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Doris writes a weekly column for LaGaceta, the nation's only trilingual newspaper, which has pages in English, Spanish, and Italian.  Begun in 1922 for Tampa's immigrant community, it continues to thrive more than a century later.  Her column is titled "In Context," as it aims to put contemporary issues in the context of the past.

Miami International Book Fair

he Miami International Book Fair always is the weekend prior to Thanksgiving, and this year was its 32nd anniversary. I was very happy to be invited, as it truly is international with relatively few Florida authors. They treated us like royalty, too, with transportation provided between the Biscayne Boulevard Hilton where they put us up and the Wolfson Campus of Miami-Dade College about a mile away. There were hospitality rooms in the hotel and on campus, which made it possible to talk with many colleagues.

First off on Friday night, they took us across the water to Miami Beach, where there was a party for authors at a resort called “The Standard” – spelled upside down. I don’t think we can replicate that typeface here. It was a beautiful moonlit evening, and the resort’s deck, which faced the water, was surrounded by a jungle of tropical plants. After everyone had their fill of food and drink, they held a Literary Death March. I was glad I was not asked to participate in that, as a showmanship type of guy – think television’s “Jeopardy” – led a process of elimination among poets. Cruel, I thought, even if good-humored. And not at all typical of the rest of the weekend, when everyone I met was non-competitive and friendly.

Book vendors stretched out for about four blocks and included a Children’s Alley with continual participatory activities for kids. Even with an admission fee and bouts of rain, tens of thousands of people came to buy books, many bringing their kids. It strikes me now, though, that there was no attention to “kiddie lit” in the indoor sessions whose listings made up a 70-page agenda. These were aimed at adults, and there were more authors of non-fiction than of fiction.

I went to one on Saturday morning that was titled “Saved by the Sunshine State: Writers Find Themselves in Florida” – but it turned out to be the only event that was late getting started, and I soon left because I wanted to go to another in approximately the same time slot. It was “A Dream Derailed: The Dark Side of the Immigrant Experience.” You may remember that my first book was Foreign and Female: Immigrant Women in America, 1840-1930. It was first published in 1986, so I’ve long had an interest in that subject. The panel discussion was made up of four youngish women, three of whom had been immigrants. Their books are titled Detained and Deported; Hunting Season: Immigration and Murder in an All-American Town; and Dreamers: An Immigrant Generation’s Fight for Their American Dream. The fourth was a documentary filmmaker who produced Deported.

I found it all interesting – and not new. When the Q&A session began, I was pleased that both the audience and the panelists responded positively to my message that the more things change, the more they stay the same. Xenophobia was standard during the era that I specialized in, with Jews, as well as Irish and Italian Catholics, the favorite targets of discriminators. Indeed, xenophobia has been an American tradition since September 20, 1565, when the Spanish attacked the French who tried to settle here in Florida – less than a month after the Spanish themselves had arrived. Being foreign never has been easy, yet each ethnic group eventually found its way – and then, all too often, rejected the next batch of newcomers. That it takes some people a long time to figure this out was clear when another questioner asked, “What can we do to make immigrants truly American?”

* * *

Later in the day, I went to the only session that dealt with the publishing biz. As you know, the internet has changed the rules, and I hoped for – and got – some good information. The large panel included the editor of the New York Times Sunday book review section and other luminaries among publishers and bookstore owners. All were encouraging, saying that both print and electronic books are selling in greater numbers than ever before. It caused me to remember an incident when I was a child and television was new. We went to the home of church friends to watch the Rose Bowl parade, and the host predicted that libraries soon would be obsolete because people would not read now that they had TV. I was under age ten then, but I thought he was wrong. And he was.

So let me skip a bit chronologically to stick with the subject. The last event I attended was “The Future of American Public Libraries: Reading the Past to Project a Future.” It featured Wayne Wiegand, for whom I had written an introduction to a book he published some years back. Librarians have become very sophisticated technocrats (something I knew from my daughter and son-in-law, both of whom have graduate degrees in library science), and Wayne’s presentation was by far the most cutting-edge of any I attended. When I came in -- a bit late -- the boyhood face of Barack Obama was on the screen, and Wayne was reading a quote from him about how much his Kansas library had meant to him as a child. Similar screens followed, with the message especially emphasizing that free libraries are uniquely American. An officer of the American Library Association, Wayne assured us the future of libraries is good. They have become lively, community bonding places, and it is because of user demand that we continue to build them. Did you know that there are more public libraries in America than there are outlets for McDonald’s?

I had gotten up early on Sunday to hear Chris Hedges talk about his latest, The Wages of Rebellion: The Moral Imperative of Revolt. He is an internationally known journalist who predicted very early the fiasco that we now face in the Middle East. He’s much more radical than I, though, and I walked out soon after he referred to Bill and Hillary Clinton as “venal.” Leftists that far to the left always have left me behind in exasperation at their self-righteousness and unwillingness to compromise. Of course, I also skipped rightists such as Peggy Noonan, a speechwriter for Republicans. I’m a middle-of-the-road, old-fashioned liberal.

I also left early because I wanted to get to Diane Roberts’ event on time. I’ve been a fan of hers since she began publishing with the Tampa Bay Times – and you probably are, too. Insightful and funny, she never disappoints. I used her wonderfully entertaining yet accurate book in writing my recent Florida history. The title of this 2004 work says it all – Dream State: Eight Generations of Swamp Lawyers, Conquistadors, Confederate Daughters, Banana Republicans, and Other Florida Wildlife. Her new one is Tribal: College Football and the Secret Heart of America. I’m going to quote its PR for the gist of this remarkable woman:

“Diane Roberts is a self-described feminist with a PhD from Oxford. She’s also a second-generation season ticket holder – and an English professor – at one of the elite college football schools in the country. It’s not as if she approves of the violence and hyper-masculinity on display; she just can’t help herself. So every Saturday from September through December, she surrenders to her Inner Barbarian. The same goes for the rest of her “tribe,” those thousands of hooting, hollering, beer-swilling Seminoles… In Tribal, Roberts explores college football’s grip on the country at the very moment when gender roles are blurring… [She] argues it is also a representation of the buried heart of this country: a game and a culture built upon the dark past of the South, secrets so obvious they hide in plain sight.” It’s us against them, and we create our own “us.” An important thesis, seasoned with hilarity.

* * *

Perhaps the most exciting moments of the weekend were entirely serendipitous. Seating was a bit scarce at the place where authors got free breakfast and lunch, and in retrospect, I wonder if the organizers do this to force people to connect with other people. When I sat down next to an older man who was alone, I asked the ice-breaking question: “What do you write?” He laughed and said, with a bit of a Spanish accent, “I write very little.” So I asked if he was associated with Miami-Dade, which hosted the event. When he said yes, I followed up with the usual query about academic field. He said shyly, “I’m the president.”

It was Eduardo Padron, the legendary leader of Miami-Dade College during its growth to more than 165,000 students on six campuses -- which makes it the largest higher education institution in the world. It used to be Miami-Dade Community College, and I told him about my experience as a trustee of Hillsborough Community College back in the 1990s. Even without going into any detail, I could tell he understood that very difficult time for me, as a volunteer appointed by the governor to clean up corruption. President Padron is humble, intelligent, and most of all, puts students first. Hubby and I have had a lot of contact with administrators during decades in education, and we can assure you that it is a rare president who eats from a plastic plate in a crowded cafeteria. That alone makes him a champion in my book.

When he left to greet the workers in the buffet line, another guy quickly took his place. He turned out to be Bill Finnegan, political reporter for The New Yorker. He, too, was modest and engaging, and he ended up asking a lot of questions about Florida politics. He was especially mystified by why Marco Rubio seemed to be less than popular in his home state. I reminded him that Rubio did not win a majority of votes in his only statewide election. He is in the US Senate because Charlie Crist ran as an independent, while Kendrick Meek was the Democratic nominee. And then Rubio immediately began running for president instead of doing his job as a senator.

He seems seldom to come home, certainly not north of wealthy Palm Beach – which Donald Trump also claims as one of many homes. With Jeb! and Ben Carson, as well as Mike Huckabee, who moved from Arkansas to the Pensacola area, we have five presidential candidates who want Floridians to think that they are one of us. None fully understand our young dreamers, and it was Rubio’s betrayal on immigration that caused La Gaceta’s publisher to remove the vowels from his name and dub him “Marc Rub.”

That conversation was so stimulating I was almost late for my own presentation. But then I’ve heard myself before.


Doris Weatherford writes a weekly column for La Gaceta, the nation's only trilingual newspaper. With pages in Spanish, Italian, and English, it has been published in Tampa since 1922.
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