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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.

Think About This

  • I just walked past the CNN headline news and saw, "White House blames Congress for ballooning national debt."  This Congress has been in office for just two months and has not passed any legislation that affects the economy – and until about sixty days ago, both houses of Congress were controlled for many years by Republicans.  Tell me again, which party is responsible for the (genuinely) ballooning debt?
  • Speaking of Congress and major legislation, Speaker Nancy Pelosi introduced her election reforms, House Resolution #1, on a day that happened to be Ash Wednesday.  Did you notice the small black spot on her forehead that showed she had been to Mass?  That's how everyone should practice faith:  quietly.
  • And speaking of holidays, did you realize that the Violence Against Women Act expired on Friday, February 15, the day after Valentine's?  What irony.  Elaine Chao's husband, Senate President Mitch McConnell, could have given that as a Valentine.
  • Did you see that a bunch of Kansas legislators, including the House Speaker, went to an upscale Topeka restaurant and got so boisterously drunk that they were kicked out?  This is Kansas, which not too long ago was so prohibitionist that its legislature tried to ban alcohol from airplanes flying overhead.  It's also the home of Kris Kobach, whose hypocrisy is so crass that even the Trump administration has not given him the position he seeks.  And yes, he does chair the state's Republican Party, and yes, the people banned from the restaurant are Republicans.
  • And a brief quote from the young woman who now is so famous that an acronym, AOC, denotes New York Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.  Speaking of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, she said:   "ICE jails children in for-profit detention centers funded by private banks.  If that's not totally broken, I don't know what is."


A Model for Parenthood


I read Michelle Obama's Becoming some time ago, but every week there's been something more newsworthy to write about.  This is the week that I shall.  Or will.  Sometimes that grammatical distinction is very clear to me; other times, not so much.  And by the way, a generation ago people used "becoming" as an adjective to describe a good appearance:  as in, "your dress is very becoming."  Does anyone use the word that way anymore?"


The first part of her biography appealed to me most.  That's true of almost any bio, as I enjoy the oldest times, no matter what the age of the writer.  Childhood is inherently nostalgic, and remembrances make me ponder my own in comparison.  Almost nothing about young Michelle Obama's childhood and mine was comparable:  she lived in an African-American community on Chicago's South Side and took a city bus to school; I walked two short blocks to school, and when we moved too far to walk, the school bus picked me up at the front door.  And it waited if we kids were late, and it didn't cost us anything.  The comparisons go on, but mostly I want to talk about her childhood in terms of her stellar parents.


Mr. and Mrs. Robinson wouldn't seem exceptional.  Marian Robinson was a stay-at-home mom for their two kids, Craig and the slightly younger Michelle, and later worked at a bank.  Fraser Robinson was employed by Chicago's water system for decades, and even after his long struggle with multiple sclerosis would have qualified him for disability, he never missed a day of work.  They rented a four-room apartment from a great-aunt, who lived downstairs and taught piano.  From her and other family members, Michelle developed a wide knowledge of music from classical to jazz.


Money, of course, was tight, but when the Robinsons heard from a friend that some of Michelle's high-school classmates were going to Paris as part of learning French, they inquired why Michelle hadn't mentioned this.  She said that the cost was too high, and her father replied, "That's actually not for you to decide, Mich."  Experiencing a sudden epiphany about her parents, she continued:  "I looked at them both, unsure of what to say… They were in their early forties then, married nearly twenty years… They never took beach trips or went out to dinner.  They didn't own a house.  We were their investment, me and Craig.  Everything went into us."  She flew on that trip to Europe with her classmates, and both she and Craig went on to graduate from Princeton University. 


Back in Chicago after Harvard Law, her corporate firm asked her to mentor a new intern, Barack Obama.  She still was living with her parents, and her family liked the young Hawaiian better than she did at first.  Fraser Robinson didn't live to see his daughter become first lady, but Marian did.  She didn't want to move to Washington, but did so after it was clear that her granddaughters needed her in the White House.  She kept her simple ways, though, and the Secret Service finally learned to ignore the fact that she would slip past fences to go to the grocery store.


"Nobody is too poor to turn off the TV"


         There's much more to the book, of course -- which is divided into "Becoming Me," "Becoming Us," and "Becoming More" -- but if you haven't, you should read it for yourself.  Instead of continuing on to adulthood, I want to focus on another portion of her teen years, when, she said:  "I spent a lot of my time with a classmate named Santita Jackson… She was one of those kids who signed up for every AP class available and seemed to ace them all.  She wore skirts when everyone else wore jeans and had a beautiful singing voice…


         "Santita's father was famous.  This was the primary, impossible-to-get-around fact of her life.  She was the eldest child of the Reverend Jesse Jackson…  He preached a message of relentless, let's-do-this self-empowerment.  'Down with dope! Up with hope!' he'd call to audiences.  He had schoolkids sign pledges to turn off the TV and devote two hours to their homework each night…  He made parents promise to stay involved.  He pushed back against the feelings of failure.., urging people to quit with the self-pity and take charge of their own destiny.  'Nobody, but nobody,' he'd yell, 'is too poor to turn off the TV!'


         "Hanging around Santita's house could be exciting.  The place was roomy and a little chaotic, home to the family's five children… [They] served meals at a massive table in the dining room, hosting anyone who turned up… When Reverend Jackson was home, a different energy pulsed through the house.  Routines were cast aside; dinner conversations lasted until late in the night.  Advisers came and went.  Plans were always being made.  Unlike my home, where life ran in an orderly and predictable pace, where my parents' concerns rarely extended beyond keeping our family happy and on track for success, the Jacksons seemed caught up in something larger, messier, and seemingly more impactful…


         Santita adored her father and was proud of his work, but she also was trying to live her own life.  She and I were all for strengthening the character of black youth, but we also rather desperately needed to get to Water Tower Place before the K-Swiss sneaker sale ended… This would become one of my early, unwitting lessons about life in politics:  Schedules and plans never seem to stick…  Santita and I often waited out some delay related to her father – a meeting that was running long or a plane still circling the airport…  We'd think we were getting a ride home from school or going to the mall, but instead we'd end up at a political rally."


Final Fun


         Former Texas Congressman Ralph Hall died last week at age 95.  He spent 23 years in the US House as a Democrat, but as Republicans took increasing control of Texas politics, he switched parties in 2004.  Still ambivalent about the decision at filing time, he made out two checks, one to the Democratic Party and the other to the Republican. 


Then he "sent a guy 30 minutes before the deadline to go in there and said, 'I'll call and tell you which one I want to be.'"  He had not bothered to include his wife on this long internal debate to register as a Republican.  When he told her, she replied, "Hope you enjoy eating out and sleeping by yourself."



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