My grandmother accepted the flag of a fallen son while held captive because of her face. A Gold Star mother loses her No. 1 son and spends the rest of her life bewildered because America is where they take freedom away from you. Yet despite the racism, my family returned to California and this valley, worked hard in the fields and struggled to re-establish their identity as Americans.
My wife celebrated a special birthday this year, so I searched for the best birthday wish I could find. I hoped to avoid the typical clichés and in the process discovered that extending appropriate birthday wishes can be a challenge.
My neighbors in the Valley may complain about government, but until they vote, they will not be heard. Latinos, until they vote, may remain hidden and invisible. Both groups are disenfranchised, lost and underrepresented.
People claim to know the face of the enemy. Some wrongly believe we are under attack by Islamic State terrorists everywhere. They have infiltrated all of our communities. They might be our neighbors. The proper course of action, they contend, is to flush them out and identify them by the faces they wear.
I had the great opportunity to attend the ceremony awarding the National Medal of Arts and Humanities in September at the White House. This is the highest honor bestowed on artists, scholars and writers who have labored a lifetime to create seminal works that impacted a nation and world. These were the best of the best in their fields.
I didn’t grow up surrounded by the arts – or so I thought. My family didn’t go to concerts or museums. We had a cheap landscape-painting reproduction hanging in our living room, and as a kid, I stared at it for hours yet found nothing. But we did farm, and I knew the colors of nature, understood taste and the flavor of peaches. I listened to pop music and danced with “American Bandstand.” I loved the sleek lines of 1950s cars (remember tail fins?).
While growing up, I wasn’t the brightest student and had some language and speech issues (for example, I thought the letters R and W were the same and could be used interchangeably). In school, my parents encouraged me to toil. They supported me yet never helped with homework and certainly not with class projects. Education was about hard work, exertion and trials. If I didn’t understand something, they quietly reassured me that struggle was good.
We have always had a farm dog. The first dog I can remember was appropriately named Dusty. Pat her short fur and a cloud of sandy loam dust always puffed into the air. I didn’t know her breed, farmers often did not pay attention to pedigree. We wanted a creature who barked at strangers, was kind to kids, and liked being outdoors.
What do you say to a graduate? What to write in a graduation card? What are you really thinking during a graduation ceremony? Here are a few thoughts, gleaned from others and things I’ve heard over the years.