In 2008, I was working at a job in the Virginia suburbs of the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area–an international community if there ever was one.
For the job, employees at my work site were all required to be U.S. citizens in order to be hired. Nonetheless, we had a work unit comprised of many foreign-born and second-generation “hyphenated” Americans; many Pakistanis, a few Puerto Ricans, several fairly recent arrivals from Africa, a couple of Asians, even some whites mixed in there, you name it.
Being a federal contract situation, the company I was working for at the time, of course, was minority-owned. I shouldn’t need to explain that part.
One of my co-workers in that job was a recovering United States marine (there is actually no such thing as an “ex-marine,” you see), a rather quiet, sullen, wryly sarcastic young man who, after high school, had enlisted and served on Okinawa for a few short years. He had been born in Guatemala, and brought to America as a child. His father, despite now also living here in the U.S., still spoke almost no English.
For this column, I’ll call my Guatemalan-American leatherneck co-worker “Roberto.”
Roberto and I found ourselves working side-by-side frequently, and seeing as it was 2008 (a presidential election year), our talk often turned to politics. He wasn’t a completely unlikable guy, but we were on totally opposite ends of the spectrum. Despite his having previously served on active duty as a United States marine, Roberto was highly ambivalent towards this country, even bitterly anti-American in his left-wing attitude at times. I was of course my usual foaming-at-the-mouth, reactionary right-wing patriot self.
Needless to say, despite trying to sort of tiptoe around certain subjects, and attempting to remain as professional as possible, we soon became quite surly towards each other and it got kind of ugly and downright hostile.
I decided to give Roberto a book.
Mere months after the Islamic terrorist attacks of September 11th, 2001, I’d gotten wind of a bestselling non-fiction work by some guy named Dinesh D’Souza. Its title was “What’s So Great About America,” (notice that the title is a statement, not a question) and it was causing quite a stir in the literary-political world. After I heard the book being discussed on C-Span and talk radio, I found it at Barnes & Noble, and I sat in their coffee lounge one afternoon in 2002, devouring large chunks of it along with my java. But I didn’t actually buy it and read the entire thing until 2008, when I did so specifically in order to introduce Roberto to it, as a sincere gift….a token of political assertiveness taped to an olive branch, if you will.
That’s how impressed I was with D’Souza’s ability to put into words, very politely and persuasively, the solid case for America’s true benevolence and exceptionalism.
Roberto was by no means a stupid person–to the contrary. I knew that he would at least give the book a look. He did. He read it from cover to cover, much to my delight. He even seemed a tiny bit eager to talk about it once he’d finished it.
I finally finished it myself, before presenting him with it–partly for my own enjoyment and information, and partly to prepare for Roberto’s response to it. Just before giving it to him, I told him I was reading it all the way through just so I could compare notes with him on it.
Today, those of us who are D’Souza fans are all excited about his latest documentary feature film, America: Imagine the World Without Her, and his newest book by the same title. Both are breaking sales records, and show no signs of slowing down, despite leftist chicanery by a certain national retailer.
I haven’t seen the new movie just yet, nor have I read the new book, but all of the acclaim and controversy about them remind me of the difficult relationship I had with Roberto, and how Dinesh D’Souza came to act as a bridge between us, so to speak.
I write this with the informed awareness that much or most of what D’Souza said a dozen years ago in What’s So Great About America is essentially, if not specifically, revisited in his newest offerings.
There’s a lot of discussion in What’s So Great About America dealing with colonialism, and debunking the usual tiresome allegations of imperialism carried out by America (and by other Western/European countries, specifically by white men) to the supposed enduring detriment of non-whites, indigenous people, and so on even to this day. We all know the narrative; America is an evil, racist, bigoted, rapacious and avaricious exploiter of the weak and less fortunate everywhere, oppressor of blacks, stole the continent from the ooga boogas and all that hokum.
I had argued with Roberto very loudly and angrily once, before I’d read D’Souza, about the whole topic of the land ever “belonging” to so-called natives merely because they were there before whites arrived. To my line of thinking, native tribes themselves had had to conquer other nations in order to acquire the land in the first place. And by that principle, no one can claim that territory really belonged to any race of people unless they successfully secured it against invaders and would-be conquerors, because no ostensibly indigenous people could be plausibly said to have just sprouted up from the ground, or dropped out of the sky onto the land–migration and conquest for turf is just how the world works.
There’s a chapter in What’s So Great About America titled “Two Cheers for Colonialism” in which D’Souza, as an immigrant to the West himself from a country (India) which had once been rather brutally colonized by the British, explains how in the long run, otherwise oppressive Western colonialism eventually tremendously benefited later generations of people in the countries where it was practiced–the technological, agricultural, industrial, and medical quantum leaps alone, not to mention the introduction of written language, science, and formal jurisprudence to erstwhile often very primitive societies, resulted in extremely increased life-spans, enhanced quality of life, abundance, peace, prosperity, improved conditions for women, and so on.
Well, I don’t think I really succeeded in so much changing Roberto’s mind by giving him the book, as I did in achieving a level of mutual understanding we’d not had before. Once we’d both read the book, we approached each other with a common frame of reference, which we both understood and had analyzed.
As for America supposedly being such a horrible place of racism, bigotry, and oppression of minorities by whites, etc., I put it to Roberto why it was, then, that so many millions of non-whites from all over the planet have been and are still today clawing desperately to come live here.
I asked him specifically as a Guatemalan-born person, why it is that so many from that part of the world go to such great lengths to get inside our borders by any means necessary, if we’re such an awful country towards hispanics and mestizos?
Roberto’s answer was, if not persuasive, at least from an angle I’d not heard before. He replied that because American corporations and the CIA had so ruthlessly exploited and abused Central American countries in the past, the only way for people from that region to recoup their societies’ purported losses over time was to migrate Northward, illegally if necessary, up and into the wealthy welfare state of prosperous America to obtain what booty they could for remittances to send back home, to Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, El Salvador, and so on, and to live as high on the hog as possible while here, engaged in long-term Reconquista.
Kind of throws a bit of added light onto the current border invasion, doesn’t it?
After our company’s contract ended in 2010, Roberto and I went our separate ways, although at the time we lived within only a couple of miles of each other. I haven’t had any contact with him since. I do not know if he’s still here in the D.C. area.
I’ll do some more internet searching for him tomorrow. If I find him, maybe I’ll wind up telling him I have an extra movie ticket.