Civil rights and wrongs

Last Thursday, César Chávez Day, I took an early lunch and stepped into a downtown eatery. As I was waiting for my food a man pushed open the door of the restaurant, walked in and looked around. He had a long gray-flecked beard and was wearing an olive-drab Army coat, black jeans, a baseball cap and white athletic shoes. He appeared to be maybe 55 or so but could have been younger because he looked like a guy who’d spent a lot of his life outside. He sidled up to the woman at the cash register and asked if there was any work he could do in exchange for food. “Mop the floor, clean the bathroom, anything?” he asked. He motioned with his hands as if he were working a mop. The woman at the cash register turned to the woman behind the counter in the kitchen preparing the food to see if there were any chores back there that needed done. There weren’t. The woman at the register shrugged her shoulders and said that she’d give the man some food anyway. “Are you sure?” he said. She smiled.

I asked the guy where he was going and where he’d come from. “I’m visiting my sister in Paradise,” he said. “Came from Tennessee.” I nodded toward the women. “Pretty nice of them, huh?” I was referring to the fact he was getting food for nothing. I didn’t say it, but I was thinking, “You would have been tossed out of most of the restaurants around here.” He nodded his head that, yes, these women were pretty nice. (I hesitate to identify the restaurant because I would hate to have it flooded by hordes of hungry hobos in search of handouts. Let’s just say the employees speak fluent Spanish here.)

The next day I overheard a young woman, whom I consider very bright and culturally aware, talking about the César-Chávez-Day-at-the-Normal-St.-Bar flap (see Newslines). The woman said she couldn’t understand why the liberals were so bent out of shape because a bar used Mexican stereotypes to sell booze. “What about the Irish and St. Patrick’s Day and leprechauns?” she asked. Then she said something very curious in respect to Chávez. She said: “He would have just turned into another Fidel Castro.” That night I figured it out. She was confusing California farm labor organizer César Chávez, who died in 1993, with Cuban revolutionary Che Guevara, who was killed in Bolivia in 1967. Both men are cultural icons, Hispanic and have their images emblazoned on T-shirts. The further we get away from the civil-rights movement, the more the details get lost.

Saturday I was sitting in my office watching hippies at the Farmers’ Market cavorting as those free-spirits will—beating drums, walking on stilts, breastfeeding babies and selling jewelry from a card table. They were set up in front of an old blue bus with animals and nature scenes painted on its sides. I went over and took some photos and learned these were the same people who the day before had planted fruit trees out by the homeless shelter. I met a dreadlocked stilt-walker named Cooper Woods from Paonia, Colo. About an hour later, I was back in my office working, when I noticed the drumming had stopped. I looked across the street and saw a Chico police officer talking with the hippies. I walked back over and watched officer Dale Prosise try to explain to Amanda “Sunflower” Grieb that someone from the market had called to complain about the drumming and the fact people in a big blue bus were selling jewelry without a vendor’s permit—something that is required for Farmers’ Market sellers. Sunflower argued that the love and peace she and her group were showering on the people walking by—not to mention the 40 fruit trees they’d planted the day before—outweighed the need for a vendor’s permit. And the jewelry, she said, wasn’t really being sold; it was offered for a donation. Prosise, who was soon joined by Sgt. Lori Kilgerman, demonstrated extreme patience as he tried to explain the situation. “Well, uh, all I know is someone from the market called and complained and…” he shrugged. The discussion continued for 15 or 20 more minutes. The card table was folded up and put back on the bus; the officers left, and the drumming, though much quieter, started up again.