Tuesday, July 23, 2019

Immigrants Took America to the Moon

Some Americans believe that the 1950s and 1960s represent a great and golden age. They believe that low crime rates and an unprecedented standard of living was achieved through a homogeneous society bonded by decades of assimilation and the shared sacrifice of the Second World War.  
This homogeneous society represented a record-low of foreign born residents; a result of restricted immigration after 1924. This was when an immigration quota based arbitrarily and prejudicially on the 1890 Census was implemented, and the gates were shut to new-coming groups.
Law, order, and prosperity supposedly disappeared when the “floodgates” opened up with the Immigration and Naturalization Act of 1965. These reactionaries lament the end of a “liberal consensus”, if there ever was one, and a new realpolitik which prefers a “mosaic” of cultures in lieu of the proverbial “melting pot”. They say: “Go back to where they came from”. We heard this crude phrase last week.

 That is not what America stands for. Not since 1945, when Tokyo and Berlin stood in shouldering ruins. Two decades of American isolationism, following the Great War, ended in an even bloodier global war. In Europe, America embraced the Marshall Plan to rebuild European social and economic institutions. At home, America began to turn a new leaf, allowing much greater immigration; first with piecemeal programs, then through a new immigration act in 1952.  

The White House’s horrible comment against four Congresswomen, and the silent approval of the President’s defenders, was overshadowed by more aspirational news: the 50th Anniversary of the First Lunar Landing in July 1969. It was certainly an American accomplishment, but only possible with the knowledge and great assistance of then-recent immigrants:

·      -   Albert Einstein, renowned physicist who escaped the rabid antisemitism of post-World War One Europe.

·     -    German scientists and Nazi defectors who gave the United States invaluable information on rocket technology.

·    -     An Wang, computer hardware expert and pioneer of the CPU, who came to America from war-torn China in 1945.

·    -     Countless Russians and Eastern Europeans who escaped through the Iron Curtain and flourished in America, freed from the yoke of communism.

As Elon Musk and venture capitalists dream a near-future return to the Moon, America again faces a simple choice: Shoot for the stars, or “Send them back”.  

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Fragile Paradise

“Remember the ‘90’s?”, a gas station sign on Guam opines. Those were Guam’s glory days, when the Japan economic boom fueled construction projects and tourism; and sailors from Ronald Reagan’s 600-ship US Navy spent their paychecks on trinkets and entertainment.
Light and stylish, suitable for a wide range of activities, tropical shirts are ubiquitous in Guam. Designs range from floral, prints, to abstract designs, and shirts bearing the legendary DC-3 propeller plane of the 1930s and 1940s.  I have not yet seen a vintage propeller plane fly over Guam’s Apra Harbor into Won Pat International airport; just modern jets bearing the names of United Airlines, FedEx, Cathay Pacific and Korean Air.

The end results of consumerism is quickly evident on a small island. Gas stations and a six-lane arterial, Marine Corps Drive, line the waterfront of Hagatna, Guam’s capital city. Even industrialized and militarized Norfolk, Virginia keeps gas stations on the inland side of Ocean View Avenue. British-owned Diego Garcia, an atoll in the Indian Ocean, sends its “retrograde” garbage to mainland Asia for disposal. In American Guam, household waste too often ends up dumped in priceless and scenic parks. Brochures advertise weekend trips to "unspoiled" islands like Saipan, Chuuk and Palau.

Telling of the harried times of today’s military, coffee shops line the approach road to Guam Naval Base. Locals treat the speed limit- never exceeding 35 miles per hour- as a speed limit. Sailors often regard those signs as mere road decoration, as they whip and zag to work or home. Though our local contractors live on island time, we’re busy; we’ve made Guam just like home.

Then we sing “Old Maui”, an old sailor song. We’re singing about going to a tropical island, when we’re on a tropical island? Nostalgia for Paradise Lost was true even in 1890’s, when French painter Paul Gauguin encountered the Pacific island of Tahiti. As described in “The Art Wolf”: "Papeete -the Tahitian capital- was not the tropical paradise that it could have been in former times, the exotic and mysterious town found by great travelers like the legendary Captain Cook".

Today, Gauguin’s artwork is described as imaginative, even exploitative. So is Tiki Culture- that mesh of Chinese food, lush ambiance, and tropical drinks that once swept America- and is enjoying a comeback in the States. Nevertheless, Tiki Culture can be found in well-appointed Guam hotels. When the co-workers vent frustrations about the job, I recommend: Get on your motorcycle, ride past the waterfront gas stations, and within 15 minutes, find your paradise.