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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.

Jargon, Branding, Verbiage, and Other Substitutes For Thought

I was enjoying our lovely November weather, sitting on the deck with a cup of coffee and a piece of apple pie, when I opened the New York Times to this headline:  "On the Left, a New Scramble over the Right Words to Say."  The first paragraph featured a college freshman describing his Latino friends, and a female student interrupted with:  "We say Latinx here because we respect trans people." 


Wow.  I'm sorry, but I abhor such shallow show-offs.  In the first place, she should be respecting herself and other women by at least mentioning "Latina" and acknowledge that this is a problem with excessively gendered languages.  It's another reason why the world is turning to English, difficult though our language is.


But my main point is the increased use of jargon as a substitute for thought.  Coincidentally, I had a rant re this on my list of potential column topics – but it is aimed at the political right, not the left.  Indeed, I think that the right is more likely than the left to invent slogans that followers blindly use without understanding any meaning. 


I starting noticing this in the 1990s, when a Republican woman in the PR biz (later a Trump supporter, because the money was good) served with me on the board of the National Women's History Museum.  She endlessly talked about our need for "branding" -- and I think that is one of the reasons why the actual facility never came to be.  Members of Congress who were genuinely interested in a women's museum at the Smithsonian were turned off by the lingo and inch-deep knowledge of women such as her.  True feminist scholars refused to join the cause for the same reason.


Since then, "branding" and sloganeering has only gotten worse.  How many people who use "forensic audit" in regard to the 2020 election actually have any idea what that means?  It is just the latest of a long string of phrases that right-wing leaders encourage their members to use so that they sound smart.  Think back to "creationism."  I've heard very about that little lately, but a decade or so ago many school boards were assailed over creationism.  The theory had been a scientific standard for more than century by then, but apparently it only came to conservatives' attention at the end of the twentieth century.  And relatively soon, they went quiet.   I guess they saw the contradiction between a strict interpretation of Genesis and the dinosaurs that their children love.




The people who think by phraseology soon moved on to other trendy phrases.  When I first met someone who since has become a dear friend, she told me that she was worried about "Sharia law."  An astonished me assured her that the Florida legislature never would adopt such laws.  In retrospect, I think she was trying to impress me, to appear sophisticated by aping things she heard on conservative media.   She is not racist and doesn't seem to fret about "critical race theory," but many of her fellow Republicans do.  They are threatening school boards to the point that law enforcement has to be involved – over a slogan that most would be hard-pressed to define. 


I did meet someone who very sadly believed the nonsense about Sharia law.  While I spent months at the VA Hospital with Hubby, I found a woman who was past working age, but was desperately trying to find a job.  Her son had convinced her that Florida had Sharia law, and he would inherit everything and she would be destitute when her husband died.  She firmly believed him and informed me that I was the one who was ignorant.  After all, her son had shown her this on the internet.


Ah, the internet.  Since January 6, responsible people are exploring the falsehoods and threats spread in cyberspace.  I'm largely staying out of that fight, but this is a good opportunity to remind you of how Facebook began.  Mark Zuckerman was a Harvard student at approximately the same time as my daughter, and Harvard used photos of incoming freshmen as a method of creating connections.  If you knew someone's face, but not their name or anything else about them, you could look them up in the Facebook – a literal annual book. 


Zuckerman expanded this idea electronically and included the world far beyond Harvard.  Like anything else, it has its abusers, but I see that as no reason to attack the founder or the institution.  I know Facebook keeps my widespread family in much closer contact than would be the case without it.  Cousins discover mutual interests, and when their parents encourage them to travel hundreds of miles for family reunions, they are far more likely to be enthusiastic.  Everything comes down to the home, and how parents do their parenting.




From before 1986, when I published Foreign and Female:  Immigrant Women in America, I've been fascinated about the movements of people around the globe.  It is a subject that should be taught as an important part of world history courses – much more important than lists of monarchs and other strongmen.  How we went out of Africa and on to northern reaches and then across Siberian straits to North America and then to South America – all that is really important to understanding demographics and the growth of the human family.


I was pondering this again when I read another of the near daily news stories about migrant deaths.  Spain reported that more than 2,000 bodies have washed up on its shores, as people from North Africa tried to make it across that short stretch of the Mediterranean.  Dozens of overcrowded boats have gone down this year at the nearby Canary Islands.  Today I read of more water-related causalities in our country:  people from Tijuana tried to reach neighboring San Diego via the unusual method of swimming.  Our border patrol already had thought of that, though, and these unfortunates found themselves caught up in underwater concertina wire.


Why, why, do they do it?  What is so unhappy about their homelands that they take such risks?  Instead of installing barbed wire, we should focus on asking and answering that question.  We -- and the European nations affected by migrants from the other end of the Mediterranean -- should empower the United Nations to seriously study what can be done.  What incentives can we give people to stay home?  What can be done to corral the gangs and corrupt governments in the Southern Hemisphere that cause so many to flee?


Especially as our populations age, we and Europeans need a certain number of immigrants.  We always have.  The periods of greatest national prosperity closely parallel those with the greatest immigration.  We should not, however, encourage people to risk their lives for our economic comfort.  Instead, we could do more to encourage young people to stay with the families and cultures they know and not endanger themselves to follow a dream that may prove disappointing.  Most are young and usually male, and they believe they are invincible exceptions to universal rules.  We should remind them of the real risks.


I remember a young man Hubby and I once met in Tangier, in northern Morocco, whose great ambition was to move to Liverpool, England.  "Liverpool?" we thought.  Why would anyone prefer that overly industrialized, polluted, cold, damp city to the beautiful coastal town of Tangier?  I've thought about that since.  While some migrants genuinely are refugees escaping from fearful situations, I suspect that others may be victims of media that promotes unrealistic images.  I wonder if this kid ever made it to Liverpool, and when he got there, did he find anything beyond vague memories of the Beatles? 




Thinking about migration prompted me to look up Zero Population Growth.  This was a major organization a couple of decades ago.  I had friends who were active in it and wondered if it still was around.  Wikipedia tells me that it was founded by three men (a major mistake there, the exclusion of women) in 1968.  In 2002, it changed its name to Population Connections, which sounds pretty meaningless to me.  It still has significant revenue (as well as a male president), but I don't see much in the way of achievement.  Probably these guys have yet to discover that the key to population growth – or anything, really – is the status of women.


And that led to another thing I read recently.  It turns out that Mississippi, which is the poorest state in the nation, has a low rate of homelessness.  Most of us assume a correlation between being poor and being homeless, but apparently that isn't true in Mississippi.  The article speculated that this is because housing costs are low there, but I'm going to add another idea:  most homeless people leave their families along with their homes.  Mississippi, with strong extended families rooted in African culture, probably keeps its more of its homeless because transgressors are forgiven and not forced to leave.  More than black families, white ones are embarrassed by failures and more likely to push them out the door.  Whether or not I'm right, this non-correlation between homelessness and poverty is an interesting sociological measurement.


We make progress in both the "soft" and "hard" sciences, finding things that never were anticipated.  You may have seen that biologists discovered that California condors can reproduce asexually.  Because they have been bringing back the giant birds from the edge of extinction, these scientists have a great deal of data on DNA and who is related to whom.  Two eggs that recently hatched have only maternal DNA, and records show that they had no exposure to male condors.  This is huge.  Lots and lots of implications, which I don't have space to spell out today.  Let me know what you think.




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