Alligator Park, El Paso, TX

In the morning our hosts gave us a tour of the Ft. Bliss Military Base, which makes up a significant portion of the city.  Then we parted ways: they went to work,  and we set up the tent in a dusty public park at the heart of the city, originally built to hold live alligators. The first man who agreed to talk with me was a Vietnam Vet who described himself first as Chicano and then as Latino. He called me an Anglo, which was the first time in my life I’ve been classified that way to my face. It felt strange to have someone put me into a category I’d never chosen for myself, even if it was just a linguistic descriptor. He was probably in his early 60’s and was working on his degree at the university in town. He spoke very softly, and his sentences led in directions I did not expect, so I had to work to follow him at times. He was interested in Ron Paul, but he’d also been studying Marxist Theory in school and recommended I read Simone De Beauvoir’s Second Sex. He told me that he wore the Vietnam Vet hat regularly because with it,  Anglos acknowledged him – nodded and  sometimes said hello – otherwise he said it was almost like he was invisible. The main divide he seemed to care about in American life was between anglos and hispanics – a word which he said was just a long form of the derogatory “spic.” To me he seemed to be blurring the line between right and left that I have been trying to clarify, but I was interested in the confusion he left me with.

The next man who wanted to talk was also a vet. He came up when I was talking with the first man and asked what we were doing, and then came back to get a chance to talk himself. He was out of work and had recently moved to the city from Bellingham, WA, where he had been elected a Republican Precinct Captain. He explained this as if he’d signed up on a whim and was surprised to have been elected, not as if being politically active mattered to him. He was planning to vote for Ron Paul, especially because of his stance on decriminalizing Marijuana. He has been a born-again Christian for 30 years and that has been a big influence on his politics.  After a while he told me he had dreamed a detailed dream with World War 2 symbols, which he interpreted as a clear prediction that the third world war would begin shortly. He thought it would probably start this year. A grumpy old man started listening in and asking him questions about his predictions, and agreeing that something very bad was going to happen soon. He said he was Jewish, and that he was sure Obama was really a Muslim. I decided to wrap things up. Driving away I asked myself whether this conversation could in any way help me understand our political situation better, and my unsatisfactory answer is that I have to acknowledge there will always be some people who consider their nightmares and fears to be political guidance.

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