In praise of libraries and library taxes

davidkipen

On Monday I emailed L.A. book critic, KPCC contributor, lending library owner (Libros Schmibros in Boyle Heights), former NEA official and literacy advocate David Kipen to share my column about Measure PPL on Tuesday’s ballot to aid the Pomona Public Library. He’d cared enough to attend a Pomona council meeting in 2012 about the library.

He replied with a short but thoughtful essay for me to share if I chose — and I do choose.

“Name me a great man or woman who never owned a public library card. I defy you. On the off chance they don’t use the card much anymore, it’s because they’ve parlayed early library use into the kind of success that buys you any book you need, or earns you access to a great university library.

“The only reason I can think of not to support a library bond issue is if you’ve been so burned by the dumb things government sometimes does that you don’t trust it anymore to do a smart one. I can understand that. I can understand it better than a former G-man like me ought to admit. But I promise you this: If you think your government wastes your money now, just wait until your local library cuts its hours, or closes completely. Just wait till people without library cards start casting the deciding vote — the few of them who bother to vote at all — to elect your leaders. Then you’ll see what government incompetence really looks like.

“But if I can’t convince you to support your library, just make me this one promise in return. After the library bond passes without you, do me a favor and pay a visit to your new library. Look around you. See a librarian, who could be making triple the salary in a law firm across town, helping somebody who just lost a job find work. See a librarian connecting patrons with novels that somehow make them feel just a little less alone. See a librarian reading to kids whose parents don’t make the time to. See all this — and then see if you don’t, like me, find yourself supporting library funding every chance you get.”

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‘Ask a Mexican’ about Mexican food

gustavo

If you missed Gustavo Arellano’s talk last Tuesday in Pomona, you were in good company: There were only seven of us, and five of them were part of the library-connected group that invited him.

One member of the general public was there, who’d seen the announcement on my Facebook page that morning. (By the way, 18 people “liked” my post, and then went on with their lives.) I’d say the talk wasn’t well-publicized, which is likely true, except I did see an advertisement in the Claremont Courier, which evidently spurred no one to action.

As it was, having heard a version of Gustavo’s talk twice before, in Claremont and Upland, I skipped out for dinner. Mexican, obviously. (Look for an upcoming Restaurant of the Week post on that.) I missed the mayor’s quick appearance, during which he mispronounced “Arellano,” which led to some unkind remarks by Gustavo on his own FB page.

But I caught some of his talk. As he researched “Taco USA: How Mexican Food Conquered America,” Arellano, who writes the syndicated “Ask a Mexican” column, traveled the country eating Mexican food in 46 of the 50 states, all but Alaska, Hawaii, Louisiana and Maine.

“Everyone’s definition of Mexican food is different,” Arellano said. One epiphany came in New Mexico, where friends took him out for something called breakfast tacos, which he’d never before encountered. Asked what a Mexican breakfast in Southern California consists of, he told them about breakfast burritos, whose contents they scoffed at.

Arellano gave up worrying about authenticity. “It’s either all authentic or none of it is authentic,” he concluded. He decided to embrace everything, taking a Pope Francis-like “who am I to judge?” approach.

Someone asked him about the best Mexican food in Pomona, which he threw to me to answer, as he’s an OC guy. Someone else jumped in to suggest Taqueria de Anda, with which I would concur, and Tacos Jalisco, which I’ve seen but never took seriously; I offered Tijuana’s Tacos¬†and got an amen.

A question came up about the chain Taco John’s, which is based in Wyoming. The questioner ate there in Nebraska; I ate there in Illinois, and it’s the first and only place I had Mexican food for several years. “Their great innovation is tater tots as Mexican food,” Arellano cracked.

He wasn’t criticizing, he was just saying. “What’s so great about Mexican food,” he added, “is that it adapts to the environment.”

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Column: Remembering Richard Sather, Pomona’s first casualty of Vietnam

Sunday’s column is about a Navy pilot from Pomona who died 50 years ago Tuesday during a retaliatory air strike for the Gulf of Tonkin skirmish. Researching it was a learning experience: I’d heard of the Gulf of Tonkin incident and resolution but didn’t know much about them. Anyway, it seemed worthwhile to remember Dick Sather a half-century after his death, and I hope you’ll agree.

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