Getting lost in the crowd

HAVE you got team spirit?

I’m referring to liking one team more than another. I’m talking about being so identified with one team or one school or one community that you call them “ours” or “we” when they win, even though you are not literally on the baseball team.

The fiercest rivalry in college sports in Los Angeles is between the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) and the University of Southern California (USC). Fans come down on one side or the other, with no divided loyalties.

At my Bible study group, some of the guys enjoy some friendly ribbing regarding USC and UCLA, mostly over the outcome of the respective football and basketball teams.
Being from New York, I was brought up by my father to be a New York Yankees fan. He took me in his Chevy Impala to see Mickey Mantle, Bobby Richardson and Joe Pepitone play. Later, I would drive to the South Bronx to cheer on Willie Randolph, Ron Guidry and Graig Nettles.
I still like the Yanks, but really, I like baseball.

That means, I will cheer on other teams and even cheer another player from a “rival” team if he made a good play. Not being a Dodger fan, I admire Nomar Garciaparra as a very good player and a great guy. I enjoyed watching the Jackie Robinson tribute.

In college, can school spirit create a cliquish atmosphere? Can it segregate or be dangerous, especially if one doesn’t live and breathe school spirit? Or if one rejects it?

A psychologist was asked last week why school massacres occur mostly in small towns. He said often, places like University of Texas or Virginia Tech or Columbine have strong, sometimes smothering school identities. You’re either a Longhorn or a Hokie – no room for anything else. If you’re not doing the body painting and the identity disappearing act, then you’re an outcast. Criticize that school and you are labeled a traitor.

The psychologist on the TV talk show said the misfits of VT, UT, Columbine, etc., are so outcast that they lose all hope. The mentally unstable can blow. In physics talk, the force has no positive way to flow, so it finds an outlet.

I had an uncle in NYC who spoke of this in Italian family metaphors. “You’re either in or out,” he’d say. You’re either family or not. He’d jokingly come up to my sister-in-law – a Jew – who married my brother and say: “You can never be in. You’ll always be out.” He said the same thing to my wife, who hails from a white, Protestant, Scots-Irish background.

I always dismissed his antics as harmless joking. Likewise, I never saw anything sinister about “being true to your school now” as the Beach Boys sang 44 years ago.
Then it happened. I attended a “Jeopardy!” college championship taping Sunday on the USC campus. My wife, Karen, and my two boys, Matt, 17, and Andy, 15, are huge “Jeopardy!” buffs. Matt even tried out for the high school tournament and got a call back, but he fell a few answers shy of an appearance.

Of the three contestants was Cliff from UCLA. The USC people in the audience were rooting against the kid from UCLA from the get-go. The USC marching band was gesturing in appreciation when he missed a question. I know, I sat directly behind them. They didn’t applaud when he answered a “Daily Double” correctly. Even the adults, many dressed in USC cardinal and gold, did not cheer on the UCLA scholar. And these were adults – alums.

I was flabbergasted.

There was not a contestant competing from USC, and yet these USC alums and students still could not cheer a student from UCLA answering questions on a game show. That’s taking this school loyalty thing way too far.

Perhaps there’s something to that psychologists’ assessment of school spirit.
One final note: I attended University of California, Irvine in the late ’70s. The school did not have a “serious” mascot because they didn’t want the school to focus on athletics, so the students mockingly chose an anteater. Well, guess what? It stuck. They are the UCI Anteaters today, but the school does not have a football team.

I remember UCI founding Chancellor Dan Aldrich, who passed away in 1990, would tell the story about how the school did not have fraternities or sororities either. Again, the idea was not to divide the school society. Not to set up cliques where students not rich enough or not good-looking enough can feel ostracized or outcast. When I left UCI, the “Greek” movement had begun, to Aldrich’s displeasure.

Guess it is hard to stop human nature.

I can’t help but wonder if the joke is on them. That students who have to identify so heavily with a team or a school or a fraternity miss out on developing their own identity. It’s like that old Groucho Marx joke: I wouldn’t want to join a club that would have me as a member.

Status Quo Economics

Its the economics that drive this issue. And if something is to change, it must start with the businesses that hire illegal immigrants.

THERES nothing like a change of scenery to gain a fresh perspective on an issue. Take illegal immigration.

I spent five days in eastern Kansas (Johnson County) and Kansas City, Mo., last week and guess what? There are no illegal immigrants hanging around the Home Depot stores. The people who bus and wait tables? Local residents, college students. Gardeners and domestic workers? Legal citizens.

It was the same way last year when I visited Portland and Salem, Ore. College kids and teenagers were working at McDonalds and Wendys and at the various ethnic restaurants, busing tables, mopping floors, taking orders.

Such anecdotal evidence throws out one of the basic arguments for illegal immigration that no one will do such menial jobs except those crossing into the United States illegally. Tell that to Oregon, Kansas and Missouri. If they can fill those low-tier jobs with American citizens or recent legal immigrants, why cant California? Of course, it is not that simple.

And let me stop and say right now that I know the meaning of illegal immigration. It is illegal against the law. So, in essence, yes, that part is simple. But just for a few moments, Id like to talk about the non-simple part: economics. See, it is always money that belies our social problems in this country.

People come into the United States illegally from Mexico, El Salvador and other parts of South America or China or wherever because they are poor and see a better opportunity in the USA. Theres no denying that is true. We have a great country with a rich economy that is much stronger than those immigrant countries.

Second, there is what social psychologists call conditioning. Illegal immigration is a conditioned response. Its been going on for decades and both sides of the border have gotten used to it, even relied upon it. People make it over, sometimes after numerous tries, sometimes risking death from heat exhaustion, always with self-sacrifice, often leaving behind family members they may never see again.

They do it because there are industries i.e. jobs, dollars waiting on this side of the border. Restaurants, construction businesses, homeowners and the biggest of all, agribusiness, will hire illegal immigrants for less and for fewer or no benefits. They work hard and some may start their own businesses and soon, the economy adjusts, even prospers. There is also a price America pays in terms of health care and hospital emergency rooms, law enforcement and education costs. But thats for another column.

Congress has authorized more border patrol agents and is building a large fence across our southern border. And some sources say illegal crossings are down. But agriculture firms in the Central Valley, which have become reliant on cheap labor, are complaining about too few workers to harvest the crops. Upper middle class and upper class residents in L.A. say prices of car washes, restaurant meals, day care and domestic help will rise if illegal immigration is curbed. Again, theyve become conditioned to inexpensive labor. I say, these same jobs can be filled eventually but at legal wage by legal residents.

I had a friend my age who grew up in the Central Valley. He was white and poor. He and his brothers would pick almonds in the summer. Now, these jobs are usually given to illegal immigrants.Would white folks pick fruit and almonds today? Farmers say no. Id suspect the white folks would say no as well. Why? Because the social conditions have changed. Now, Mexicans, Salvadorans, Guatemalans, etc., work on our farms in California. They are on the lower rung of the social ladder.

It was the same way in the 1920s and 1930s when my mothers mother, my grandmother Pompelia, and her two sisters, Josephine and Matilda, came over by boat from Italy and were processed as legal immigrants at Ellis Island in New York. They took garment worker jobs today they are called sweatshops. My grandfather, Matteo Mimmo, went to work in the steel mills in Pittsburgh. He was an educated man and soon learned the masonry trade and established his own business in New York.

They were legal immigrants but faced similar economic conditions to those illegal immigrants face today. They were taunted as WOPs and dagos yet climbed the social ladder by learning English and going to school, as do most legal immigrants today (whether Latino, Asian or European.)

Its the economics that drive this issue. And if something is to change, it must start with the businesses that hire illegal immigrants. Or are they and us too conditioned to the status quo to bring about changes?