Monthly Archives: November 2007

Outer Mongolians Inside the Beltway

This may be old news to Beltwaytards, but it’s new news to me, from the Washington Post of 3 July 2006:

The Mongolian Children’s Festival, in its third year, highlights a little-known fact about life in Arlington County — that the Mongolian community has become a force. After English and Spanish, the school system’s most common language is Mongolian.

Mongolians in Arlington are a new phenomenon, most arriving in the past five years, and they seem to have an innate talent for fitting in. Within months, most Mongolian children prattle comfortably in English and embrace U.S. fashions, music and dance moves.

Traditionally a nomadic culture of horsemen, Mongolians lived for years as a Soviet satellite with no access to the west. In 1990, after a democratic revolution, Mongolia opened up, and its 2.5 million citizens were allowed outside the Iron Curtain.

Many went abroad in search of better-paying work and opportunities for their children, although it often meant doing jobs beneath their training (doctors might work as orderlies or sandwich vendors). An estimated 15,000 to 18,000 Mongolians live in the United States, with large enclaves in California, Colorado, Illinois and Arlington, which the Mongolian Embassy says is home to about 2,600.

Why Arlington? Community leaders say it was simply where the first arrivals happened to settle. More followed, coming on student and tourist visas, and they helped each other find jobs and apartments.

But the county’s schools also played a role. Bolormaa Jugdersuren, a Mongolian who is an instructional assistant at Williamsburg Middle School in North Arlington, originally moved to Baltimore and enrolled her children in schools there — until she compared their progress to that of Mongolian children in Arlington.

“I felt like my children were missing something,” she said. After moving here, their English improved quickly. “That’s why most Mongolian people come here,” she said. “Because they choose first the education for their offspring.”

via The Marmot’s Hole

I wonder if Arlington High School or Washington-Lee High School has a sumo team. Instead of dividing the wrestlers into East and West teams for tournament matchups, they could divide them into North and South.

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Tessaku Seikatsu: Mainland vs. Hawaii Internees

From Life behind Barbed Wire [鉄柵生活 Tessaku Seikatsu]: The World War II Internment Memoirs of a Hawai‘i Issei, by Yasutaro Soga [1873–1957] (U. Hawai‘i Press, 2008), pp. 81-83:

Internees from the Mainland were more rebellious than those from Hawaii. From the point of view of Americans, this kind of behavior was seen as extremely disloyal but, given the pitiful circumstances under which mainland Japanese were placed, it was to be expected. I would not be exaggerating if I said that part of the responsibility for the recalcitrance of these internees rested on the United States government. Japanese in Hawaii were very lucky in comparison. Throughout the war, most were allowed to live comfortably and keep their businesses. For this we must thank Lieutenant General Emmons, a fair and intelligent man, who was commander in Hawaii when the war broke out.

When the first and second Hawaii groups came into contact with internees from the Mainland, they were generally considered inferior. (By the time I arrived at Lordsburg [NM], this was no longer the case.) Japanese from Panama and South America were also held in low esteem, so they felt much closer to internees from Hawaii. Japanese resent being discriminated against, but they themselves are prone to “closing ranks” to exclude others. Few ethnic groups exhibit this kind of behavior: It is definitely one of the shortcomings of Japanese. Those from the Mainland had suffered greatly under anti-Japanese policies and regulations, so they tried, consciously or unconsciously, to gain satisfaction by excluding those whom they considered to be “outsiders”—Japanese from Hawaii, Panama, and South America.

After we had lived together for awhile, the Mainlanders began to think better of us. Hawaii people often took the lead in promoting events and participated in many camp activities: theatricals, exhibitions, and sports, including sumo and softball. They began to realize we were fairly strong in not only number but also character. We received monthly remittances of fixed amounts from home and were the best customers at the canteen (camp store), which gave us a certain amount of clout. What we hated most was being blamed by Mainlanders whenever something went wrong. But in general we were not reproached and maintained a good reputation in the camps. I think this was due to our strong willpower….

Among Mainland Japanese were quite a number of illegal immigrants who had jumped ship in the San Diego area in southern California to work as fishermen or had smuggled themselves into the United States from Mexico. Lured to this land of Canaan, where honey and milk were said to be flowing, hundreds of Japanese and Chinese attempted the crossing. All along the vast, barren border lie the bones of many adventurers who failed. Swindlers offering transport to the United States for several hundred dollars would open their cargo doors while flying and dump their “shipment” in the middle of the desert without a second thought. I heard all of this from a man who lived in Mexico.

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Tessaku Seikatsu, May 1942

From Life behind Barbed Wire [鉄柵生活 Tessaku Seikatsu]: The World War II Internment Memoirs of a Hawai‘i Issei, by Yasutaro Soga [1873–1957] (U. Hawai‘i Press, 2008), pp. 61-62

We all welcomed newcomers and anything they could tell us of the outside world, but we were also cautious. Many new arrivals held grudges, blaming their arrests on others and calling them “dogs” for collaborating with the FBI. We heard many such allegations. Those of us arrested on December 7, the day the war began, had no such complaints. From the outset we had been listed as persons to be interned if war broke out between the United States and Japan. Some people who should have been listed were not, which of course did not sit well with most of us. A colleague of mine from another island was in Honolulu on business when war was declared. Desperate to return home, he asked a prominent Japanese to speak to the military authorities. When he returned to his hotel, however, an FBI agent was there to arrest him. Both men were in newspaper-related work, so they were prime candidates for internment anyway, but the prominent one escaped incarceration. Similar examples of perceived discrepancies led to suspicion and malicious gossip.

Among the newer arrivals was a minister from Honolulu who joined us at Sand Island about six months later. He gave a lecture one evening, saying: “Quite a few of you who arrived here early on have grown timid. You must be strong! Japan is now waging a sacred war of hachigen ichi-u!” (The correct phrase is hakko ichi-u, meaning “the whole world under one roof.”) Disgusted by his pretentious exhortation, a half-dozen listeners walked out. They ridiculed the priest, saying, “Humph—what nerve! He talks big now, but before his arrest he was running scared. He doesn’t even know his Japanese!”

Most internees worked inside the barbed-wire fence. Even the authorities could not force us to work beyond the fence. The vegetable gardens were located outside the camp, so only volunteers could work there. One Sunday, defense workers at a nearby site took the day off, so some internees were recruited to take their place. The camp authorities got into trouble when the labor union protested.

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Orlando Figes on Stalin’s Collaborators

In the NYT Sunday Book Review, Joshua Rubenstein reviews The Whisperers: Private Life in Stalin’s Russia, by Orlando Figes (Metropolitan Books/Henry Holt, 2007).

For many years, Orlando Figes observes, the memoirs of intellectual dissidents, like Eugenia Ginzburg and Nadezhda Mandelstam, and the work of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, “were widely greeted as the ‘authentic voice’ of ‘the silenced,’” telling us “what it had ‘been like’ to live through the Stalin Terror as an ordinary citizen.” Their books did indeed reflect the experience of people like themselves, who were “strongly committed to ideals of freedom and individualism.” But they did not represent what happened to millions of other people who were not opponents of the regime and did not engage in any kind of substantial dissent, but were still dispatched to labor camps, to exile in remote settlements or to summary execution. As Figes, a leading historian of the Soviet period, concludes in “The Whisperers,” his extraordinary book about the impact of the gulag on “the inner world of ordinary citizens,” a great many victims “silently accepted and internalized the system’s basic values” and “conformed to its public rules.” Behind highly documented episodes of persecution, famine and war lie quieter, desperate stories of individuals and families who did what they could to survive, to find one another and to come to terms with the burden of being physically and psychologically broken. But it was not only repression that tore families apart. The regime’s reliance on “mutual surveillance” complicated their moral burden, instilling feelings of shame and guilt that endured long after years of imprisonment and exile.

The widespread use of communal apartments facilitated government oppression. Initially designed to address a severe housing crisis, the apartments turned into “a means of extending the state’s powers of surveillance into the private spaces of the family home.” Families could monitor one another, reporting any hint of disloyalty. Spouses and children could be sent away after an arrest or an execution. The age of criminal responsibility was lowered to 12 in order to reinforce pressure on adults to cooperate with interrogators and spare their children. A wife was expected to divorce her arrested husband….

The case of Aleksandr Tvardovsky exemplified the way families could be torn apart by moral degradation. Tvardovsky is remembered for being an accomplished poet and the courageous editor of Novy Mir (New World), a literary journal that, during the Khrushchev period in the late 1950s and early ’60s, published outspoken material about the Stalin years, including work by Solzhenitsyn and the memoirs of Ilya Ehrenburg.

But Tvardovsky had his own troubling background. His father and brothers had been arrested on political grounds in 1931, and Aleksandr, wanting to pursue a literary career, refused to maintain contact. As he wrote to them: “I am neither a barbarian nor an animal. I ask you to fortify yourselves, to be patient and to work. The liquidation of the kulaks as a class does not mean the liquidation of people, even less the liquidation of children.” He concluded by insisting they not communicate with him. Two months later, his father fled his place of exile to find his estranged son. Tvardovsky betrayed him to the police. Compelled “to choose between one’s family and the Revolution,” Tvardovsky, like many others, refused to give in to “abstract humanitarianism.”

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Tessaku Seikatsu: German & Italian Internees

From Life behind Barbed Wire [鉄柵生活 Tessaku Seikatsu]: The World War II Internment Memoirs of a Hawai‘i Issei, by Yasutaro Soga [1873–1957] (U. Hawai‘i Press, 2008), pp. 49-50:

About seventy to eighty Germans and Italians were interned in one corner of Sand Island. Their living quarters were next to the Japanese mess hall, and beyond that stood the women’s barracks. Among them were company men, brewing technicians, doctors, laborers, and a young engineer whom I knew from the Waikiki Rotary Club. I spoke occasionally with an old man who had been arrested on Molokai. There were also Dr. Zimmerman, who made news when a petition for a writ of habeas corpus was filed on his behalf, and the dashing young son of the minister of the interior of a northern European country who had cruised around the world in a speedboat. We were envious of those, like Professor Tower of the University of Hawaii, who were released early from Sand Island. Mr. Liebricht, a violinist, was paroled later.

Those in charge at the camps did not seem to discriminate in their treatment of Europeans and Japanese. Generally speaking, Germans and Italians gave them much more trouble than Japanese. They often quarreled among themselves, tattling to the authorities like children. In the end, they were ignored. As for cleanliness, Japanese were far superior. Apparently the toilets and bathrooms in the European barracks were very dirty.

At the beginning of 1942, Germans and Italians were also sent to the Mainland. Thirteen men who were American citizens returned to Sand Island on April 28, 1942; a new rule stipulated that citizens could no longer be sent to the Mainland. Those who returned reported on the conditions of various camps and on the Mainland in general, which led me to feel I would be better off going there as soon as possible. Around this time, Captain S became our commander at Sand Island. Once when I was talking to two or three Germans in violation of camp rules, Captain S approached us and asked, “What are you talking about?” I answered, “I was asking about friends who went to the Mainland.” He said calmly, “It’s against the rules, so you should avoid talking to one another.” I replied courteously, “I understand.” If it had been Captain E, I would have gotten a verbal thrashing.

Of the German prisoners, Mr. Otto Kuehn was the most famous. While he was imprisoned in a solitary cell, his wife and beautiful daughter (the wife of a U.S. army officer) were kept in a small cottage in front of the women’s barracks. I do not know what Mr. Kuehn did for a living, but because he had an ongoing relationship with the Japanese Consulate he was indicted as a spy and sentenced to death. Later his sentence was reduced to fifty years imprisonment. After Mr. Kuehn was transferred to a prison on the Mainland his wife and daughter followed. He was the only spy arrested in Hawaii.

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Tessaku Seikatsu, December 1941

From Life behind Barbed Wire [鉄柵生活 Tessaku Seikatsu]: The World War II Internment Memoirs of a Hawai‘i Issei, by Yasutaro Soga [1873–1957] (U. Hawai‘i Press, 2008), pp. 34-35:

On December 24, our first Christmas Eve since our arrest, Mr. Masaji Marumoto arrived at the camp accompanied by an FBI agent. This was the first time someone from the outside (other than military personnel) had visited us. Mr. Marumoto, a lawyer, had come to write powers of attorney, and I asked to meet with him. We were allowed to speak in Japanese, but of course the FBI agent present was fluent in Japanese. Upon his arrival, Mr. Marumoto’s face became deathly pale, perhaps because he saw our surroundings and old friends badly in need of a shave and a change of clothes. I asked Mr. Marumoto to contact my wife about sending me some clothes. Half a month had passed since our arrival at the camp, and Mr. Daizo Sumida, Dr. Takahashi, and I had yet to receive a letter or parcel. We later found out that our letters had crossed with those from home, but at the time we felt somewhat frustrated and suffered from a lack of spare underwear. The day after Mr. Marumoto’s visit, all three of us received parcels of clothes from home.

For Christmas, we were treated to turkey at lunch. The Germans and Italians hastily put up a simple Christmas tree in the mess hall. That night one of the German detainees, a lecturer at the University of Hawaii, gave a talk, and many Japanese attended. He said that he would pray for a quick end to the war and everyone’s good health and that we be reunited with our families for Christmas next year….

On the first day of 1942, our first New Year’s Day since our arrest, we did not get even a piece of mochi (rice cake) and did not feel festive at all. We were filled with anxiety, frustration, and hopelessness—not only for ourselves, but also for the families we had left behind. Unless a man was extremely confident and optimistic, it was to be expected that here he might develop “nerves” or begin to display odd behavior. I noticed that men who had been fond of “talking big” outside were now depressed, turning into shadows of their former selves. Still others, refusing to face reality, clung to their prewar social status, which created problems for everyone.

When we are reduced to living at the most basic level, our good and bad points are clearly exposed. On the whole, educators and priests showed themselves to be the worst of the lot. I was not the only one who felt this way. Of course there are always exceptions: There are many respectable teachers and priests. I regret to say, however, that in the camp I was disappointed in most of them.

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Ogasawara Mixed Language: English in Japanese

From English on the Bonin (Ogasawara) Islands, by Daniel Long (Duke U. Press, 2007; Publication of the American Dialect Society, no. 91; Supplement to American Speech, vol. 81), chap. 10:

At the end of the Pacific War, the U.S. Navy occupied the Ogasawara Islands and permitted only the families of Western descent to return, along with their spouses and children, whether Japanese, Western, or mixed. These families were all bilingual and mixed Japanese and English in their speech. Before the war, monolingual Japanese officials stigmatized the mixed language as “English,” but after the war, monolingual American officials stigmatized it as “Japanese.” However, the islanders took pride in their bilingual heritage, and some of this “Navy generation” of Ogasawara Islands claim they purposely created Ogasawara Mixed Language (OML). Here are some examples from interviews recorded with some of these baby boomers during the 1990s.

Pronouns

  • Me no sponsor no, anō, nan to yū no? Sono French door, anō glass door ga warete, water ga up to the knee datta. ‘My sponsor’s—that, what do you call it? Their French door, that glass door broke and water was up to the knee.’
  • Uchi no Mama was no leg man mo mita-zutta zo. Anoo, heitai no clothes kite. You no ojiisan, too, he had lots of stories. ‘My mama said she even saw a one-legged man, uh, wearing army clothes. Your grandpa too, he had lots of stories.’

Temporal expressions

  • I remember I was only about twelve da kedo. Kinky tachi saa, Kinky to ka aretachi. Guam kara kaette kita ja, sugu. Sou darou? May, May no twentieth da to omou n da yo ne. May twentieth ka May twenty-fourth gurai da to omou. ‘I remember I was only about twelve, but Kinky and them, um, Kinky and all of them had come back from Guam, you know. About May twentieth or May twenty-fourth, I think.’
  • Every year. Mada aru yo, decorations, sukoshi. Twelve years old gurai no toki, chotto Christmas tree kazari hazimete. ‘Every year—I still have them, the decorations, a few. When I was about twelve years old, we started Christmas tree decorating a bit.’

Wraparound structures

  • It’s about three times gurai yatta ne. ‘It did it about three times, huh?’
  • We bought about two pounds gurai katte kita no. ‘We bought about two pounds.’

Basic vocabulary

  • Dakara face to name ga chigau kara. ‘It’s because the face and name don’t match up.’

Phrases as well as words

  • Aa, tsunami no toki? Me to mama wa last one to get out of there, yama ni nobotte. ‘The time of the tsunami? Me and Mama were the last ones to get out of there, climbing up the hill.’

OML versus code-mixing

OML differs in many significant ways from normal code-mixing or code-switching between English and Japanese. When Japanese code-mix, for example, they generally do NOT: (a) ignore honorifics (keigo), (b) ignore polite forms (teineigo), (c) use English pronouns, (d) incorporate English whole phrase structure, (e) use English phonology, or (f) use English counters. These are all significant features of OML.

Passing of a transient language

Since the reversion of the islands to Japan in 1968 and the subsequent incursion of ethnic-Japanese (now outnumbering the Westerners ten fold), OML has fallen deeper and deeper into disuse. For elderly (those raised before the war) and middle-aged (raised in the Navy Era) Westerners, the decreasing usage of OML seems to correspond to a decreasing desire to distinguish themselves from their new and returned ethnic-Japanese neighbors. Even when they do wish to assert their uniqueness, there is less need to rely on language to accomplish that. The Westerners had many things in common with the Navy personnel, but they relied on OML (or on Japanese) to distinguish themselves from the Americans. These days, they have many nonlinguistic aspects which they can employ. These include their non-Japanese given and family names, their participation in the Christian church, their non-Asian physical appearances, and their common heritage and shared experiences.

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Mongolians, Estonian Dominate Sumo Tourney

In the absence of Asashoryu, who has been under suspension, the junior and better-behaved Mongolian yokozuna, Hakuho (12-3), won his 5th Grand Sumo Tournament, while the smallest Mongolian, Ama (10-5), won his 2nd Outstanding Performance Award; the giant Estonian, Baruto (11-4), won his 2nd Fighting Spirit Award; and Fukuoka native Kotoshogiku (9-6) won his 2nd Technique Prize. I think they should hold the Natsu Basho (in May) in Ulan Bator instead of Tokyo each year. There are now seven Mongolians in the Makuuchi ranks and five in the Juryo ranks.

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How Civil Society Returned to South Gate

From Antonio’s Gun and Delfino’s Dream: True Tales of Mexican Migration, by Sam Quinones (U. New Mexico Press, 2007), pp. 107-110:

Like the PRI in Mexico, Albert and his allies had seemed invincible. But in the end, like the PRI, they folded because there wasn’t much left to hold them up. South Gate voted by an eight to one margin to recall Albert Robles and his allies. Some eight thousand voters turned out—small compared to the twenty-six thousand registered voters in town, but four times more than usual. People formed lines twenty deep to vote.

Albert Robles was recalled, along with Moriel, Ruvalcaba and silent Maria Benavides. Elected in their places were Steve Gutierrez, Greg Martinez, and Maria Davila. Rudy Navarro was elected treasurer.

Remarkably, though, the battle still wasn’t over. Albert and his allies had succeeded in postponing the recall so that it was held only a few weeks before the regularly scheduled election in March 2003. Six weeks after the January recall, everyone had to run again. It was the fifth South Gate election in five years.

By now, though, Albert Robles’s name stained anyone near it. The coffee klatches, Community In Action, the press coverage, and the D.A. investigations combined to arouse the people of South Gate. Neither Albert nor his allies campaigned.

Instead, in their last week in office, Robles and his managers wrote city checks for $2.1 million, mostly to lawyers. South Gate’s assistant finance director told the Los Angeles Times that he was forced to take much of the money from the city’s rainy-day reserve fund, while Albert, City Manager Jesse Marez, and several attorneys stood over him….

In the weeks that followed the March 2003 election, South Gate showed signs of returning to normalcy. At the first council meeting, Fr. John Provenza declared the first council meeting after the recall to be “a great day for the city of South Gate, a day when we can rejoice in the hope for democracy.” Community In Action started up again. The new city council addressed issues like street-sweeping fees and declared one week to be “Always Buckle Children in the Back Seat Week.” People who got up to speak at council meetings were not ejected. The council chambers were packed. The high attendance probably wouldn’t last long, but I thought it was nice to see nonetheless.

After the election, I dropped by the office of Rudy Navarro, who’d just been elected city treasurer. Rudy was twenty-three. He said he’d just graduated from San Diego State University with degrees in finance and political science. He wanted to go to law school, but for the moment he was the treasurer of a nearly bankrupt city. State auditors were coming to inspect South Gate’s books.

“We gave away a house!” he began, still incredulous. “The day after they left office, we stopped a half a million dollars from going out.”

The city’s payroll had risen from 340 employees to 570 in two years, he said. Contractual landmines were everywhere, and the city would be paying for them for years. The new police uniforms. The attorneys. The police badges. The loans to George Garrido. The $3.2-million Community Services Department that did nothing. South Gate looked like a dictatorship after the dictator had fled.

Still, Navarro had a healthy attitude toward it all. “To me, it’s a golden opportunity,” he said. “It’s tough on six hundred dollars a month, but … I have this opportunity to do something great, and you can’t beat that.”

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How Caudillismo Came to South Gate

From Antonio’s Gun and Delfino’s Dream: True Tales of Mexican Migration, by Sam Quinones (U. New Mexico Press, 2007), pp. 77-79:

Albert [Robles] had arrived in 1991 as a young Latino eager to get involved, someone people wanted to help. But by 2000, folks active in city politics saw him as a Latino Joe McCarthy, a bully unacquainted with scruples….

Albert showed himself willing to fully use the perks of elected office. As treasurer, he hired a staff of four for what had always been a one-person job. He ran for the water-district job promising to abolish the district that “sucked money out of the pockets of people.” Yet as board member, he charged the district more than sixteen thousand dollars for classes in acting, finance, flight simulation, and seminars by inspirational speaker Tony Robbins. Robbins held particular fascination for Albert, and he often attended the speaker’s seminars, rising to hold a platinum membership in Robbins’s business.

People routinely began to describe Albert as “evil,” with no hyperbole intended. Later, Mexican immigrants would call him the cucuy—the boogeyman. People watched him with the same awe and horror as they might a passing hurricane. They spent hours thinking about him, analyzing his tactics and motives, sputtering at his audacity.

“He’s the best villain ever,” said Frank Rivera, a leader in South Gate‘s police union. “He’s a short, fat little guy who gets all the money, all the women, all the cars, and he doesn’t go away until the end of the movie. And even at the end of the movie there’s still a chance for him to come back and grab you. That’s Albert Robles. He is the cucuy. You can’t even mention his name without fearing that he might have somebody listening. If he were a pinata, I could honestly get people to line up for some stick time on him.”

Albert’s life attracted bizarre rumors. It was hard to know what was true. Still I took the rumors as at least a sign of how people thought of him and, after a while, of what they were willing to believe. He was said to be a great follower of Sen. Huey Long, the populist from Louisiana. He was said to have photos of John F. Kennedy and Adolf Hider on his wall. He was obsessed with guns and owned many. People said he ate bread and sweets to excess and that this was one reason his moods swung so wildly and why he never quite won the battle with his paunch. His mother was supposed to have cared for comedian Richard Pryor after Pryor lighted himself on fire smoking cocaine. Robles’s father was supposed to have once been a Roman Catholic priest, leaving the priesthood to marry Robles’s mother. His father had an affinity for great philosophers. Robles’s brother was an ex-convict named Mahatma Gandhi Robles.

What was undeniable was that by 2000, Albert had assembled an impressive array of enemies: city unions and business owners, white seniors, and a good many Latino politicians; and soon, the editorial board of every newspaper in the area. Pastors at South Gate churches usually avoided politics. But Fr. John Provenza, the local Roman Catholic priest, eventually blessed a campaign kickoff of a Robles opponent. He noted in a bulletin to his congregation that three Robles opponents regularly attended mass. Provenza and Lutheran minister Chuck Brady spoke at a rally of Robles’s opponents.

“We pray for Albert,” said Brady. Robles, in turn, called himself David confronting the establishment’s Goliath. He was a friend of the little guy whom the political elite had ignored. “Competition in these small cities was nonexistent. Now there’s competition,” he told me. “That’s why you see people trying to knock down the Albert Robleses of the world. Albert came to fill a need for leadership within the Latino community.”

As I spent time in South Gate, it seemed to me that Albert was an essay in the contravention of small-town political customs. In most small towns, councilmen have lives and full-time jobs outside city hall. In California, they receive only $600 a month in salary to ensure that politics remain community service. Indeed, everyone in South Gate politics had outside jobs and families. Only Albert did not. He lived from income derived from his jobs as city treasurer ($75,000 a year, until a referendum reduced it to $600 a month) and water-district board member ($40,000 a year). Later, when he was running the entire city government, his council created the job of deputy city manager, at $111,000 a year, and hired Albert. Thus he had the time, desire, and eventually the money to devote to politics.

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