“I used to be a racist but racism’s just got to go.” A ray of hope in southeast Texas in Trump America

“I love you, man” were the first words I heard Tim utter when he finally reached me at the Shell I-10 Travel Plaza in Cove, Texas, a few miles west of Old River Lake, roughly an hour east of Houston where we live.

Tracie P, our girls, and I were in two cars caravanning back from our Easter with her family in Orange, Texas on the Louisiana border, when a faulty piston in our Honda minivan unexpectedly forced Tra to pull off the road at the first opportunity.

Luckily, it happened not far from the truck stop. We switched the girls’ car seats to my Hyundai sedan and their mother and they were delayed just a half hour before getting back on the road for home.

But I had to wait for Tim, the tow-truck man, for more than 3 hours at the Travel Plaza: an unexpectedly busy Easter Sunday had found him working his stretch of the interstate on his own and he had two jobs ahead of mine.

“Thanks for working with me on this,” he said with the unmistakable mellifluous drawl that you only hear in southeast Texas, where people eat and speak more like Louisianans than Texans.

“I had two tows that were emergencies and I knew you were already safe. I appreciate it, man!”

He held out his hand, blackened by the soot of the highway, and shook mine warmly.

After he secured the van on his truck’s bed, I climbed in the cabin with him. I was his last tow of the day and he was in a talkative mood. We had a nearly hour-long drive ahead of us back to southwest Houston.

“Where were you coming from?” he asked.

“Orange,” I said. “We had Easter with my wife’s family. She’s from there.”

“Orange, huh?” he asked, raising an eyebrow. “That’s not far from Vidor,” the notorious southeast Texas town that lies a stone’s throw from where my wife grew up in Orange, one of the strident holdouts of Jim Crow-era attitudes and a historic happy place for the Klan.

“Some of my guys won’t let me send them out there,” said Tim, taking a puff off of one of his Marlboro reds. “And I’m not just talking about black guys. Not even my Mexican guys will go out there for a tow.”

And then he said something that really blew my mind, something I never expected he would say.

“I used to be a racist,” he said almost proudly but earnestly and honestly, with an emphasis on used, so as to prompt my inference that he no longer was one.

Wow, I thought.

“But racism’s got to go!” he declared looking over at me from behind the wheel as we headed toward the Sidney Sherman Bridge where we would span the Houston Ship Channel.

His wife is originally from southern California and she’s an ex-service member, he explained. Her experience in the diverse workforce of the U.S. military had shaped her own attitudes about race and racism. And she wouldn’t stand for his racist beliefs and values in their marriage. And so he changed his ways.

“I used to be a racist. But racism has just got to go,” he kept on saying.

Though I gauged he may not meet an ACLU acid test for what racism is or isn’t, I believed him.

We talked for the entire trip, 47 miles to be exact. Historic racism in southeast Texas, contemporary politics (he’s an avid Trump supporter), and his love of the movie “Hidden Figures” were among the myriad topics. He highly encouraged me to see the film.

At one point, he told me that he often stops and helps stranded motorists even when he’s not on the clock.

“My wife says I’ve got to stop doing that,” he lamented. “She’s says ‘you get paid for this now.'”

“I just like to help people, that’s all,” he said. “The world would sure be a better place if we all helped each other.”

As we crossed over the ship channel, he pointed out the yard where he drops off his scrap cars. I was his last tow of the night and he was my last chance to escape the forgotten bayous of Old River Lake and make it home to my girls.

I think that he enjoying seeing Georgia and Lila Jane as much as they marveled at watching him unload our Honda Odyssey in front of our house.

“They are so damn cute,” he said. “Are they spoiled rotten?”

The sun was also setting over southeast Texas as Tim headed back to the Sidney Sherman Bridge and Tracie and I put them to bed.

Thanks for reading…

Parzen family activism in Trump America: here’s to 7 years of Obamacare, the law of the land

Last month, after our congressman John Culberson refused to hold a town meeting and opted instead to speak to the Village Republican Women’s Group at the Lakeside Country Club in Houston, Tracie P (right) attended a protest outside the venue. I took care of our daughters, ages 3 and 5, that day.

On Friday evening, the Parzen family and the Levy-Kelly family — the whole Houston mispucha — raised a glass of organically farmed Prosecco col fondo to celebrate the seventh anniversary of President Obama’s Affordable Care Act.

Seven years and one day after he signed the bill into law, a Republican president and a Republican-controlled congress were unable to “repeal and replace” as they had promised. And President Trump failed to deliver on one of his signature campaign promises.

At the end of the day, a few hours before we toasted with our Glera-filled glasses, Speaker of the House Paul Ryan declared, “Obamacare is the law of the land.”

Here on my blog, I began posting our family’s vehement opposition to then putative Republican candidate Donald Trump back in June of last year. Since that time, I’ve begun posting regularly about his bigoted, hate-filled campaign platform and his racist policies and attitudes since taking office in January of this year.

Since the inauguration, my wife Tracie P (above, right) has become a devoted activist: she organizes monthly meetings of her women’s political activism group in our home and she has repeatedly visited the office of our representative in congress, John Culberson, a rank-and-file Republican, not to mention the offices of Texas Senators Ted Cruz and John Cornyn.

On Saturday, I took our daughters, ages 3 and 5, for the day and Tracie attended Culberson’s long overdue town hall here in Houston.

According to the Houston Chronicle, Houston’s paper of record: “police estimated about 500 people stood in a line [for the town hall] that snaked around the building when the room reached its capacity of 700. Some of those refused admittance were frustrated, shouting, ‘Let us in! Let us in!'”

Parzen family activism will not cease until our government abandons its racist, inhumane, un-Christian, un-Jewish, anti-Muslim, and un-American pursuit of its religious-based travel bans, useless walls on our borders, Russophilia, lower taxes for the wealthy, dismantling of regulation to benefit big business at the cost of everyday Americans, and undermining of the Affordable Care Act — the latter, a policy that actually helps the economically challenged white people who delivered Trump to power.

And Tracie and I will continue to teach our children that the Laws of Moses and the Word of Jesus Christ teach us to love, respect, and aid our fellow humans in time of need regardless of color, religion, ethnicity, or creed.

Earlier this month, Republican Representative Steve King of Iowa notoriously tweeted: “we can’t restore our civilization with somebody else’s babies.”

My parents were “somebody else’s babies,” children of immigrants. I was the child of “somebody else’s babies” and my children are the grandchildren of “somebody else’s babies.”

Evidently, my children’s ethnicity doesn’t align with Republican ideals and values. And the Parzen family is not going to stand for that.

Happy anniversary, Tracie P! I believe in you and me…

jeremy-parzen-wifeHappy anniversary, Tracie P! Thank you for giving us our sweet, sweet babies and thank you for giving me the best years of my life.

The woman brought the very best out of you when she said I do.

I wrote those lines for you last year and they ring truer than ever: even in these uncertain times as the world is changing so rapidly around us, I look at you and the family we are raising and I know that I have too many blessings to count.

Happy anniversary, beautiful lady. You are my partner, my wife, my lover, and my muse. I love you more deeply than ever and these last seven years of our lives have been the richest, most wonderful, and most fulfilling I have known.

Here’s another one of the songs I wrote for you last year. It means even more to me today than yesterday…

For once in my life
I’m taking the time
To feel the grass between my toes
Taking a break
For goodness sake
I want to smell the roses
At the end of the day
All that remains
Are the memories of the times
We spent together
For now and forever
You show me yours, I’ll show you mine

I believe in you and me

Once in a while
It makes me smile
To think of all those years ago
So many friends
It never ends
All the love to them I owe
But now they’re gone
Just like a song
Playing on a jukebox radio
They meant so much
But they can’t touch
The lady that I love and know

I believe in you and me

And though the nights can be long and cold
It’s good to know that I am growing old
With someone I can have to hold
And if you ever need your space
I’ll take the girls to the park for the day
We’ll get that ice cream mustache face

Christians, Jews: rise up and speak out against the immigration ban!

italian-americansAbove: Italian immigrants on Mulberry St. in lower Manhattan circa 1900 (image via the Wikipedia entry for “Italian-Americans”).

G-d said to Moses:

“When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap to the very edges of your field, or gather the gleanings of your harvest. You shall not strip your vineyard bare, or gather the fallen grapes of your vineyard; you shall leave them for the poor and the alien… you shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Leviticus 19).

Jesus makes reference to this passage from Leviticus when he recounts the parable of the (Good) Samaritan, the priest, and the Levite:

“‘Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?’ [The Lawyer] said, ‘The one who showed him mercy.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Go and do likewise'” (Luke 10).

Today, I ask my Christian and Jewish sisters and brothers to rise up and speak out against the President’s immigration ban. No matter how you parse the President’s executive order, it clearly targets migrants based on their religious beliefs and ethnicity.

Please see this post published Friday by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. It quotes Bishop Joe S. Vásquez of Austin:

“We strongly disagree with the Executive Order’s halting refugee admissions. We believe that now more than ever, welcoming newcomers and refugees is an act of love and hope… We need to protect all our brothers and sisters of all faiths, including Muslims, who have lost family, home, and country. They are children of God and are entitled to be treated with human dignity. We believe that by helping to resettle the most vulnerable, we are living out our Christian faith as Jesus has challenged us to do.”

If you are a Christian, please live out your faith as Jesus challenged you to do.

If you are a Jew, please remember that it was only a generation ago when Jews (in many cases, people you and I are directly related to) were subjected to religious and ethnic profiling.

President Trump campaigned on a platform of hate, bigotry, and fear. No matter how you parse the President’s words (“textbook racism,” as Speaker Ryan once called it), the policies he is implementing are rooted in racism and religious intolerance.

Attend a rally, attend a town hall meeting, take part in a march, call your U.S. congressperson’s and senator’s office, write a blog post, write a note on your social media: let your community know that you will not stand for this un-Christian, un-Jewish, and un-American policy.

Trump America the day after: the women’s march in Austin

austin-women-womens-march-trumpIn the wake of Trump’s election, Tracie P and I begin planning our trip to Washington, D.C. to attend the Women’s March with our girls.

We had even lined up a place to stay, with friends in Bethesda. But when someone fired a gun at a favorite pizzeria in their neighborhood (claiming he was investigating a Clinton conspiracy theory), we decided that the potential for violence was too great. We agreed that I would stay home with the girls and that Tracie would attend the march in Austin, the Texas capital.

That’s Tracie above (in the back row, more or less in the center, green sign in hand) with her group of friends and comrades who marched yesterday in Austin.

According to the Austin American-Statesman (the paper of record) and the Austin police department, up to 50,000 persons attended the march. According to the Washington Post, more than one million persons attended the marches in the nation’s capital. One of them was our Houston cousin Dana.

Since the election in November, Tracie has organized a women’s activist group that meets regularly in our home. She has visited both U.S. senator Ted Cruz’s and senator John Cornyn’s office to protest Republican efforts to dismantle the Affordable Care Act (a core issue for us). Last Sunday we, including the girls, attended a rally led by U.S. congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee to protest the ACA’s dismantling by republicans as well (below).

In the light of Trump’s campaign platform, I still can’t wrap my mind around the incongruous fact that Evangelical Christians supported Trump in the election in such great numbers. Recently, I’ve taken to studying the Christian Bible to get a greater understanding of their reasoning. The following passage, from the Epistle of Saint James, sticks out in my mind:

Come now, you rich people… Listen! The wages of the laborers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud, cry out, and the cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts.

G-d bless America. I will continue to write about Trump America here on the blog and I’ll continue to post updates on our family’s efforts to raise awareness of issues faced by the disenfranchised among us.

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Hitler humor no longer funny in Trump America

The misery that is now upon us is but the passing of greed — the bitterness of men who fear the way of human progress (Charlie Chaplin, 1940).

donald-trump-hitlerMel Brooks’ musical “The Producers” is one of the greatest joys and regrets of my life as a parent.

Tracie P and I are big Broadway musical fans. And so it was only natural that our love of “song and dance” would rub off on our children.

Early on in our lives as parents, we had to eliminate “The Book of Mormon” from our playlists because of the pervasive profanity and the delicate subject matter. After all, my in-laws are devout Methodists.

But with a little real-time manual editing (Yiddish profanity doesn’t count), “The Producers” managed to make the cut. And our girls love it. The number “Springtime for Hitler” is their favorite and it’s their most frequently requested song (trumping even “Let it Go” from “Frozen,” believe it or not, another big hit at our house). They have no idea what it means or why it’s funny. They just love the music and the cadence of the actors (“ever eat with one?”).

We have a rule: “The Producers” can only be sung in the car, at home, or on the phone (Georgia P added that last medium for good measure) because not everyone likes “The Producers” as much as we do.

All things considered, we’ve struck a healthy balance of self-censorship and a sense of what’s appropriate at home and in public. Georgia is always the first to admonish me if she catches me humming “Keep it Gay” at the mall.

But in the light of the numerous anti-Semitic episodes that have taken place in the U.S. since the advent of Trump America (some of them very close to home), the Hitler humor that we used to enjoy together (“You’re looking for a war? Here’s World War II!”) has lost its sheen.

Less than two weeks before Christmas last year, anti-Semitic episodes were reported at the University of Houston. Our niece (Tracie’s side of the family) is in her second year of college at UH and it’s conceivable that our own children will go to school there someday. I never would have thought that anti-Semitism would still be so prevalent in my daughters’ lifetime. But evidently it’s alive and well on college campuses (and it was already on the rise before the election).

Just a few days later, it was reported that Lt. Gen. Michael T. Flynn, Trump’s nominee for national security advisor, met with Heinz-Christian Strache, leader of Austria’s far-right Freedom Party, a political party that nearly came to power in the country’s parliamentary elections last fall, a party that espouses anti-immigrant and anti-Semitic rhetoric (remember that many Muslims are Semites), a party founded by ex-members of the Nazi party. How’s that for funny?

And just last week, swastikas and “white power” were among the graffiti spray-painted on the walls of a high school in an affluent Houston neighborhood.

My friends in New York City (where I lived for 10 years in my 30s) tell me that they have recently seen “Trump” scrawled next to swastikas on the subway. And it was only a few days after the election that Adam Yauch Park in Brooklyn Heights (Brooklyn Heights!) was defaced with swastikas and slogans of “Go Trump.” I “never, ever, ever” saw anything like that in my decade in city where the Statue of Liberty looks out over Ellis Island.

I don’t ascribe or attribute these episodes to Trump. But I do know that before the presidential campaign and election, such episodes were a rare occurrence. Now they are not.

That’s going to be a lot harder to explain to my semi-Semitic children than the humor in “The Producers.”

Hitler humor has a long and grand tradition in the U.S. Disney and Spike Jones were among the pioneers (see video below) as was Charlie Chaplin. Lenny Bruce was another (“How Hitler Got Started” is one of the brilliant sketches of the American comedy canon imho).

Mel Brooks’ musical and 1968 film by the same title are supreme expressions of that legacy. But they just aren’t funny anymore. The chord they strike now rings too close to home.

Please view and listen to Chaplin’s speech below, the finale of “The Great Dictator” (1940). His words couldn’t ring more true.

Image via Wikipedia Creative Commons.

Is being Mexican in Trump America a zero-sum game?

chicano-park-san-diegoOver the span of one week, conversations with two friends of mine, both of them middle-aged and middle-class American women of Mexican heritage, revealed a dichotomy in attitudes about Latinos living in the U.S. in the Trump era.

In Houston, the Texan of the two told me that she and her family are deeply concerned about how the president-elect’s immigration policies are going to affect them and the wider network of their community.

If Trump makes good on his pledge to deport 11 million Latinos from the U.S. and, in particular, if he revokes Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, her extended family will surely be affected.

No one knows for certain what Trump will actually do but it’s highly likely that his newly implemented immigration policies will literally rip her family apart.

In North County San Diego, the Californian of the two told me she hopes that Trump acts on his vow to expel “undocumented” Latinos living in the U.S.

“Not another Mexican should ever be allowed into this country,” she said (verbatim).

I grew up in Southern California and called it my home until I was 30 years old.

Now 49 years old, I’ve lived in Texas since 2008.

According to the most recent data on demographics in the two states that I could find (notably here and here), roughly 40 percent of the people living in both states are Latinos. And in California, there are currently more Latinos than Whites. In Texas, the number of Latinos is expected to surpass the number of Whites by the end of this decade.

When I was a child, my caretaker was a Mexican woman (who is still a close friend of my family). I learned to speak Spanish fluently by the time I was 13 years old (long before I learned to speak Italian). My classes were filled with Mexican kids during my years of high school (La Jolla High) and college (U.C.L.A.).

When Trump announced his bid for the presidency in 2015, he said that “when Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best. They’re not sending you. They’re not sending you. They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.” (Read the text of his June 2015 address here.)

Aside from my decade in New York and my years as a student in Italy, I’ve lived almost 40 years in states where Spanish is spoken regularly as a second language and where Mexicans and Whites live, work, study, and raise families side-by-side (as the demographics reveal, Texas and California are very similar in this regard). Gauging from my own personal experience, Trump’s remarks (in his opening bid to become the U.S. president) are as far from the truth as they are deeply offensive.

As a contributor to the Washington Post wrote about a month before the general election, “anyone… sold on the idea that Trump’s comments have simply been misunderstood or taken out of contest seems unable to grasp is that the act of declaring an entire group prone to illegal activity is about as close to a textbook example of bigotry and xenophobia as possible.”

In January when Trump takes office, we’ll see how he intends to implement his often repeated campaign pledge. Some states, like California, are already taking steps to protect their residents from Trump’s bigoted and xenophobic approach to immigration reform.

In the meantime, countless people who reside in our country are living in fear of what will come next.

It was only two generations ago that my family immigrated to the U.S. when my grandparents’ families fled religious persecution and economic subjugation in what are now Russia and Poland. All of my ancestors were Jews and nearly all of them were poor, disenfranchised, and “undocumented” migrants. According to our family mythology, my paternal grandmother came from a family of bootleggers. I don’t know if that’s true. But I do know that she was born into abject poverty. As the tide of history in Eastern Europe has shown, her family’s migration probably saved their lives and their biological legacy. My children are her great-grandchildren.

Trump claims to be a Christian and the majority of Whites who elected him identify as Christians (including Evangelicals’ nearly unmitigated support).

I often wonder how my White-Christian friends are sleeping the days, now that Trump is poised to become the leader of our nation.

I know for a fact that a lot of my Mexican-Christian friends have been losing a lot of sleep.

mexican-park-barrio-logan-san-diegoImages of Chicano Park in San Diego where I grew up via Peyri Herrera’s Flickr. See also the Wiki entry for Chicano Park.

Happy birthday Georgia Ann Parzen! You are the greatest birthday gift of all…

georgia-drummerHappy birthday, sweet Georgia P!

Your fifth birthday is actually on Monday but your birthday celebration begins today and your birthday party tomorrow — with your pink party favors and pink birthday cake that mommy is making for you — is sure to be a smash!

We have a whole bunch of presents lined up for you and your grandparents and your aunts, uncles, and cousins will bring more with them tomorrow for your birthday celebration.

But like every year when your birthday rolls around, I can’t help but think to myself that you are the greatest gift of all.

Your sweetness, yours sassiness, your empathy, your humor, your bright bright smile, your kisses and hugs, your love of music and singing, your love of drums, your love of rock ‘n’ roll, your love of Broadway musicals (like father like daughter!), your love of rhymes, your love of books… You have shared with us a joy I never knew could exist until you came into our lives.

All the birthday gifts in the world and a million more would never be enough to repay you for the blessings you have brought into my life and all that you have taught me about being a father.

And by the way, it is SO MUCH FUN to be your dad.

I love you. Happy fifth birthday, sweet girl!

georgia-meditation

“I Believe in You and Me” NEW ALBUM from PARZEN FAMILY SINGERS

Syncopate the beat, it will make your feet to the music move
In the whole wide world there is no soul it cannot soothe
In the rhythm lives the take and give that make the groove
Music is in everyone a mystery that we have sung for you

Here’s the new album, “I Believe in You & Me,” from Parzen Family Singers. Please download it from BandCamp FOR FREE and import it into your iTunes and play it LOUD. Nothing could mean more to me. THANK YOU! You can also listen via the SoundCloud embed below. And listen to our new single, “I Like Playing a Game (featuring Georgia P),” in the YouTube above.

It’s dedicated to my wife and lover Tracie P:

Before I met you I could hardly tie my shoes
Before you came into my life I could never lose the lonely blues
But knowing that you love me there’s no way that i could lose
You are my wife and lover, you are my muse

It may take a moment for the SoundCloud audio embed to load below.

Click here for Parzen Family Singers “I Believe in You and Me” BandCamp.

THANK YOU FOR LISTENING TO OUR MUSIC. IT MEANS THE WORLD TO ME.

Happy holidays, everyone!

back-cover-2016

The Sons of Confederate Veterans Memorial in Orange, Texas and what it means in Trump America

sons-confederate-veterans-memorial-orangeThe closest Starbucks to my in-laws’ house in Orange, Texas is nearly 22 miles away, roughly 30 minutes by car.

I was there early on Thanksgiving Day using the Google-powered internet and working quietly on a project that I’m trying to finish before year’s end. Over the 3 hours I was there (from about 7 a.m. to 10 a.m., more or less), I saw Asian kids, black kids, Mexican kids, white kids, and even a table of camouflage-wearing middle-aged white people, women and men, who spoke very loudly of their approval of Donald Trump and the new direction he’s taking our country.

Taking the long way back to Orange, which lies on the Louisiana border, I made a detour to visit the Sons of the Confederate Veterans “Memorial of the Wind,” which is located on Martin Luther King, Jr. Dr. where it intersects Interstate 10 (in the photo above).

When you exit the eastbound freeway, before you travel beneath the underpass to get to the north side of the road where the memorial is located, you see the billboard below. It “welcomes” visitors to Orange, home of the West Orange Stark High School football team. Martin Luther King, Jr. Dr. is one of the city’s main thoroughfares and so it’s only natural that the exit is well-trafficked.
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