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SCOTT HARRIS

Personal and Political Memory Lanes : Many angry white males, no doubt, saw Proposition 187 as a vote against affirmative action.

November 15, 1994|SCOTT HARRIS

Gail U., who broke my heart in the eighth grade, looked good as a blonde. Holly M., who flirted and teased lo those many years ago, still remembered how to play that game. And Brigid C., the former Homecoming princess, was by male consensus the belle of this ball.

Tom Z., a fellow Cub Scout and a classmate from K-12, was the very picture of the fit, clean-cut firefighter. Lanny P., with whom I once dissected a fetal pig, had a receding hairline but the confidence to scam on Brigid. And Mike L., who sometimes showed up for class stoned, wasn't.

It was worth the $67.50. It was nice to see everybody. And for this member of Santa Ana High School's Class of 1974, it was especially sweet to see Sherri again.

Our love story began the summer before our senior year. We met weekly to watch "Kung Fu" in her family's TV room, and friendship blossomed into love. Ah yes, Grass-hoppah. For the next five years, it was your basic roller coaster of young romance, a saga of passion and jealousy, joy and heartache.

Thirteen years had passed since our last encounter. We hugged and she introduced me to her husband, Mike--a different Mike. They live in Westlake Village. My Sherri was a girl who insisted she'd never have kids. Mike's "Sharon" is a full-time housewife and mother of two boys.

Mike's in software. And he is, as he puts, "an angry white male."

*

He says it with a smile. The reunion, we all knew, was for memories and catching up, so this conversation didn't take place until the morning after. Sherri's 9 a.m. call to my hotel room suggesting breakfast was a surprise. We met at a Cuban restaurant in the historic downtown of Orange, three grown-ups coming out of a time warp, trying to reconcile the past, present and future.

When the conversation veered toward the election, Mike grinned and Sherri grimaced.

"Here we go," she sighed.

Yes, Mike is angry. He's angry about What's Happening to America. He didn't vote for Proposition 187 and Wilson and Huffington because he's a dyed-in-the-wool conservative. He made a point of letting me know that he voted for Mondale against Reagan, and even displayed a Dukakis sign in '88, back when they still lived in Orange County.

Now, it didn't seem polite to take notes, so you'll have to trust my memory here. If I get anything wrong, I'm sure Mike will let me know.

Mike favored Proposition 187 for all the usual reasons and more. For him, this measure wasn't just an approach to illegal immigration. This measure, for Mike, was about Spanish-language radio stations and ballots printed in something other than English. It was a way to say "Enough already!" to the trashing of Christopher Columbus and proposed changes in U.S. history textbook and "multiculturalism."

It was, in short, a repudiation to just about everything that falls under the broad heading of "political correctness" and a vote in favor of "personal responsibility."

The more Mike talked, the more it became obvious that Proposition 187 was like a runaway 18-wheeler carrying a cargo of volatile grievances, all touching on the competing ideals of America. Many angry white males, no doubt, saw Proposition 187 as a vote against affirmative action.

America and its ideals is a favorite subject. Some of what Mike said reminded me of a George Will column about the threat that "multiculturalism" poses to society, listing an array of sins committed in dubious celebration of America's diversity. There are valid points to be made. But has America ever been monocultural, like, say Japan? Is that a worthy ideal?

As it happened, the Orange County Register carried a feature story that morning describing how Santa Ana High's current enrollment includes only 40 white students. In my day, whites were a plurality, but not a majority. America's story has always been one of change.

Still, it was easy to understand Mike's objections to efforts to literally revise U.S. history textbooks. Soon we found ourselves debating the relative merits of such heroic figures as Paul Revere and Harriet Tubman. As kids, we learned all about the legend of Paul Revere, largely because Longfellow was a hell of a publicist. But why was it that Mike and I didn't hear about Harriet Tubman until our college years or later?

Is it wrong for kids to learn a little bit about Tubman, and little less about Revere?

*

Mike is still holding on to hope that Huffington pulls it out. He voted absentee, and likes to think that his will be the last one counted, and it will hand defeat to Feinstein.

It's not that he thinks Huffington is a good candidate. Not at all. And it's not that Mike loathes Feinstein for her stand against assault rifles. No, he made it clear that the first and foremost reason he voted for Huffington was to punish Feinstein for her stand against 187, to send that message loud and strong.

Feinstein was right. She predicted that 187 might cost her the election. Men like Mike, and women too, were willing to overlook Huffington's hypocrisy and other flaws to express their anger.

Mike's wife didn't really want to talk about it. But it was good to hear that she didn't vote for Huffington.

For U.S. senator, my Sherri didn't vote for anybody.

Scott Harris' column appears Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday. Readers may write to Harris at the Times Valley Edition, 20000 Prairie St., Chatsworth, CA 91311. Please include a phone number.

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