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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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.

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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Amatriciana for Amatrice: Slow Food founder calls for restaurateurs and diners across the world to support Amatrice in year-long campaign

best amatriciana recipeAbove: my friend and client Tony Vallone’s Amatriciana here in Houston.

In Italy yesterday, Slow Food founder Carlo Petrini proposed that “every restaurant in the world” serve Amatriciana for the next 12 months and donate €2 for every dish served directly to the Amatrice municipal government (see bank info below).

The village of Amatrice (AH-mah-TREE-cheh), known for its production of salumi and its celebrated Pasta all’Amatriciana (ah-MAH-tree-CHEE’AH-nah, long noodles dressed with tomato sauce and sautéed guanciale, cured pig’s jowl), was virtually destroyed in this week’s devastating earthquake in central Italy.

Petrini’s proposal, “A Future for Amatrice,” is a long-term fundraising initiative intended to provide sustained aid to Amatrice and its residents even after the “emotional wave of the moment has passed,” he wrote in a statement released to mainstream and social media.

Here in Houston, my friend and client Tony Vallone was already a step ahead of Petrini: yesterday, he began setting aside $2 for every dish of Amatriciana he serves (above) to be donated to Italian Red Cross relief efforts.

Ammado is the official micro-donation for the Italian Red Cross: here’s the link to donate.

You can also donate through the Italy-America Chamber of Commerce Texas (another client of mine). The Chamber is taking donations through PayPal and will donate funds collected to Italian Government relief efforts.

And if you want to send money directly to the Amatrice municipal government, here’s the bank code provided by Petrini in his statement: IT28M0832773470000000006000.

The destruction of Amatrice and a string of picturesque hilltop villages in this week’s catastrophe is a tragic loss for the Italian people and the world at large.

See the op-ed published this week by political commentator Beppe Severgnini in the New York Times.

“And in the space of just one summer’s night,” he writes, “Amatrice is all but gone.”

Alfonso Cevola responds to a post (and breaks our hearts)

alfonso cevola glazersAbove: Italian wine blogger Alfonso Cevola in a happier time in our now defunct friendship, which dates back to 2007. Here’s a profile of Alfonso I wrote for the Houston Press after he won the Vinitaly International Prize in 2013.

In the spirit of fair and balanced wine blogging, I’d like to share a note from leading Italian wine blogger Alfonso Cevola in response to my June 27 post, “Freedom’s just another word for shitty wine: Houston defiant in the face of corporate distributors.”

Your post last week, claimed three falsehoods:
1) The two large distributors do not control 99% of the market
2) As for heavy taxation on wholesale wine sales –Texas is #43 (along with California) in state wine taxation among the 50 states.
3) RE:The main issue is that it is illegal in Texas to use an outside fulfillment warehouse or delivery trucks – Outside fulfillment is legal as long as the fulfillment company ( and the trucks they are using) have proper TABC permits. And yes, small distributors can (and do) pool deliveries in Texas.

Alfonso is the Italian Wine Director for Glazer’s, previously one of the two biggest wine distributors in Texas. Now, with the completion of the Southern-Glazer’s “mega deal” merger, the company is part of “the U.S. market’s largest wine and spirits distributor by far, distributing more than 150 million cases of wine and spirits annually, employing more than 20,000 people and operating in 44 states plus the District of Columbia, the Caribbean, and Canada. Total revenues are at more than $15 billion” (Shanken News Daily, June 30, 2016).

I don’t entirely agree with Alfonso’s assessment but felt it was important to share it here. I have also updated my June 27 post with an errata corrige.

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See why I moved to Texas? Thank you, Tracie P, for giving them to us!

tracie and georgia thumbWhat a joyous day for this proud daddy yesterday when Georgia P performed in her first big dance recital at the Stafford Centre theater in southwest Houston!

She was part of the ensemble performance by her four-year-olds class at the Banbury School of Dance (located in our neighborhood, Westbury; they did a fantastic job of producing this show, btw).

That’s my little ballerina with her mother, above!

georgia on stage thumbMan, can you imagine the lump in my throat and the pounding in my chest as we waited patiently in the audience for her big stage debut!

And lo and behold, she took the stage with that gorgeous smile on her face and unbridled confidence in her steps.

Georgia P, I couldn’t have been more proud! The stage lights, the packed house, and a sizable cast of talented dancers: you handled yourself like a pro, my sweet, sweet girl!

lila jane thumbAnd Lila Jane, you had so much fun cheering your sister on!

You sat so patiently through the dress rehearsal and the show. By the end of last night’s performance, you were performing the moves in the aisle!

Tracie P, thank you for giving us these beautiful girls. You gave them your big heart and your brilliant smile.

And you have given me a dream life that I never could have imagined until I came here to Texas to be with you.

I love you all so much…

Texas high school football, just like in the movies

west orange stark football championshipOur daughters (and their dad) got a crash course in Texas high school football yesterday when we attended the Class 4A Division II state championship, where Tracie P’s alma mater, the West Orange Stark Mustangs (14-1), beat the Celina (pronounced sah-LEE-nah) Bobcats (15-0) at Houston’s NRG stadium (where the pros play) 22-3.

That’s Georgia P (age 4), above, in the arms of her cousin Lesli (who lives in Los Angeles).

Everything you’ve ever heard about the high school football phenomenon in Texas? It’s true.

There were roughly 25 members of the Branch-Johnson side of our family in attendance, mostly from West Orange (where Tracie grew up a block away from campus) but also from Austin and Houston (and even one from California).

When I went to visit the restroom at halftime, an impromptu reunion of diaspora Mustangs alumni was taking place, with women and men and their families gleefully greeting each other and exchanging notes and hopes on the course of the game.

nrg stadium houstonOne thing that really impressed me about the experience was the fans’ ardent loyalty to the teams and the intensity of their cheer.

This was no mere social event or pageant intended to foster character among the young men on the field.

No, this was Texas football…

west orange stark football scoreThe other thing that impressed me was how nice and just downright polite everyone was.

That’s our daughter Lila Jane (2), above, btw.

As raucous as the crowd was, I didn’t hear or witness one tense exchange among the throng of people trying to reach their seats.

I ascribe the mood and air of sisterhood and brotherhood in part to the joy that Texans derive from the sporting experience.

But I also attribute it to Texans’ general attitude of friendliness and thoughtfulness when they gather.

This locus amoenus was a happy place where people — literally — from all walks of life came together to celebrate the fanfare and wholesome excitement of our state’s “national” pastime.

Congratulations to the Mustangs on a great season and a job well done!

I am a man who goes into women’s bathrooms in Houston

houston equal rights amendmentAbove: at the airport in San Diego, the city where I grew up, there are three options at each bathroom station — one for people who identify as men, another for people who identify as women, and one for people who identify as transgender.

I identify as a man. I live in Houston and identify as a Houstonian. And I regularly use women’s bathrooms.

Yes, that’s right, I regularly use women’s bathrooms in Houston, my adoptive city and the city where voters yesterday rejected a city ordinance that would have allowed — among other things — for trans- and pan-gender persons to use the bathroom of their choice.

The 2014 Houston Equal Rights Ordinance, or HERO as it is known, was repealed by voters in Houston yesterday. I am one of those voters (my wife and I early-voted a week ago Monday) and I can now be thrown out of women’s bathrooms by restaurateurs and office building doorpeople and superintendents etc. 

Mostly I use women’s bathrooms in Houston when I visit restaurants. There is a good reason for that.

Actually there are two good reasons for that: Georgia P (nearly age 4) and Lila Jane (age 2), our daughters, can’t yet “go to the potty” by themselves.

So when we eat in restaurants after our Saturday and Sunday visits to the zoo, NASA (the “real astronauts” as it is known in the Parzen familiar lexicon), or the Natural Science Museum (the “dinosaurs” and “butterflies”), I often take both of them into women’s bathrooms for Georgia P to go tee-tee (she’s potty trained) or to change Lila Jane’s diaper.

Generally, the women I meet in Houston bathrooms are very sweet to us and greet us with a smile. As a matter of fact, ever since we moved to Houston a year and a half ago and ever since Georgia P potty trained and she began using the “big girl” potty, no one has ever complained about us using the women’s bathroom. But, evidently, that’s no longer kosher in the city where we live.

I’ve also taken the girls into men’s rooms. But now, without the protection of HERO, we could be thrown out of those, too!

I’m not sure where the new state of equal rights leaves us. Squatting behind our minivan in the parking lot? Occasionally, I need to go to the bathroom when I’m out with the girls, too. They really don’t (self) identify as anything at this point but I know that other Houstonians identify them as females. I can only imagine what people are going to think when they see me urinating on the street because I can’t take them into the men’s room and they can’t be accompanied by me in the women’s room now.

I’m sure that most Houston restaurateurs won’t mind when I take them into the women’s room or they come with me into the men’s room.

I guess at this point our girls and I will just have to take our chances…

Microaggression and my Houston apologia

houston hermann park conservatoryAbove: my family at the Hermann Park Conservancy in Houston last year, not long after we moved here from Austin.

12,000+ views, 2,000+ Facebook shares, and 28 comments later, it’s still going strong… When I published it a week ago Sunday, I never imagined that my post “You’re from Houston? I’m so sorry” would have generated such a response.

When she shared it on her Facebook on Thursday, Houstonia magazine managing editor Katharine Shilcutt (and one of my editors there) wrote: “it’s always heartwarming to see non-natives become Houston apologists.”

Katharine, a Houston native, is a friend and one of the writers and editors I admire most on the food scene here. It was a thrill to discover that she enjoyed the post enough to share it with her legions of followers.

And today, the post was featured on the Houston Chronicle “Opportunity Urbanist” blog.

Honestly, I never intended the post as a panegyric.
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The Confederate flag and me

In 1968, a year after I was born in the South Side of Chicago at Michael Reese hospital, Bobby Rush founded the Illinois chapter of the Black Panther Party. Institutionalized violence against black men in urban areas in the U.S. was so severe that Rush and his fellows felt compelled to arm themselves to protect their communities.

But there were no Confederate flags displayed in the city at that time — at least I can’t remember any.

In 1970, my family moved to gilded La Jolla, California, where Jews had been excluded from buying property until a University of California campus was established there in 1960.

There was only one black kid in my class at Bird Rock Elementary. His name was Michael Green and he and I were friends.

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