorously defend our own identity and for conservatives in rural areas their identity is very much linked to English. For many conservatives, advocating multiculturalism is like saying everyone’s culture but their own is worthy of protection. This might not excuse their beliefs, but it does humanize them. From my perspective, I have never understood why immigrant communities necessarily challenge my own identity, but then again, I never grew up in a particularly strong local community.

    OK, I think I’ve exhausted my fingers and my brain, but I just wanted to say again, great column!

    I hope life beyond being a communist community columnist is treating you well! I enjoyed the pictures (except for the giant horse… creepy creatures…).

  3. mary says:

    wow, after braden’s comment, i won’t even attempt my own response 🙂 but nice column, laura. i loved it!! i’m really proud of you!

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