Current Littourati Map

Neil Gaiman's
American Gods

Click on Image for Current Map

Littourari Cartography
  • On the Road
    On the Road
    by Jack Kerouac
  • Blue Highways: A Journey into America
    Blue Highways: A Journey into America
    by William Least Heat-Moon

Search Littourati
Enjoy Littourati? Recommend it!


Littourati is powered by
Powered by Squarespace


Get a hit of these blue crystal bath salts, created by Albuquerque's Great Face and Body, based on the smash TV series Breaking Bad.  Or learn about other Bathing Bad products.  You'll feel so dirty while you get so clean.  Guaranteed to help you get high...on life.

Go here to get Bathing Bad bath products!

Entries in racism (3)


Blue Highways: Dallesport (The Dalles), Washington

Unfolding the Map

I'm going to apologize in advance, because I get political in this post.  I don't usually do that, but sometimes a convergence of what I'm reading and society happens.  As you know, this blog not only maps the places in book journeys, but is also a chronicle of what goes through my head as I read the literature.  So, unsolicited, you get my opinion, just as in every post.  Otherwise, The Dalles appears to be a beautiful area, and if you open the map, you can see where it is situated geographically.

Book Quote

"At The Dalles another dam - this one wedged between high walls of basalt.  Before the rapids here disappeared, Indians caught salmon for a couple of thousand years by spearing them in midair as the fish exploded leaps up the falls....

"....Natives found a new source of income in the falls when white traders came with boats to be portaged.  One fur trader complained, as did many early travelers, that the Indians were friendly but 'habitual thieves'; yet he paid fifty braves only a quid of tobacco each to carry his heavy boats a mile upriver."

Blue Highways: Part 6, Chapter 9

The Dalles Bridge between Dallesport, Washington and The Dalles, Oregon. Photo by "cacophony" at Wikimedia Commons. Click on photo to go to host site.

Dallesport (The Dalles), Washington

I must admit, this will probably be somewhat of a politically-leaning post, because that is what is on my mind today after reading Leonard Pitts' column in my local paper yesterday and reading LHM's quote, above.

In the article, Pitts outlines just how absurd Alabama's new law against undocumented immigrants might be.  I hesitate to call them illegal because the violation of being undocumented is a civil violation, not a criminal one.  What has happened since Alabama passed its law?  According to Pitts, the state stands to lose $40 million in lost revenue because farms cannot find enough "legal" workers to harvest the fruits and vegetables.  People of Hispanic descent, at whom the law appears to be aimed, have left the state in droves whether documented or not.  Farmers complain that citizens and documented residents that they have hired quit after a few hours because they can't take the backbreaking work.  I read that citizens aren't taking these jobs even as farmers have been doubling wages trying to attract workers.

Of course, slamming immigrants and blaming them for the nation's problems has been an American tradition for a long time.  Many of the same people calling for border fences and increased armed forces on the border and other anti-immigration policies had ancestors who were shunned and derided as Wops, Chinks, Polacks, Micks, Krauts, and all the other groups that immigrated to the United States in the 1800s.  Those people were pushed into crowded slums lined with tenements.  Disease was rampant, jobs scarce.  Gangs and thuggery were rife.  Signs on businesses often said "(Your favorite ethnic group here) Need Not Apply."  One of our current presidential candidates, who has called for an electrified border fence that might kill illegal immigrants, most likely had ancestors that were forcibly brought to this country and enslaved, and then after gaining citizenship were shunned and segregated for the next 100 years.  Others might have had ancestors that escaped the concentration camps.

The difference now is that much of the immigration problem is not due directly to U.S. policies on immigration, but is part of wider and deeper economic and social forces put in place by the globalization of the world economy.  The equation is simple - laborers will move to where jobs are more plentiful and lucrative.  Unfortunately, while the borders for goods and services are being relaxed and dismantled, the borders that restrict the flow of labor are being intensified.  The United States borders Mexico, which is not necessarily a poor country because there is a lot of money there, but it is a country with a huge income gap between the small number of the richest and the huge number of the poorest.  There are many, many people in poverty.  So, they go where the jobs are.  Even if the jobs are crappy they pay more than working a farm or tending store in Mexico City.  Undocumented workers hope immediately that they can make enough to send back home and keep their families fed.  Maybe, they hope that one day they can become documented and move their families to the US, but that hope is becoming more remote.  In the mean time, they work and send the money home not knowing if they will be caught and deported.  Many today call that criminality, but that kind of devotion to trying to get ahead and taking care of family would be, under other circumstances, called "family values" and "initiative," by the same people.

LHM's quote reminds us that it is very easy to demonize people based on characteristics.  In LHM's quote, the white trappers were the invaders into Indian lands.  The Natives, seeing an opportunity for gain (which is in the good old capitalist tradition), were derided as cheats and thieves, and then cheated themselves by the trappers that so labeled them.  If anyone had the right to be angry, upset and fearful of this wave of different looking people coming across borders and taking valuable resources away from the longtime rightful owners, it was Native peoples.  As the quote illustrates, they had lived in a land of plenty and were industrious in how they used the land for its resources without overtaxing it.  They reached a balance with Nature and what they needed.  Who were the unwanted strangers then?  Lewis and Clark and the legions of European descendents that followed them.

I contrast that with today.  I tend to believe that the arguments over immigration are straw men, an attempt to demonize a group to mask other problems and mistakes.  Undocumented immigrants did not shove us into recession or push our visible unemployment rate over 9 percent.  Undocumented immigrants didn't invest in overvalued stocks, nor did they push real estate to overinflated prices until the bubble burst.  Undocumented immigrants didn't push our deficit into the trillions or contribute to a massive trade deficit or transfer our national debt over to the Chinese.  Undocumented immigrants didn't bankrupt our pension funds and underfund our schools.  Undocumented immigrants didn't steal jobs, they seem to have filled jobs at which US citizens turn up their nose.  And when they are gone, the economies of agricultural states will suffer and so will a lot of other people.

Do I pretend to know what to do about undocumented immigration?  A lot of smarter minds committed to finding answers have worked on it.  All I know is what I see and perceive.  To me, the furor over undocumented immigrants just doesn't add up.  We have so many problems to solve, it seems a waste of time to worry about people slipping across the border in an attempt to help their families survive.  I'd rather that U.S. citizens worry about how to fix our political problems, how to get people back to work in jobs they want, how to fix the ever-widening gap between rich and poor, and most of all make this land a land of opportunity for everyone to be able to reach extraordinary achievement and good fortune.  I think we should all remember that in life, we all came into this world with nothing, and eventually we will migrate from it without being able to take anything with us.  In that, we're all just immigrants passing through creation and over time, we'll all be undocumented.

Musical Interlude

A song about immigration should have a variety of participants.  The Puerto Rico-based group Calle 13 has a song called Pal Norte (translated as "Heading North), which mixes Andean and traditional beats into the driving reggaeton style.  The song is a chronicle of the trials and tribulations of those who immigrate.

If you want to know more about Dallesport or The Dalles Dallesport
Celilo Falls and The Dalles Dam
Center for Columbia River History: The Dalles Dam
Columbia River Images: The Dalles Bridge
The Dalles Chronicle (newspaper) The Dalles
Historic The Dalles
Wikipedia: Celilo Falls
Wikipedia: The Dalles
Wikipedia: The Dalles Dam
Wilipedia: Dallesport

Next up: Stonehenge on the Columbia, Washington


Blue Highways: Learned, Mississippi

Unfolding the Map

Click on Thumbnail for MapWandering along the Trace, still, past Learned and on our way to the Mississippi River.  Check out the map by clicking the thumbnail at right, and leave a comment with your comments on racism or whatever else you think important.

Book Quote

"I went to the Trace again, following it through pastures and pecan groves and tilled fields; wildflowers and clover pressed in close, and from trees, long purple drupes of wisteria hung like grape clusters; in one pond a colony of muskrats.  I turned off near Learned... "

Blue Highways: Part 3, Chapter 8

Old country store in Learned, Mississippi. Click on image to go to host site.

Learned, Mississippi

Learned, Mississippi is a place where I'd like to think about the nature that LHM describes.  But unfortunately, it is also a place which houses a relic of Mississippi's racist past.  The Nationalist Movement (note: by linking to the Nationalism Movement website, I am not indicating any sympathy or agreement with their position), is located there.  The Movement was until recently run by an attorney named named Richard Barrett, who was stabbed to death in April 2010 by a black man who accused him of making sexual advances and who now faces the death penalty.  This makes the juxtaposition of the beauty of the Natchez Trace described by LHM, and the ugliness of Mississippi's violent racist history, a bit uncomfortable.

I suppose I could have grown up a racist, because I lived in a town that was once a bit more intolerant than it is now, like a lot of places.  My town had various cultural groups, including Italians, Portuguese, Finns, Irish and some Mexicans when I was growing up.  These were not the usual groups you associate with racism, but the feelings expressed were often that way.  Portuguese families were called "Portagees."  Italians were often made fun of - I have an Italian uncle who even made fun of his own ethnic heritage.  There were sections of town where you could find a predominance of one culture over another.

I didn't see black people regularly until we got cable TV and started getting the Bay Area television stations.  I think that was when I was eight or nine.  We only had one black person that I knew of in town when I was growing up, a young girl who would come stay with her white grandparents down the lane and across the road from where I lived.  Later, when I was in high school, a young black woman moved into town, and I watched as all my white male high school classmates fell all over themselves to impress her because she was, I guess, exotic and interesting.

I must say that I feel my town is more tolerant and accepting now, but even today, as more Mexicans move up through California, some illegal working and then going back home, others legal and making their lives in my town, I still hear some racist sentiments.  I cringe when I hear my mom say some less-than-flattering things about Mexicans, and gently scold her (she's 79 and probably won't change too much).  Give us your food; your salsas, tacos and enchiladas.  But don't be too visible, because we'll fear and hate you.

But I always had liberal tendencies and thought that people were people, regardless of their skin color.  When I was in college, I had a friend who was very definitely racist, and I put up with him and even enabled him sometimes rather than fight him until after college I went to volunteer in the inner city.  He called me one night, very intoxicated, and began spouting racist remarks to get a rise out of me.  After working with economically disadvantaged black children in an inner-city Catholic school and having my heart wrung out every day with their stories, I wasn't so forgiving of his views and we didn't talk again for many, many years.

I have recently been rewarded by knowing that I have some African-American blood running through me.  Two years ago I learned about my biological mother and her family, which was from West Virginia, and the fact that this family most likely has some mixed blood.  The last name of my biological mother was enough to mean that her family was one of a half dozen or so that were victims of prejudice for being less than white.  While many members of my biological mother's family want to downplay or deny this connection, others, especially younger ones like myself, are okay.  When I found out that I might be of mixed race, I was happy.  I felt like I suddenly went from being boring to interesting, ethnicity-wise!

So, I take a dim view of people like Richard Barrett and movements like the Nationalist Movement.  I respect people's right to free speech, but their speech calls for an America that is long past.  It calls for an America divided on ethnic lines, where groups of people through no fault other than the color of their skin or their ethnic heritage sit in either a privileged or marginalized place.  It denies certain ethnicities the opportunity or the possibility to participate in the building of America.  It is wrong, and it is fast becoming irrelevant as America becomes more diverse, and whites become a majority minority, outnumbered by blacks, Hispanics and Asians in combination.  This speech is the speech of fear, and rather than fearing my fellow Americans, I choose to embrace them, call them brother and sister, and work with them to keep America a vital and free country.

If you want to know more about Learned

There's not much on Learned, and there's a lot on Richard Barrett since he was murdered.  Here's what little information I could get about Learned and a couple of things about the murder.  At least Learned sits along the Natchez Trace, which looks beautiful!

Murder of Richard Barrett
Wikipedia: Richard Barrett
Wikipedia: Learned

Next up: Vicksburg, Mississippi


Blue Highways: Ida and Bug, Kentucky

Unfolding the Map

Click on Thumbnail for MapLeaving southern Kentucky, we are about to go into Tennessee, but not without checking out a little bit of Clinton County first.  Click on the map to locate Ida and Bug.

Book Quote

"At Ida, a sign in front of a church announced the Easter sermon: 'Welcome All God's Children: Thieves, Liars, Gossips, Bigots, Adulterers, Children.'  I felt welcome.  Also in Ida was one of those hitching posts in the form of a crouching livery boy reaching up to take the master's reins; but the face of this iron Negro had been painted white and his eyes Nordic blue.  Ida, on the southern edge of Appalachia, a place (they said) where change comes slowly or not at all, had a church welcoming everyone and a family displaying integrated lawn decorations.

"I lost the light at Bug, Kentucky, and two miles later, at a fork in the road with three rickety taverns in the crotch, I crossed into Tennessee."

Blue Highways: Part 1, Chapter 13


Clinton County, where Bug and Ida are located

Ida, Kentucky and Bug, Kentucky

I really enjoy the picture William Least-Heat Moon (LHM) presents of the lawn jockey in Ida painted white with blue eyes.  It stands in stark contrast to the South that many of us (me included) in the North read and were taught about.  In truth, the South is much more complicated than some of my friends, who argue that we should let the South secede from the Union if they really want to, truly understand.

In 1995, I moved from Milwaukee to San Antonio with my wife.  Texas is on the far west side of what would be considered the old South, though Arizona seems to want to become part of the South as well in the last few years.  I'd grown up in California, then lived in Milwaukee for 8 years.  Milwaukee was about as Northern a city as you could have.  With Germans mainly controlling the power structure, it was a leftist stronghold for years.  While the rest of Wisconsin was giving America Joseph McCarthy and his fear-mongering about communists, Milwaukee was electing socialist mayors up through the 1960s.  We actually got to know the last socialist mayor of Milwaukee, who by the time we met him was a pretty old guy.

We moved to Texas, and we were convinced we would hate it.  In truth, our first year there, we really did hate it.  Everything seemed to be about Texas.  Not only is Texas part of the South, but it has a HUGE ego about itself.  The Austin Lounge Lizards make fun of Texas' attitude in their Stupid Texas Song:

"By God we're so darn proud to be from Texas - yahoo!
Even of our pride we're proud and we're proud of that pride, too
Our pride about our home state is the proudest pride indeed
And we're proud to be Americans, until we can secede"

Tortilla chips in the shape of Texas, pasta in the shape of Texas.  The Texas flag flown everywhere.  In the first store we went into, the yams had a sign with a yam in a hat with the Texas colors shooting guns in the air.  The Alamo was considered a shrine to Texas liberty - men must remove their hats entering it.  Jim Lehrer, distinguished newsman, told a story about how he was taken to task by the Daughters of the Texas Republic for some statements he had made.  We don't understand how a person born in Texas could say such things about the state, they wrote him.  He wrote back explaining that while he grew up in Texas, he was actually born elsewhere and didn't come to Texas until he was six months old.  Now we understand, they wrote back to him.

Despite all that hubris, we grew to love Texas.  The huge open spaces.  The varied people and landscapes.  The little weird places we discovered, like the art scene in Marfa, way out in the wilds of West Texas, to the Orange Show in Houston.  Sure, you'd find some crazy thing that would make you pause, like the time we rented a room in a Fort Davis B&B and the brochure had hand-written on it "no fornicating."  But seeing the bats fly out from under the Congress Street bridge in Austin, or taking a dip in Barton Springs, or catching Terri Hendrix or the Asylum Street Spankers at old dance halls like Gruene Hall or Cibolo Creek Country Club was fantastic and captivated us.  The music scene was like nowhere else, and introduced us to the Texas singer-songwriter.

While we were there, California passed a proposition denying most services to illegal immigrants.  Arizona recently passed a law allowing police to stop anyone they suspect to be illegal immigrants (in other words, people who look brown).  But in Texas, where the Mexican border is quite fluid and really starts at San Antonio, even under George W. Bush as governor, the state would have never passed such a law because of the ties between Mexico and Texas.  Republicans are now in control of the state but the state is still full of Texas Democrats, who are blunt, pointed and direct.  As I said, it's complicated.

Then we moved to New Orleans.  Again, things were not always as they seemed.  New Orleans is a majority black city in white Louisiana.  New Orleans history had both slaves and free men (and women) of color.  It had Creoles, mixed race people who made their own society to rival the white society, and some of whom owned slaves while others worked to end slavery.  Pre-Katrina New Orleans, when we lived there, was a mix, a gumbo if you will, of all kinds of different people living all kinds of different lives and doing all kinds of different things.  In one city, you could get your South fix by visiting a plantation, or eating at Galatoires or Antoines, or cruise the stately mansions along St. Charles Avenue.  Then you could visit Vaughns, where Kermit Ruffins plays trumpet and serves up red beans and rice, or catch the Mardi Gras Indians on Mardi Gras or St. Joseph's Day.  You might read Nell Nolan in the Times-Picayune as she lists the kings and queens of Mardi Gras and announces the various coming outs of debutantes, all white and beautiful, while outside a second line turns onto your street sending a member of the black community home.  A city where (until recently thanks to Katrina) African Americans dominated the political landscape, while the old white families dominated the economic landscape.  Again, it's complicated.

Now we live in New Mexico, where being Hispanic means that you are not Latino, and vice versa.  Here, being Hispanic means that you are descended from the Spanish conquistadors.  Being Latino means you are not.  Once again, ethnicity and race become very complicated.  An unsuspecting person might offend someone with a Spanish last name if they call them "Mexican."  Just like in the South, you can't take everything for granted and things that you think you know about people and ethnicities can be very different from reality.

There isn't much on the Internet about Ida or Bug, but there is quite a bit on Clinton County, where they are located.  The links I include, therefore, will be for Clinton County.

If you want to know more about Ida, Bug or Clinton County

Albany/Clinton County Chamber of Commerce
Clinton County News (newspaper)
Clinton County website
Political Graveyard: Clinton County
Wikipedia: Clinton County

Next stop: Livingston, Tennessee