Tuesday, August 27, 2013

The politics of pinto beans

Steve King's nightmare, in the grocery aisle: The Washington Post looks at the growing success of ethnic food company Goya:
Joe Perez takes Progresso Soup -- now owned by General Mills -- as a cautionary tale. "Progresso in its day, the 1950s and 1960s, was the Goya of Italian food. And now what is Progresso? It's a soup company," Perez says. "They were lulled into believing 'yes, go through the major chains, don't have a single focus, we'll take these items only.' For two or three years, sales were booming, and after that, they started to decline. Then it became a question of the chain saying, 'We don't need all these items, let's get rid of them.' You lose your authenticity. It becomes, 'Well, we don't really need you anymore, there's all these other lines. You're not that special. You've lost your reason for being.' "

America already has a Sysco foods, after all, which supplies general staples in bulk. What Goya is becoming is a Sysco for the new America, where chipotle is as common as ketchup.

At the end of the day, what's good for immigrant America is good for Goya. "We are a country of immigrants, and thank goodness," he says. "Because that way, we can tailor our product lines to all those who are coming in."
The reason the ethnic food aisle is Steve King's nightmare is that Goya, and by "Goya" I mean the entire shifting marketplace, is making the multicultural into the normal. It humanizes the alien. It rejects King's premise that "American" = native born and English Only.

America's vision of immigration has historically been the "melting pot" where distinctions eventually blur into the surrounding Progresso Soup. Canadians, in contrast, have defined themselves as a "mosaic" culture, where each sub-culture remains distinct yet contributes to one big picture. It helps that Canada was founded as and remains a bilingual nation - which America is rapidly becoming.

The economic vitality in places like West Liberty and Columbus Junction - and increasingly my own Iowa City - is in the growing Hispanic community. Republicans could easily choose to make that part of an enterprising vision. Instead, they're fixated on Know-Nothing monoculturalism, on Enforce The Law. You will be assimilated (or deported). Resistance Is Futile.

The smart ones get it. The national big thinkers get it, which helped land King's Democratic opponent Jim Mowrer on the front page of Roll Call yesterday. But too often they're drowned out by the reactionaries, the Republicans thinking in the short run, the ones who want to retreat to an imaginary processes cheese America that never really was. Me? I like things a little more spicy.

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