Last year, I attended OutWrite, the annual LGBT book festival at The DC Center in Washington D.C., with the second (and original) chapter of my then soon-to-be published novel, “The Penalty for Holding.”
This year, I went back with the first chapter of the now published book (Less Than Three Press) and once again enjoyed myself immensely.
Part of the fun of D.C. (and DC) is that it is more relaxed than New York but with many of the same issues, the two cities being two sides of the same power coin – and allied in their loyal opposition of President Donald J. Trump. A white, middle-aged, female historian I ran into at Second Story Books off Dupont Circle and a black, male limo driver (ex-cop and ex-Marine) were equally appalled at the president’s unrealistic – and uncharitable – attitudes toward transgender individuals in the military and immigrants who are not highly educated and English-speaking; indeed toward anyone who is not white, male, powerful and rich; a young woman who is a 10; or a member of the unthinking base that put him in power.
So it was fitting that I was part of the “Harmony & Discord” panel at OutWrite as “The Penalty for Holding” is, as I told festival participants, a story about the lack of Alexandrian leadership and the gay, biracial quarterback, searching for an identity in the NFL, who seeks to fill that void on the field and off.
What struck me about the “Harmony & Discord” panel was that our books were centered on the immigrant experience at a time when it is under siege. Let’s address this idea first before getting to the panel. The notion that barring less educated, non-English speaking immigrants will increase jobs for the (white) American working class is absurd. It doesn’t take into account that many American-born workers lack the skills as well as the clean bill of health to operate today’s digitally driven equipment. Secondly, it doesn’t take into account upward mobility. My immigrant Portuguese grandparents settled here at first in the mill cities of Lowell and New Bedford, Massachusetts. And yet in only two generations, some of their grandchildren were able to rent a house on Boston’s tony Breed’s Hill to attend a family christening.
What’s that you say, upward mobility has bypassed the Rust Belters who voted for Trump? But whose fault is that? Certainly not President Barack Obama, who saved us from going over an economic cliff, created a million jobs and wanted to do more with infrastructure and free community college (but Congress nixed both ideas). Obama was always in the Midwest sucking up to these factory workers, and they hated him for it. That should be a lesson to all of us. Instead of sucking up how about holding up a mirror to these people and their (often former) bosses?
What about corporate officials and small business owners who stagnate or cut wages, benefits and work forces to create profits mainly for themselves? I say if you can’t give your staff a cost of leaving pay increase and benefits at the very least – if you can’t show Alexandrian leadership, which is leadership from the friggin’ front – then you shouldn’t be in business.
And what about the workers themselves, often unwilling and/or unable to retrain, relocate and reinvent themselves? How is denying an immigrant work force going to qualify native-born Americans for jobs they are incapable of holding? All that’s going to do is stagnate the economy for the rest of us.
But there is a cultural-historical factor here as well that escapes the intellectually incurious Trump: This is a nation of immigrants. That is our part of our identity. The only other groups are those who were forced here (the slaves) and the indigenous peoples who came here on a land bridge from Asia 15,000 years ago and were forced off their land by the white man.
And even though North America was mainly conquered by the British, part of it was held by France and much of it by Spain. So is it any wonder Spanish and French are still spoken here or that Chinese is the second most popular foreign language after Spanish, given that the Chinese came to California in the 19th century? Would it be so terrible for a predominantly English-speaking country to be multilingual as well?
Even if we don’t want to be, we may have no choice. Recent reports suggest that millennials prefer dating people who are at least bilingual. Whites will be a minority race in this country by mid-century.
That, however, is not an end but a beginning. Back on OutWrite’s “Harmony & Discord” panel, Divya Sood read from her novel “Nights Like This” (Riverdale Avenue Books), about an Asian Indian-American lesbian coming out to her mother. John Paul Brammer read from his 2018 novel “The Magical Transformation of Juan Diego Branson,” which explores the mixed feelings Mexicans and Mexican-Americans have with their indigenous legacy. And sandwiched between them was me, native to America and yet the author of a novel about an Indonesian-American’s attempts to straddle two different worlds.
We are the richer for these stories.