31 October 2008

When you’re owed, you don’t have to do it for yourself

During the campaign we were informed that while government (i.e., the federal government) can’t do everything it ought at least to do for us what we cannot do for ourselves. (By the way, both candidates told us this. They did so, however, in different ways, so it may not be so very clear that the Republican candidate believes it just as wholly as the Democrat candidate.)

But what if you’re owed what the government is going to do for you? Back in March Ed Kaitz described a conversation he had on a flight once. He was talking to the man sitting next to him on the flight, a black man, about the success of Vietnamese fishermen:

I had been working on Vietnamese commercial fishing boats for a few years based in southern Louisiana. The boats were owned by the recent wave of Vietnamese refugees who flooded into the familiar tropical environment after the war. Floating in calm seas out in the middle of the Gulf of Mexico, I would hear tearful songs and tales from ex-paratroopers about losing brothers, sisters, parents, children, lovers, and beautiful Vietnam itself to the communists.

In Bayou country I lived on boats and in doublewide trailers, and like the rest of the Vietnamese refugees, I shopped at Wal-Mart and ate a lot of rice. When they arrived in Louisiana the refugees had no money (the money that they had was used to bribe their way out of Vietnam and into refugee camps in Thailand), few friends, and a mostly unfriendly and suspicious local population. They did however have strong families, a strong work ethic, and the "Audacity of Hope." Within a generation, with little or no knowledge of English, the Vietnamese had achieved dominance in the fishing industry there and their children were already achieving the top SAT scores in the state.

While I had been fishing my new black friend had been working as a prison psychologist in Missouri, and he was pursuing a higher degree in psychology. He was interested in my story, and after about an hour getting to know each other I asked him point blank why these Vietnamese refugees, with no money, friends, or knowledge of the language could be, within a generation, so successful. I also asked him why it was so difficult to convince young black men to abandon the streets and take advantage of the same kinds of opportunities that the Vietnamese had recently embraced. His answer, only a few words, not only floored me but became sort of a razor that has allowed me ever since to slice through all of the rhetoric regarding race relations that Democrats shovel our way during election season:

"We're owed and they aren't."
In short, he concluded, "they're hungry and we think we're owed. It's crushing us, and as long as we think we're owed we're going nowhere."
That conversation took place back in the 1980s. Now, I think, just about all of us think we are owed.

0 comments:

About Me

James Frank Solís
Former soldier (USA). Graduate-level educated. Married 26 years. Texas ex-patriate. Ruling elder in the Presbyterian Church in America.
View my complete profile

Blog Archive

Capitalism