Page 3


Tommy Can You Hear Me? BY JOHN ROSS Iflew into the Bay Area October 15, and rehearsed my speech. When the Migra began to interrogate me about Zapatista dolls with guns and masks, I would talk to them about NAFTA and corn and racism. But I must have looked a lot more like a disoriented senior citizen than bin Laden’s general from the south; the Migra man kindly asked if he could help. You can imagine my consternation when I emerged a free man in North America with no federal goon on my tail. I had fit no profile and was free to wander the streets of San Francisco. The made-in-Taiwan Stars & Stripes were aflutter on the Mission Miracle Mile where immigrant merchants felt obliged, by their uncertain dossiers as possible deportable aliens, to demonstrate their patriotic zeal, a sort of talisman against seriously malicious racist mischief. Meanwhile, I read the writing on the walls: “Piss on Bin Laden fucking traitor to the CIA gringos,” it read in the unisex Muddy Waters \(24th Although I was determined to traverse the heartland close to the ground, scheduling forced me to wing it from San Jose to Minnesota on Halloween. The highly policed terminal was teeming with counter workers in fright wigs, clown paint, witches, hats, and vampire fangs, but none of the bin Laden masks that were so popular. in Mexico City. Once again Tom Ridge failed to recognize me as a likely terrorist.To Homeland Security’s boys and girls, I remained a toothless senior citizen hauling my sample suitcases across the country, a sag-shouldered Willie Loman dying the death of a salesman. And so onward to Greater Minneapolis-St Paul, which remains an island of liberalism and where a new population of immigrant aliens was melting into the Twin Cities social mix: Somalis, Hmong, and Mexicans all have carved out enclaves here. My host, a professor named Tomas, and I had went to a spectacular Day of the Dead concert by the Oaxacanborn, Minneapolis-bred singer Lila Downs. “When did you come to America?” Lila kept asking in a plaintive refrain. When we climbed into the pickup in a parking lot staffed by young Somalis, three young men smoking cigarettes in an adjacent car began to salaam and sahib us: “We respect the Americans!” they chanted. “Piss on bin Laden!” “Osama is a bad Muslim!” . It was like a macabre poem, an You can imagine my consternation when I emerged a free man in North America with no federal goon on my tail. I had fit no profile and was free to wander the streets of San Francisco. embarrassing expression of immigrant hysteria. \(“When did you come to My first presentation in the heartland was set for a small Catholic college due north of St. Cloud, Minnesota, a transformed monastery crowned by a great abbey that soared dramatically into the big northern sky.The nervous professor explained that the VCR was functioning erratically. It had locked into CNN and the six o’clock news was being projected silently on the big auditorium screen behind my back. Just as I was hitting my stride in my talk about the Zapatistas, I noticed that the students were universally fixated at a spot just over my right shoulder. Behind me on the big screen, Osama bin Laden hovered like a giant evil genie. The Greyhound driver wore an American flag tie the size of his swelling chest. The only other passenger between St. Paul and Red Wing, Minnesota was a silent, paralyzed black man whom the driver gingerly off-loaded at the train station in Northfield, a town once visited by the James and Dalton gangs. We followed the curving shore of Lake Superior into Wisconsin cheeselands. In Milwaukee, I stayed with a woman who was mourning the death of her Tibetan lover in a Rwandan truck accident. She kept a lightly rouged yak skull she had bought on E-Bay from a Lhasa merchant prince on her wall in memoriam. My host moved in the company of nuns and priests, many of whom were preparing for the annual School of the Americas shenanigans at Fort Benning, 211/02 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 29 -=1