Saturday, February 4, 2023 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

The People Loved Caligula, Too

December 20, 2019

“Praise the Lord for small favors,” my Oma used to say, and I’m here to praise the West Side of Denver. Denver is 30% Latino and 16% black, Asian and mixed-race, but you wouldn’t know it unless you go to the West Side. For me, it’s like taking a warm bath.

Robert Kahn

By Robert Kahn

Deputy editor emeritus, Courthouse News

“Praise the Lord for small favors,” my Oma used to say, and I’m here to praise the West Side of Denver. Denver is 30% Latino and 16% black, Asian and mixed-race, but you wouldn’t know it unless you go to the West Side. For me, it’s like taking a warm bath.

I do not understand my fellow Americans who make news by harassing, beating and killing people for the heinous crime of speaking Spanish, or Arabic, or Farsi — or Navajo?

I love hearing foreign languages on the street — the rhythms, the sounds and inflections, the unexpected pauses. It’s music.

I’m just after West Denver, where I picked up two kilos of masa preparada, so I can have a fat Salvadoran tortilla for breakfast and a pupusa for dinner.

That’s why I so fat.

Give me a kilo of fresh masa preparada and I’m a happy man. Or will be soon.

On the way home I stopped at a corner store to pick up something for the hip and a young Asian gentleman was flirting in Spanish with the young lovely behind the counter. I was able to flirt, too. We yokked it up in 2½ languages: Spanish, English and Spanglish.

Having lived in Chicago, where racial divisions are harsh and ugly, I find the vibe here so generous, so free and easy.

Still on the way home, I pulled into a chain store down the street to buy some cheap writing implements, and reveled in it. Spanish was the langue de jour: black folks, Vietnamese, Guatemalans, Mexican Americans of course — for me it was a homecoming, though I was born in Chicago (back in 1951).

How could any so-called American possibly object to this? Think it’s bad or dangerous?

Denigrate it to climb to higher office?

I’m a lucky guy to speak Spanish. Lucky because my high school, back in the 1960s, required everyone to take two years of a foreign language. Most of my pals took French, which is probably why I chose Spanish. No other reason for it, but it changed my life — for the better.

Eventually, it helped me live happily in New York City; it got me a job as a reporter and editor on the Mexican border; a job as a Mexico correspondent for a decent U.S. newspaper; it got me a wife. It changed my way of thinking — for the better.

I lived on an Indian reservation for six years and tried and failed to learn their language, and found it joyous. It enlivened and improved my life.

I left the rez in 1984 to do legal work in U.S. immigration prisons, trying to save Salvadorans and Guatemalans from government death squads.

When I was a young man of draft age and my president was being impeached, I thought nothing could be worse than Nixon — except, possibly, the mealy-mouthed MacNamara.

Then we got Reagan and his death squads, and I thought nothing could be worse than him. Then we got President George H.W. Bush, who, to his credit, helped end the Salvadoran civil war by the simple act (really — was it so difficult?) of cutting off U.S. tax money to our allied government’s death squads.

Then we got Bush’s son, who embroiled us in dishonest, endless wars in which we never had an icicle’s chance of hell of even breaking even. And the verminous Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld — who went to my high school — a smart, but pathological liar, who said of Afghanistan: “They think they’re going to outlast us, but we’re going to outlast them.”

Right: We’re going to outlast a country of 35 million people, the size of Texas, on the other side of the world, with inhospitable terrain, about which we know virtually nothing. Sure, we’ll outlast them, Don — like you could outlast a 2:01:39 marathon runner.

But at least Nixon was smart. Reagan was not personally vindictive. Bush 1 was a clever politician. W Bush was a rich, shielded naïf who at least had a sense of humor.

Now we’ve got a vindictive psychopath, a semiliterate moron who knows nothing about world politics and laughs only when he is inflicting pain: upon refugees, upon the poor and helpless, upon torture victims, upon women he paid $130,000 to fuck one time, upon a teenage girl.

But that’s not what disturbs me most. What disturbs me the most is that tens of millions of my fellow citizens, in what once was the greatest and most enlightened country in the history of the world, are slavering after and kissing the filthy bottom of this deranged tyrant.

If you hate foreign language, you hate 95% of the Earth. That’s like hating every woman on the planet and nearly every man. It’s like hating dogs or cats or birds.

No wonder those people are so angry and unhappy.

Let’s lock up migrating birds and put their babies in cages.

Subscribe to our columns

Want new op-eds sent directly to your inbox? Subscribe below!