Friday, November 17, 2006
A Spicy, Glorious Stew
As Bush finally ships off to Vietnam to make nice-nice (30 years too late, as Fang points out) and volunteer Minutemen – or, as I like to call them – Mi-nute Men – stalk our southern border, I can't help but notice some fascinating cultural seepings in W's home state.
Yesterday morning, I read a news story that got me downright misty-eyed. Traveling abroad a few years back, I somehow morphed into a dedicated rugby fan. My team was, and remains, The New Zealand All Blacks. At the start of every game, the Blacks, cued by the blow of a conch shell, would perform a harrowing Maori (NZ indigenous folks) war dance called the 'haka.'
With bulging eyes, wild tongues, knee-slaps and frightening growls, the haka is a sight to behold. It is impossible not to be seduced by the sheer power of it. "Ka Mate! Ka Mate! Ka Ora! ("We're going to die! We're going to die! We're going to live!") – the deep baritone warrior chant makes your hair stand on end and, for some of us, draws our nipples towards the sky. In Maori tradition, the haka was performed prior to battle and the All Blacks were the only sports team in the world that indulged in this Pacific Islander tradition.
Joy-of-joys, this menacing and beautiful display of testosterone has now taken hold in that bastion of Americana – Texas high school football. Bedford, home of the Trinity Trojans, also boasts a large population of Tongans, who are big and mighty and make for excellent defensive ends. One of these Tongan Trojans, taught the ancient war dance to his teammates during a practice rain-out. Not only did it take but Trojan fans have gone haka-wild. Evidently, young girls now wear shirts in Bedford asking: "Got Haka?" Fans even hang around after the game, in the hopes they will perform it again.
Best part of the story: A videotape of the Trojan haka performance was shown to a group of elderly Bedford Tongans. They couldn't take their eyes off the white Texan boys performing this ancient dance with such fierce intensity and dedication. They wept with joy, knowing that future generations of Tongans would be accepted in the community. The Trojan football coach now jokes that Bedford first-graders are learning the haka before they learn to block and tackle.
Meanwhile, the border town of Laredo is gearing up for its annual Society of Martha Washington pageant – an elaborate tribute to the First First Lady. Young debutantes, the great majority of whom are Latina, vie for the chance-in-a-lifetime opportunity to portray Martha on this highly-anticipated night. As National Geographic explained: "It doesn’t matter whether you're Anglo or Mexican. All that counts is old blood, deep roots and the size of your hoop skirt." Indeed, it's all about the gowns, which can weigh up to 85 pounds and cost in the neighborhood of $30,000.
As a border town, all citizens of Laredo are bi-lingual and easily slip between both worlds. It is often said that the two Laredos, "beat with one heart." The NG article observes that the "cultures have not so much collided as colluded to form one region, separate and apart from both home countries." This is a dream, or a nightmare, depending on which side of the … er, fence you're on.
Speaking of blockades, I was in Berlin the summer after the wall was torn down. I even paid five deutsche marks to rent a hammer and chisel and take some blows myself. I can tell you, there will never be a wall high enough to keep out the ideal that George (the original), Tom, Ben and the other founding fathers had in mind. This country, flawed and fabled though it may be, is one big social experiment in constant progress. While the politicians spit and argue, the rest of the country is busy getting on with organically and spontaneously getting along.
This is the real America and it cannot be withheld or contained.