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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.

Some News You May Have Missed During Irma

We were busy recovering from the hurricane on Tuesday the 12th, when special elections occurred for vacant legislative seats in New Hampshire and Oklahoma. Up in New England, the incumbent resigned after being caught posting “deeply misogynistic” material on a website he founded called “The Red Pill.” I’ve thought about looking it up for research purposes, but don’t want my computer to think that I want advertising from such sites. (There ought to be a way to hide searches from our electronic brains. I suppose it can be done, but e-things are sufficiently complicated.) Anyway, voters punished this incumbent’s increasingly anti-woman party, and the Republican nominee lost in a 28-point swing from last fall.

Oklahoma was even more impressive. As you may know, “conservative” legislators there believe in starving traditional public schools, and some are in such deep financial trouble that they are open only four days a week. Voters voiced objections to this anti-American attitude, and they elected a teacher 60-40. That’s a 31-point change from less than a year ago, when Donald Trump won this district by nine points.

Since his inauguration in January, there have been 35 special districts for state legislative seats – and Democrats won 26 of the 35. Some Republicans in Congress are taking note and quitting early. Eight Republican congressmen have announced that they are not running for reelection (or any other office) compared with only one Democrat who plans to retire. Watch out, elephants. Your party is dragging you down.

The Parents of Dreamers?

I remain astonished at the presumption that the president doesn’t drink. Maybe drugs instead account for his bizarre mood swings and policy reversals. After running the most anti-immigrant campaign in history -- unmatched even by the Know-Nothing days of the 19th century, when xenophobia was much more acceptable – he now seems to be willing to consider a path to citizenship for young people who were brought here illegally as children. At the same time – a time when Texas and Florida, the second and third biggest states, need laborers because of hurricanes – he still talks about walling out Central Americans. The result of this mixed message is that he offends his own anti-immigrant supporters, while doing little to improve his global image.

The most obvious case is DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals), the program Barack Obama implemented that intended to end the threat of deportation for almost a million young people who grew up and were educated in the US. Trump campaigned against DACA, but he recently met with Democratic leaders to talk about continuing Obama’s executive order. I’m glad, as it certainly makes sense for a vibrant future economy -- but what about their parents? While the media buzzes about DACA, nothing is being said about citizenship for the dreamers’ parents, almost always hard-workers who have been paying taxes for decades.

Presumably they are expected to continue to live in the shadows, fearful of every knock on the door and especially fearful of employers who may call ICE at any point. Immigration and Customs Enforcement is akin to the Nazi’s Gestapo for them – able to seize their property and send them into the unknown. And this is to say nothing about what happens to the payroll taxes they pay, something I’ve said before. Is anyone looking out for the original dreamers, the ones who risked everything to come here?

Merited Praise

Marco Rubio, Republican of Miami, was not originally elected to the US Senate by a majority: He won because St. Petersburg’s Charlie Crist, formerly a Republican and now a Democrat, was an independent in 2010, and thus split that vote with the Democratic nominee, Miami’s Kendrick Meek. Rubio was the darling of the now-faded Tea Party, and ever since, has been trying to figure out where he stands on issues, especially immigration. Like Trump, he plays to both sides, and neither fully trusts him.

But I do want to offer congratulations on one thing: Republican Rubio joined with our longtime Democratic Senator Bill Nelson to oppose Trump’s nominee for NASA chief. NASA, as you know, not only is very important to Florida’s economy, but also to American status in the world. So of course Trump has chosen an administrator who has no credentials in science or engineering; his highest degree is an MBA. He’s 42 years old and was elected to the US House from Tulsa in 2012.

Worried about Republican rhetoric that is anti-science and pro-privatization, NASA’s previous administrator stepped down on the first day of the new administration. His deputy has served in an acting capacity for the nine months since, the longest period that NASA ever has been without a permanent leader. The nominee, Jim Bridenstine, appears to have few friends among his congressional colleagues, as the Senate has yet to schedule a confirmation hearing. His fellow Republican Rubio even said Bridenstine comes with “political baggage” and “could be devastating for the space program.” I’m pleased with Rubio for recognizing that.

Part of the political baggage doubtless is the fact that this Oklahoma Republican and his staff traveled (free) to Azerbaijan and accepted “thousands of dollars” worth of gifts from his hosts there. One question: Can you imagine the outrage if Hillary had appointed a similarly unqualified and potential corrupt person? It would be all over the news, not buried in a small story.

A Little History of Our Town

The City of Tampa has sponsored an “Archives Awareness Week” for a long time, long enough that the Tribune’s beloved historian Leland Hawes was active when I started going. Somehow I fell off the mailing list, and I’d not thought about it in years. It was celebrated back in July, though, and City Clerk Shirley Foxx-Knowles later sent me a packet of info. I missed several things, including a lecture by my old friend Maura Barrios that traced the connections between Tampa and Cuba.

The advertising brochure said that July 2017 marked the city’s 130th anniversary -- but there are a couple of ways of counting that, as the early municipality went in and out of existence. I found the most interesting of the several documents to be a 200+ page history of city council members – and the most interesting part of that was how many non-Anglos were elected to office early in Tampa’s history. Here’s a list of names and the first year of their tenure on city council:

1859 – J. Alfonso DeLaunay

1866 – Bartholomew Leonardi

1879 – Dominic Ghira

1880 – Oliver Andreau

1880 – Frances Ghira

1885 – Thomas Taliaferro

1887 – Candido Angel Martinez-Ybor

1888 – Manuel Rodriguez

1889 – Alfonso Garcia

1889 - Rafael Pena

1890 – Jose Gonzalez Elias

1891 – Herman Glogowski

1891 – Ramon Rivero y Rivero

1892 – Jose Gomez

1893 – Ramon Rubiera de Armas

1893 – Emilio Pons

1894 – Ignacio Haya

1894 – Adalberto Ramirez

1896 – William Dombrowsky

1898 – Oscar Manrara

I stopped at the end of the 19th century, as many more non-Anglos could be expected to be elected to office after the cigar industry began in the mid-1880s. Some of these men were born in the United States, but others were natives of Spain, Cuba, Italy, and Germany, as Tampa has a long history of welcoming immigrants.

There were, of course, women living in Tampa back then. Without women, history stops in a generation. Our women were eligible to vote in 1920, but it was not until 1971 that one finally was elected to city council. She was Catherine Barja; her maiden name was Pisacane, and she was born in New York City on May 23, 1932. I knew Cathy for years before I realized that she was legally blind. She took buses to the many meetings that council membership requires, and she understood the lives of working families. Some of my friends looked down on her as unsophisticated, but we really could benefit from more elected officials like her.


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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