CVIndependent

Wed09302020

Last updateMon, 24 Aug 2020 12pm

California, to be frank, is a mess right now: According to Gov. Gavin Newsom, there are 367 major fires burning statewide right now.

Let me repeat that, because it’s shocking: There are 367 major fires burning right now.

The Los Angeles Times has a summary here. I also recommend checking out SFGate.com for free coverage of the various fires in Northern California. This is bad, folks.

Other news of the day:

• The Post Office, to be frank, is a mess right now. The American College of Physicians issued a statement expressing concern that the recent slowdowns in delivery could kill people: “Across the country millions of patients regularly depend on the U.S. mail to receive their prescription medications. There are already reports from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, which fills 80 percent of its prescriptions by mail, that veterans have experienced significant delays in their mail-order prescription drugs. A delay in receiving a necessary prescription could be life-threatening.”

Did you know the U.S. Postal Service delivers live poultry? Yes, it does, and the delays are causing horrifying problems with that, too.

• The recent uproar over the USPS dismantling has caused major Trump donor and Postmaster General Louis DeJoy to say further operational changes will be suspended until after the election. But he hasn’t said whether the USPS would undo the changes already made.

Why in the world, in 2020, is California subject to rolling blackouts due to a lack of electricity? Our partners at CalMatters offer this helpful explainer.

• Let’s take a break from all of the heinous news for this: The Census is hiring temp workers. According to an email to the Independent: “The U.S. Census Bureau is hiring hundreds of workers for temporary jobs available in Riverside County for the 2020 Census. The 2020 Census Jobs website is now accepting applications for Census Takers at pay of $17 per hour. Census takers will visit the households that have not responded to the census, speaking with residents, and using electronic devices (such as smartphones issued by the Census Bureau) to collect census data. Census takers will follow local public health guidelines when they visit, and will be wearing masks. Census takers must complete a virtual COVID-19 training on social distancing protocols and other health and safety guidance before beginning their work in neighborhoods. Apply now at 2020census.gov/jobs or call 1-855-JOB-2020 (562-2020).”

Here’s the weekly District 4 COVID-19 report, from Riverside County. (District 4 is the Coachella Valley and points eastward.) Again, it shows hospitalizations trending down, cases slightly trending down (maybe), and a crazy-high 16.4 percent weekly positivity rate. Worst of all, we lost 20 more of our friends and neighbors.

• Meanwhile, Eisenhower Health’s latest stats show the weekly positivity rate at their facilities trending downward, and currently in (the high) single digits. So … I remain confused.

Desert Hot Springs has been the hardest-hit valley city when it comes to unemployment during the pandemic. That’s the conclusion of data-crunching by the Coachella Valley Economic Partnership; see the breakdown here.

• From the Independent: Chef Andie Hubka is known for her three highly regarded restaurants in Indio and La Quinta, as well as her Cooking With Class school. Where other valley chefs have cut back service during this era of takeout and patio dining, Hubka has actually gone in the opposite direction by launching a brand-new concept, Citrine. Andrew Smith explains.

• Also from the Independent: Wine columnist Katie Finn looks at how South Africa has turned to alcohol prohibition as a way to slow the spread of COVID-19but that move, enforced at times with brutal violence, has devastated the country’s wine industry.

• The FDA was getting set to give emergency authorization for the use of blood plasma from recovered COVID-19 patients as a treatment for the disease—but then federal health officials, including Dr. Anthony Fauci, stepped in and stopped the authorization, saying the science isn’t clear yet. The New York Times explains.

• Speaking of unclear science: In this space, we recently linked to one of many articles, all from reliable sources, about a study regarding the effectiveness of various face masks. One of the key takeaways, as reported, was that neck gaiters could actually make matters worse. Well … as Science News reports, that conclusion may not be accurate. One of the problems: “The study was meant to figure out how to evaluate masks, not compare their effectiveness.”

• Keep in mind what the last two stories have said about the vagaries of reporting on studies these days when we bring you this lede, from MedPage Today: “More data from observational studies, this time in hospitalized patients, indicated that famotidine (Pepcid AC), which is used to treat heartburn, was associated with improved clinical outcomes in COVID-19 patients.” The story goes on to make it clear that more research is needed before definitive conclusions are drawn.

• Here’s something that can be definitively said: It’s very important that people get flu shots this year. A nursing professor, writing for The Conversation, explains why. Key quote: “As a health care professional, I urge everyone to get the flu vaccine in September. Please do not wait for flu cases to start to peak. The flu vaccine takes up to two weeks to reach peak effectiveness, so getting the vaccine in September will help provide the best protection as the flu increases in October and later in the season.”

• Also from The Conversation: A recent survey of essential workers in Massachusetts revealed that far more Black and Latino workers don’t feel safe on the job than white workers. Here is why—and why that’s important.

Pulitzer Prize-winning journalism nonprofit ProPublica doesn’t mince words regarding COVID-19 and Sin City: “Las Vegas casinos reopened June 4, and they have become a likely hotbed for the spread of the novel coronavirus, public health experts said. But if tourists return home and then test positive for COVID-19, the limitations of contact tracing in the midst of a pandemic make it unlikely such an outbreak would be identified.”

• CNBC looks at the status of that extra $300 per week in unemployment benefits that President Trump has promised. So far, 11 states have been approved for the money (California is not one of them)—but a whole lot of people are going to be left out regardless.

• Finally, Taiwan—a country which has done a much better job of managing the coronavirus than the United States has—recently hosted a 10,000-person arena concert. Time magazine explains how the experience was different, thanks to the specter of SARS-CoV-2.

That’s enough for the day. Count your blessings. Wear a mask. Wash your hands. If you have the means, please consider supporting quality independent local journalism by becoming a Supporter of the Independent. The Daily Digest will return Friday.

Published in Daily Digest

10,000.

That’s the milestone Riverside County reached today—the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases. It’s a sad milestone, and it’s not the last sad milestone we’re going to hit before this pandemic is over.

Folks, there are so many things in life we can’t control. However, there’s a lot regarding this pandemic we can control—and you know what those things are: Wearing a mask when around other people. Washing your hands frequently. Staying home if you may be sick.

Do it.

Today’s links:

• Speaking of people not doing what they can control: During Las Vegas’ reopening week, Los Angeles Times writer Arash Markazi saw some people taking precautions … and a whole lot of people not doing so. He said the Cosmopolitan was especially bad: “… as I scanned the casino floor, I was the only non-employee wearing a mask.

• One of the nation’s largest cities is openly discussing re-invoking stay-at-home orders—and reopening a football stadium for use as a possible COVID-19 hospital. Keep your fingers crossed for Houston.

• Oh, and an expert from Harvard says that 200,000 Americans could be dead from COVID-19 by September. And he called out the federal government for not doing enough.

On the I Love Gay Podcast today, Dr. Laura Rush and I joined hosts Brad Fuhr, Shann Carr and John Taylor to discuss the reopening process. We all agree: Precautions are not only good; they’re downright necessary. But shaming is bad and highly unnecessary.

L.A. County made it official today: Hollywood productions can resume tomorrow. However, that doesn’t mean there’s not a lot of work left to do before that meaningfully happens.

• Since hotels reopen here tomorrow, it’s worth asking the question: How safe are hotels (and, for that matter, short-term rentals)? One of the experts writing for The Conversation says she feels it’s pretty safe; the other isn’t so sure.

• The Los Angeles Times explains what will have to happen for a vaccine to be available by the end of the year, with a little help from Dr. Anthony Fauci.

California began waiving bail for people arrested for non-violent crimes when the pandemic hit, in an effort to keep jails less crowded, and people safer. Well, that’s coming to an end on June 20—even though COVID-19, alas, is not coming to an end by then.

Tesla doesn’t think its employees need to know when other employees test positive for COVID-19, proving yet again that Elon Musk is a dick.

Voter-registration numbers have plummeted since the pandemic arrived, according to USA Today.

•It’s worth keeping an eye on Seattle, where something truly weird has happened: For the past several days, protesters have taken over a portion of the Capitol Hill area—including a police precinct building—that they’re calling the Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone. So far, things are peaceful, but Trump’s tweeting about it; there are now-denied rumors that businesses in the area are being extorted by the protesters; and there’s other strangeness surrounding the whole thing.

• Several dozen people protested today in Riverside, demanding the removal of Sheriff Chad Bianco. That’s not going to happen, of course, even though the protesters are making some good points.

• So … Donald Trump has defended white supremacists and defended symbols of white supremacy. Now he’s chosen, as the city for his first rally in three months, the site of the worst episode of racial violence in American history … on a date that marks the emancipation of slaves in the Confederacy. Sen. Kamala Harris doesn’t think this is a coincidence at all.

• A&E’s wildly popular show Live P.D. has been cancelledafter the producers mysteriously erased footage involving the death of a Black man, Javier Ambler, while being arrested in Austin, Texas, last year.

That’s enough for the day. Wash your hands. Wear a mask. Fight injustice. If you can spare a few bucks to support quality local journalism, with no paywalls, please consider becoming a Supporter of the Independent. We’ll be back tomorrow.

Published in Daily Digest

Before we get into the news of the day, I have one simple little request for some of you out there in social-media land: Can everyone please stop with the posts in which you’re rooting for the reopening effort to fail?

I get it: A lot of people, including many smarter than I am, think that the state is reopening too fast, too soon. I also understand that many humans have a burning desire to, when proven right, gloat and say, “I told you so.”

However … using just one example I saw recently, it does nobody any good to—on a business page announcing reopening plans—comment with a “Coronavirus likes this” image.

We know sooooooo very little about this virus and this disease—we’ll be getting into that more in a moment—that we really don’t know how all of this is going to go. Yes, it’s quite possible we’ll see a debilitating spike causing another shut-down; after all Arizona—you know, the state just to the east of here—is in the midst of a COVID-19 spike so serious that the state health director has told hospitals to activate their emergency plans.

However, I sure hope we don’t have a second wave (or, more likely, a second spike in the first wave)—because you know what will happen if we do have another shutdown? A whole lot of people will be hurting, in a whole lot of ways. It means more sickness and death. It means financial loss and the destruction of dreams. It could mean chaos—even more than we’re seeing now.

By all means, speak out, but do so with love and concern. Be kind—and don’t root for failure.

Today’s links:

• Here’s last week’s District 4 COVID-19 report from the county. (District 4 more or less = Coachella Valley.) The numbers are, in some cases, not great. Hospitalizations are up, as is the 7-day positivity rate. On the other hand, the ICU numbers remain fairly low; the valley saw one COVID-19-related death in the week.

• This New York Times headline will make you want to go bang your head against the wall: “Hospitals Got Bailouts and Furloughed Thousands While Paying C.E.O.s Millions.” Do a search in the article for Tenet, the owner of Desert Regional Medical Center, JFK Memorial Hospital in Indio, and the Hi Desert Medical Center in Joshua Tree. You won’t like what you read.

• Sign No. 345,969 that we know very little about the disease: A recent study seems to indicate that the actual spread of SARS-CoV-2 started later than previously thought.

• Sign No. 345,970 that we know very little about the disease: The Conversation reports on science showing that 80 percent of coronavirus cases are spread by just 20 percent of people infected with the virus—including, it is believed, some people who are asymptomatic.

• Sign No. 345,971 that we know very little about the disease: Meanwhile, a high-ranking World Health Organization doc says asymptomatic people actually DON’T spread the virus much. NOTHING MAKES SENSE ANYMORE.

• Sign No. 345,972 that we know very little about the disease: The New York Times polled 511 epidemiologists on when they expect to do what used to be “normal” things again—like go out to eat, or travel, or hug someone. Well, the results were all over the damned place.

This article is almost a month old, but worth a look, given the news about a vaccine has been encouraging as of late: Even if we do have a vaccine, we may not have enough glass vials to put the doses in. Sigh.

• The state superintendent of public schools today announced guidance for school reopenings. Things will be quite different.

The Washington Post today reported on a new study indicating that the shutdowns may have prevented 60 million COVID-19 cases in the U.S. Wow.

• Las Vegas is open again. How is it even possible for large Vegas-style casinos to operate in the midst of an active pandemic? The New York Times takes a look.

• From the Independent: I attended the June 6 “Enough Is Enough” rally and protest at Ruth Hardy Park. It was a moving, inspiring experience. Here’s our photo gallery—and you’ll be hearing more from several local protest-organizers in the Independent in upcoming days.

• The “Justice in Policing Act” was introduced by congressional Democrats today. NBC News offers some details.

• Here’s where the United States is in June 2020: Teen Vogue has just run a story on how law-enforcement tactics, like the use of tear gas and the seizures of masks, at the protests against systemic racism are worsening the spread of COVID-19.

• OK, I am going to repeat that again, because it’s so awful, and weird, and slightly inspiring (go Teen Vogue!), but mostly awful, that it bears a second look: Teen Vogue has just run a story on how law-enforcement tactics, like the use of tear gas and the seizures of masks, at the protests against systemic racism are worsening the spread of COVID-19.

• OK, here’s a CNN headline that perfectly illustrates the toxicity in sooo many law enforcement organizations across the country: “Florida police organization offers to hire cops who were fired or resigned over police misconduct.

That’s enough. Wash your hands. Wear a mask. Fight injustice. If you have the means, please consider becoming a Supporter of the Independent. We’re back tomorrow.

Published in Daily Digest

It was an insanely busy news day, so let’s get right to the links:

• First, a correction: In the emailed version of yesterday’s Daily Digest, I had the month portion of the date wrong for the city of Palm Springs’ “Restaurant, Retail, Hair Salon & Barbershop Re-Opening Guidance for Business Owners” webinar. As a few eagle-eyed readers pointed out: The webinar is taking place at 9 a.m., May 28—in other words, tomorrow. Get info here, and please accept my apologies for the mistake.

• Other Palm Springs news: The City Council voted yesterday to extend the eviction moratorium through June 30.

• While this news is certainly not surprising, it’s an economic bummer for sure: Goldenvoice is reaching out to artists slated to perform at the already-delayed Coachella festival, and trying to book them for 2021 instead. Translation: A Coachella cancellation announcement may be coming soon.

If you’re going to read only one piece from today’s Daily Digest, please make sure it’s this one. Yesterday, we talked about the appalling lack of journalistic integrity NBC Palm Springs showed by airing an unvetted fluff piece—multiple times—provided by Amazon talking about all the great things the company is doing to keep its workers safe. In reality … at least eight workers have died. Today, the Los Angeles Times brings us the story of one of those eight fallen workers. Grab a tissue before you get to know the story of Harry Sentoso.

• Gov. Newsom announced today that more information regarding gym/fitness center-reopening guidelines would be released next week, as the state moves further into Stage 3.

• The Coachella Valley Economic Partnership just released a new survey of local businesses regarding the impact of the pandemic … and the only word that comes to mind is “yikes.” One takeaway: 99 percent of businesses have experienced a reduction in revenue—and 56 percent of those declines were between 91 and 100 percent

• It’s well-known that a number of COVID-19 antibody tests are flawed, but now there are concerns about the accuracy of the diagnostic tests. NBC News looks into the matter.

• Well, this could be interesting: President Trump, angry that Twitter placed a fact-check notice on an obviously untrue statement of his, apparently plans on taking some sort of action against social media companies via executive order. Will tomorrow be the day our democratic republic comes to an end? Tune in tomorrow! 

• In Pennsylvania, Democratic lawmakers are accusing GOP lawmakers of covering up the fact that a lawmaker had tested positive for COVID-19—possibly exposing them in the process. Republicans say they followed all the proper protocols … but didn’t feel the need to tell Democrats about the positive test, because of privacy. Jeez. The barn-burning video of Rep. Brian Sims expressing his extreme displeasure is horrifying.

• From the Independent: While tattoo shops remain closed (at least legally) across the state, they may be allowed to reopen soon, as we move further into Stage 3. The Independent’s Kevin Allman spoke to Jay’e Jones, of Yucca Valley’s renowned Strata Tattoo Lab, about the steps she’s taking to get ready.

• An update on what’s happening in Imperial County, our neighbors to the southeast: A coronavirus outbreak in northern Mexico is causing American citizens who live there to cross the border for treatment—and overwhelming the small hospitals in the county. The Washington Post explains how this is happening, while KESQ reports that packed Imperial County hospitals are sending patients to Riverside County hospitals for care.

• Don’t let the headline freak you out, please, because it’s not as horrifying as it sounds, although it remains important and interesting: The “coronavirus may never go away, even with a vaccine,” explains The Washington Post.

Nevada casinos will begin coming back to life on June 4. The Los Angeles Times explains how Las Vegas is preparing for a tentative revival.

• Another business segment is also making plans to reopen in Nevada: brothels. The Reno Gazette-Journal explains how brothel owners are making their case to the state.

• Given that Santa Clara County health officer Dr. Sara Cody issued the nation’s first stay-at-home order, it’s 1) interesting and 2) not entirely surprising that she thinks California’s reopening process is moving too quickly.

• Some of us are naturally inclined to follow rules; some of us bristle at them. University of Maryland Professor Michele Gelfand, writing for The Conversation, explains how these primal mindsets are coming into play regarding masks and other pandemic matters.

The Trump administration is still separating migrant families—and often using the pandemic as an excuse to do so, explains the Los Angeles Times.

• The New York Times reports on the inevitable upcoming eviction crisis. Eff you, 2020.

Some Good News, John Krasinski’s feel-good YouTube series, has been sold to ViacomCBS. Here’s how and why that came about.

• Finally, here’s an update on increasing evidence that sewage testing may help governments stop new coronavirus outbreaks before they blow up.

That’s all today. I am going to now go raise a toast to the life of Harry Sentoso and the other 100,000-plus Americans this virus has claimed so far. Please join me if you can. We’ll be back tomorrow.

Published in Daily Digest

In response to yesterday’s Daily Digest, I received this email from a reader, which is reprinted here, verbatim:

Is your paper written by one person? Articles picked by you? Just curious as to where you’re from? Palm Springs? Just not sure if this is a PS newsletter?

This made me realize that a lot of you are new to the Independent—and that even some of you who have been reading for a while may not know much about me or the newspaper, and/or where these Daily Digests fit into things.

So, if you’ll indulge me, here are my answers to that reader’s questions (slightly expanded upon and edited from my personal response to the reader):

Is your paper written by one person?

No. The Independent has a staff writer and 15 or so regular contributors, writing on everything from theater to astronomy to cocktails to news. Feel free to peruse all of the articles, going back to our late-2012 launch, at CVIndependent.com, and check out our print version archives at issuu.com/cvindependent.

Articles picked by you?

I, Jimmy Boegle, am the editor/publisher, but most of my writers decide what they’re going to be writing about … because they’re the experts in what they’re writing about, not me. As for this Daily Digest email, I write it and select the article links, although I get suggestions from a lot of people—especially from Garrett, my husband.

Just curious as to where you’re from? Palm Springs?

I live in Palm Springs, yes. I’ve been here for more than seven years. If you would like to view my professional credentials, check out www.linkedin.com/in/jimmy-boegle. I have a 25-year history in journalism, going back to my days at Stanford University. I’ve worked for The Associated Press and at newspapers in Reno/Sparks, Las Vegas and Tucson. Before I moved here at the start of 2013, I spent a decade as the editor of the Tucson Weekly.

Just not sure if this is a PS newsletter?

Most of the content in the Independent itself—with the exception of some movie reviews, our comics page, Savage Love and a couple of other things—is written by people in the Coachella Valley, for people in the Coachella Valley. This Daily Digest email, however, was started when the pandemic hit as a way to share news on COVID-19 and the shut-down orders from reliable, vetted news sources, from around the country and world.

So, there you go! If any of you have other questions about the Independent, me, our fantabulous writers or life in general, feel free to send them my way.

And now, what you’re really here for—today’s news:

• I was again part of the I Love Gay Palm Springs podcast/videocast, with hosts John Taylor, Shann Carr and Brad Fuhr. Today’s guests were the fabulously smart Dr. Laura Rush, from Kaiser Permanente; Alexander Rodriguez from the On the Rocks radio show; and Debra Ann Mumm from the Create Center for the Arts. Check it out if you dare!

Gov. Newsom announced a revised $203 billion budget today—which includes a lot of deep cuts. One of the most painful—a 10 percent salary reduction for many state workers. However, that cut, and others, could be avoided if the feds chip in and help. Our partners at CalMatters have the details.

• More bad—and by “bad,” we mean “approaching Great Depression bad”unemployment figures have been released.

Unfortunately, most of the job losses are hitting families that are least-prepared to deal with them: Almost 40 percent of lower-income households have been affected, according to Politico.

Cathedral City is the latest valley city to step up and require face masks in many places, following the county’s stunningly ill-advised revocation of the face-mask health order last week.

• Related: From The Conversation comes this headlineMasks help stop the spread of coronavirus—the science is simple and I’m one of 100 experts urging governors to require public mask-wearing.

Could COVID-19 be causing an inflammatory syndrome in children that’s similar to Kawasaki disease? The CDC just issued an alert for doctors to be on the lookout.

Las Vegas may start to reopen soon—and it’ll be a very different experience when it does, according to the Los Angeles Times.

• A live-stream performance featuring John Stanley King, Kal David and other local music luminaries takes place tomorrow (Friday) at 3 p.m., and it benefits the Coachella Valley Rescue Mission. Get details here.

• This opinion piece from The Washington Post points out a painful truth: In most of the country, we’re giving up on containing COVID-19and are now scrambling to reduce the harm it causes.

• Meanwhile, in Alabama, legislators proposed spending $200 million in federal funding for COVID-19 on a new State House. Yes, they really did that. https://www.newsweek.com/alabama-senate-leaders-want-use-money-2-billion-coronavirus-aid-build-new-state-house-1503255

• The New York Stock Exchange is partially reopening for in-person trading on May 26. Yay? Or something?

• Finally: One Riverside girl really wanted to hug her grandparents … so she invented the hug curtain.

That’s enough for today. Wash your hands. Wear a mask, for pete’s sake. Buy our amazing Coloring Book. If you can spare a few bucks, please consider supporting quality, free-to-all, independent local journalism by becoming a Supporter of the Independent. We’ll be back tomorrow!

Published in Daily Digest

Dear Mexican: I recently relocated from Los Angeles to Las Vegas and am longing for my Mexicans.

As you know, in Los Angeles, it is easy to find amazing Chicanas—whenever I wanted to meet beautiful, intelligent Mexican ladies, I would head to Main Street in Alhambra on any Thursday night and be in utter heaven. But I have not been able to get my bearings in Vegas. Do you have any insight into the Mexican social scene here, or can you offer some advice on where I should look? I would also be interested in learning some history about Mexicans in Las Vegas generally, and their current status out here.

Buscando a Mis Chicanas Desiertos

Dear Pocho: My cousin Raymond moved out to Vegas from La Puente about 20 years ago to find the good life, so you’re not looking hard enough. And once the Raiders relocate there, you’ll have your share of Silver and heinas forever more.

But the Mexican only goes to Vegas to speak every summer at the Latino Youth Leadership Conference (which takes young raza and forges them into future leaders), so I’m not the right hombre to answer your pregunta. So I forwarded it to the homie who first invited me: Edgar Flores, who has been the state assemblymember for Nevada’s 28th District since 2014—BOOM. Take it away, Assembly-chingón!

“More than 30 percent of the Vegas population is Latino/a—I’m guessing you’re spending too much time in Summerlin or Anthem and not enough in North and East Vegas if you don’t see beauties wrapped in bronze skin,” Flores writes. “The Clark County School District is nearly 50 percent Latino. … Seriously, vato, where you been looking? Whole Foods?

“Also, LV residents are so tired of the LA takeover so they keep all their spots hidden, but I got the info on their ‘hideouts.’ If you’re looking for a quickie hit up, Blue Martini on Thursdays, Firefly on Fridays, or Señor Frogs on Saturdays: At all three spots, locals get down to spiced-up music. If you’re trying to keep it straight paisa, then weekends at the Broadacres Marketplace is your spot: Listen to live banda and norteño music; buy some tools; eat mariscos; or open a small business—it’s all there. Seriously, it’s all there!

“Intellectual Chicanas are either kicking ass in their professions or at UNLV. UNLV in 2012 was designated a Hispanic Serving Institution—so you’ll see so many mujeres with a book; you’ll think you are at your abuelita’s house on a Sunday morning during her comadre Bible readings. Good luck, perdido!”

Gracias, Assemblychingón Flores! And raza: He’s one of the good ones. Let’s help get him to higher office, ¿qué no?

Dear Mexican: Why is it that Mexicans pile into the front seat of a truck, even when there is a back seat? I have seen this many times, and I don’t understand why they can’t open the back door and sit back there. Do they enjoy sitting so close together? Is that why they also stand so close to you in lines at the grocery store?

Backseat I Take Cuz He Echoed “Shotgun”

Dear BITCHES: The familia that smushes into the front seat of a 1979 Ford F150 Supercab together, reconquistas the United States together.

Ask the Mexican at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.; be his fan on Facebook; follow him on Twitter @gustavoarellano; or follow him on Instagram @gustavo_arellano!

Published in Ask a Mexican

Richard Rodriguez grew up with Mexican immigrant parents, “a scholarship boy in Sacramento.” His new book, Darling: A Spiritual Autobiography (Viking, released Oct. 3), is dedicated to the Sisters of Mercy nuns who taught him to speak English.

Rodriguez’s autobiographical essay collections include Hunger of Memory; Days of Obligation: An Argument With My Mexican Father, a finalist for the 1993 Pulitzer Prize in nonfiction, and Brown: The Last Discovery of America.

“I’m not interested in writing a memoir to tell you what I did that year,” he says. “I’m interested always in writing a biography of my ideas, of how I came to think about those things.”

In Darling, Rodriguez examines his faith, particularly what it means that three of the world’s major religions were founded in the desert. At the same time, he ponders the state of American consciousness today, looking at Las Vegas, California and the U.S.-Mexican borderlands.

Jenny Shank recently spoke with Rodriguez; the interview has been edited and condensed.

One of the main themes of Darling is the idea that Christianity is “a desert religion,” as are Judaism and Islam. Can deserts today, especially those in the American West, contribute to one’s faith in these desert religions?

A lot of the things we think about the Judeo-Christian-Muslim God come out of the fact that the Israelites experienced a very specific ecology. The God who came to them was a desert God. One of the most important desert cities in the American West is Las Vegas. Las Vegas seems to represent a particular anxiety we feel in this landscape. This is not a landscape to which we feel immediately welcomed.

We have learned, in desert cities like Phoenix, to insist on the desert’s sky by denying the desert’s terrain. So we plant gardens that are not appropriate; we water the desert. In Las Vegas, there’s this fantasy, this architectural idea of the denial of the desert: If the desert is flat, you build these shapes into the sky; if the desert is by definition emptiness, then you can fill it with toys. You can fill it with the Empire State Building or the Eiffel Tower or with golf courses.

I find Death Valley to be one of the most beautiful environments in the world, but it is really scary to hike around Death Valley. What everyone says about the desert, “Well, there’s plenty of life in the desert,” is also true, but we have to say that while coating ourselves with sunblock. The desert threatens us.

I’ve never been to Las Vegas. I’ve been avoiding it.

I’m going to send you there! You have to go to Las Vegas. If you really love nature, you have to go there to see how frightened we are of nature; it’s one of the reasons we light up the night in Las Vegas. Nature is no easy thing to live with.

You discuss the contrast between Mexican “stoicism” and American “optimism” that plays into the conflict over our mutual border. Would an understanding of our countries’ differences in outlook ease tensions?

What Mexico knows is the suffering of life. It’s a culture based on that notion that to live is to suffer and to endure. Bravery is the virtue, not winning.

People come into the United States illegally because there’s no food for the family, or their mother needs an operation. There is a sense of obligation to other people. It’s very rare to find somebody just coming on his own. Mexicans come searching for an American dream that has exhausted itself in the American consciousness. You meet optimism coming across the border from the South, from a tragic culture, at the same time that the optimistic culture of America seems to be in a kind of dejection or despair. That’s the paradox of our border for me. The peasant is optimistic, and those who are guarding themselves against the peasant tend to be afraid. The collision between these two impulses is really strong.

No one is talking about the human drama playing out on the border, on that extraordinary landscape. At the very time when China has turned its wall into a tourist attraction, and the Chinese are everywhere in the world, America builds a wall against the future. That should tell you a great deal about how it is with us right now.

You write, “The traditional task of the writer in California has been to write about what it means to be human in a place advertised as paradise.” Is this a subject that has been important in your writing, as a Californian?

Oh, yes. In California, the sense of disappointment is very large around me, partly because the state changes so much. It’s rather like Colorado in that sense. I remember when the Front Range was emptier, without suburban development. If you’re past 30, you remember a completely different landscape.

There’s this sense of disappointment that California was never what it advertised itself to be. In the early 20th century, when Los Angeles real-estate interests began to advertise this ideal landscape and weather, people came out from New Jersey and Nebraska—and then it became so crowded that they ended up on a freeway that wasn’t moving.

But in some ways, I’m optimistic about California, because it’s filling with people who came here from a different direction—from the South, people for whom California is not the West, but El Norte. The West was always—as defined by people from the East Coast—an unraveling of history. You could find yourself alone in the West; you could be free of the confinements of the East by going West.

People who come to El Norte tend to go to cities, because that’s where the jobs are. They tend to see the landscape between the South and the North as continuous. People, on the other hand, who come to California from Asia are seeing California as the beginning, not the end. So they are without that pessimism that has defined us in California—people jumping off the Golden Gate Bridge because there’s no farther to go; we have reached the end of America. Asians say this is where America begins.

How does the landscape in which a person lives affect his or her viewpoint?

For all of our talk about environmentalism, it’s amazing how little we talk about landscape and how it informs our imagination. When you and I talk of the West, there are millions of people in California for whom this is not the West. My mother used to call California “El Norte,” and I hated it because I wanted to live in California with cowboys. That was really glamorous. When she was talking about people coming to El Norte to get these jobs picking peaches, it wasn’t glamorous at all to me. They didn’t ride a horse, they were really poor and they spent their last bet on the ground.

Probably the most important consciousness of the West belongs to John Muir. Muir was from Scotland, and he describes California as the other side of the mountain. In some sense, that’s an East Coast vision of California. But, in fact, Muir came to California from the water as an Asian would—from the sea. He found in (the state) this beginning, but he also knew that it was limited. So he begins to sound this notion that we have to protect the land, because it’s finite. The environmental movement did not begin to talk about preserving America in the crowded brick cities of the East Coast. That begins in places like the forests of California, where people realize that in order to have it for another generation, you need to protect it. It’s the great gift of people like Muir to realize that there is a continent that comes to an end; there is a landscape of our imagination.

This article originally appeared in High Country News.

Published in Literature