Painful reminders of a past we’d rather forget |

Painful reminders of a past we’d rather forget

That master of narrow-mindedness, Lestor Maddox, died this past week. Reading his obituary brought back memories of the Georgia governor’s fondness for pickax handles and prejudicial homilies. Maddox serves, some might say unfairly, as the ’60s archetype of southern inhospitality. Few who lived during those turbulent years can forget his sad and sinister displays of hatred. 

A darling of the southern press, Maddox managed to make headlines often with his appalling arguments for segregation and his pathetic appeals for a return to another way of life. I suspect many Americans see his death as a symbol of the end to a particularly painful time in our history most of us would just as soon forget.

But we keep getting new

reminders . . .

Case in point: Each year I try and spend a little time in Newport Beach, Calif. soaking up the sun and savoring the seafood. On my most recent visit, that laid-back beach town was immersed in a brouhaha that belied the live and let live legacy Californians have portrayed for decades.

A Newport Beach councilman, Dick Nichols, has caused no small controversy with his Maddox-like remarks concerning the use of his fair city’s beaches. In a nutshell, he has publicly decried the growing number of Hispanics who have come to use the public shores of Newport Beach to picnic, party and generally have a pretty good time. 

Concerning a recent proposal to add some green space to the coastline of Newport Beach, the councilman was quoted as complaining: “With grass we usually get Mexicans coming in there early in the morning, and they claim it as theirs and it becomes their personal, private grounds all day.”

Politically correct he is not. Politically controversial he has most certainly become. To their great credit, the good citizens of Newport Beach are outraged, and the local paper has been flooded with letters reprimanding their representative for not fairly representing them.  Newport Beach’s mayor, and the rest of the city council has called for both an apology and a resignation.

But Nichols is resolute and refuses to do either. Indeed, he hasn’t quite figured out what the fuss is all about. And this is where it really gets discouraging.

Mr. Nichols, like Governor Maddox and like many in America today, has forgotten the formative roots of our great nation. Comprised almost entirely of immigrants, most willing, others sinfully not, the American experiment has always been an exercise in assimilation. The waves of immigration that brought tens of thousands of Irish, Italian, African and millions more representing virtually every racial, cultural or religious sub-group slowly coalesced into the country we have come to be.

That process continues with the growing influx of Hispanics who have made their way to America, particularly to the Southwest. The rich heritage of these new citizens enhances our common way of life in everything from exquisite food to exotic cars.

The dynamics of acculturation are such that there is always change to the status quo. There is no reclaiming the “good old days” in America because America, by its very nature, is constantly rearranging itself into something new.

We can rail against such alterations. We can, as Mr. Maddox once did, violently seek to repress them. We can, as the very controversial Mr. Nichols is now doing, fail to understand the principles on which this nation was founded and now flourishes. 

Or we can, as the citizens of Newport Beach, Calif. are now making clear, celebrate the amazing diversity that defines America and makes most of us so proud not only to call it home but welcome others to share in its promise.

Rich Mayfield writes for the Summit Daily News on Saturdays.

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