I recently took an online test that purported to measure how much of a Californian you are. It asked questions about how to give directions – you make liberal use of the article “the” when describing highways – neighborhoods, beaches, avocados and parks. I scored 100%. Yeah. I’m not sure of the validity of the test, but WTH. I’ve been here more than 20 years, which is more than I’ve been anywhere, including my boyhood in Michigan and West Virginia. Among others.
On the basis of that credential, I am going to offer the following commentary on my neo-hometown: Bakersfield. I surely know more about that than the rest of California, so there you go.
First: I get the Okie past and the OilJesus™ present. The Good Ol’ Boys and their sons are right proud of all that and hugely dependent on it. They are also victims to it. The oil market is famously volatile and Bako’s fortunes rise and fall with the price of crude. Check. It’s small wonder the downtimes are understood to be the fault of gummint intervention and whatnot. The GOP has got them convinced that the Invisible Hand of the Market cures all ills but don’tcha dare ask for a higher minimum wage! So the vagaries of an International Commodities Market? Shoo. No worries, boss.
Second: it’s just historical description by now to understand how the Christian Evangelical crowd got pulled in by the GOP. I mean all that Radical Inclusion on that side (sark light burning bright). Letting just anybody get incorporated into the body politic? Oh Gawd. It was bad enough when they were building Joss Houses downtown. But now it’s Mosques and Gurdwaras and Temples and Lord knows what-all. And now they claim the RIGHT to be taught in the schools by some other language than good ol’ English! And the Prayer in Schools and the War on Christmas. And the Babies. Oh, the Babies don’t forget the Babies.
Third: the junkie-like addiction to suburban development has struck Bako like so many other California towns. But in Bako’s case there is a distinct dearth of anything else. We’ve only EVER had A) Oil and B) Agriculture. After those two? Nada. So now we have the City and the County opening up the fields to suburban developments by the dozen. The big housing bubble we just barely survived? It only just sorta slowed them down.
If you’re not familiar with the suburban jonesing that mid-size California towns in particular get themselves involved in, just ruminate on this cycle: first, a plot of land is put up by a farmer or other landowner for a pretty handsome price, compared to years of farming it. The ‘Developer’ has to pay taxes and fees to the City and/or County to get that land prepped for building. An influx of real American DOLLARS into the local coffers!! Yay!
Except after the next nearly identical row of ticky-tacky goes in, (with as small a yard as possible to maximize the fees and profits of all involved), there is the required upkeep of that neighborhood. Garbage, utilities, emergency services, etc. The upkeep costs are relatively low house by house, but they Never Stop. Your Property Taxes DO NOT cover the entire cost to your local government of supplying you with those services. Property taxes are, at best, a sort of insurance policy. You pay your premium so an ambulance will show up to your door should you need one. But when you don’t need one, there are always plenty of others who do. So what do they do to bridge the property taxes/real costs gap? Try their darnedest to get more fees and taxes in bulk from another ‘Developer’ on another tract. Which, in turn, cannot pay for itself in the long term. And so it goes. A cycle of addiction as real as any a Meth Head has faced.
The fact that the older neighborhoods, with the older homes and therefore lower prices overall (what “used” home can really compete in a market swamped full of cheap Built-Just-For-You!! shiny boxes?) , then become havens for the poor, uneducated and – in an all too common American city truth, full of POCs – makes the self-fulfilling prophecies of racists come true. The crime rates are higher there. The social needs are higher there. The upkeep of those communities cost more.
Which gives birth to such programs as the Red Light Cameras, which generate more money supposedly only on the backs of miscreants – a policy explanation and law as ex post facto as they get. But the fact these cameras are almost exclusively in the older, POC neighborhoods goes almost completely unnoticed among the electorate. And for those that notice, the veneer of putting the cost back on the guilty serves as a pretty handy foil.
This modus also supplies the rationale for Police Brutality in those neighborhoods. With Search and Seizure laws as they are in the US, it only makes sense to over-police those neighborhoods so’s we can retrieve some of those hemorrhaging tax dollars from them, right? Over-policing and Red Light Cameras have pretty much the same rationale and about the same efficacy in getting cash from the right people, but who really cares? It’s real currency and the collectors in blue are happy – no, make that Very Happy – to collect.
But that’s not what I wanted to write about today.
That’s just my Bako primer. A quick catch-up for those that don’t already know.
No, today I want to write about those folks that aren’t in one of two or three Crowds That Count in Bako: the white male laborer (probably once worked in the oil fields) and the Country Clubber. There is a huge intersection between these two groups and the Evangelicals, as the Trump campaign has demonstrated, despite the obvious fact that the Evangelicals really do want to hew to some semblance of ethics and morality. They are just too easily led astray by Fear Mongering, Anti-Science and Racism.
So who, in Bako, doesn’t fit into the GOP mob? The OilJesus™ faithful? The short answer: everyone else. There are a lot of “others” living elbow to elbow with the crowd that distrusts all others.
First and foremost: Latinos. These folks are actually more than half the population of Kern County already. Unfortunately, there are a very few of them (we’re looking at You, Chad Vegas) who work overtime to bury that family connection. Like ex-smokers are extreme in their condemnation of current smokers, they are often some of the most virulent anti-latino voices in the county. Their racism is open, vitriolic and sometimes just centimeters shy of actual violence.
But most of the Latino population (overwhelmingly of Mexican descent) is mildly traditional, pro-education, church-going and family-oriented. They have huge, regular, family functions that SO make their neighbors want to be a member. These might be at home or they might be in a park. If you are at the neighboring picnic tables and you see the women pulling whole onions as big as a baby’s head out of grocery bags, you Just Know there’s gonna be a mess of cookin’ going on and it’s gonna be GOOD.
They are hardworking and often have several members of the family who, because of teen-perceived-financial needs or actual later-life desperation, have worked in the fields. They will be glad to tell you that doing so really and truly sucks in ways you can’t even imagine.
When Cesar Chavez is described by OilJesus™ as a bully and an extremist (yeah, this really is the claim) you can see them smile faux demurely, like one does at a dog barking from behind a fence.
They are the Actual Future of Kern County and the dregs of centuries past have yet to admit to that basic truth. At least not with anything approaching equanimity or aplomb.
There are more people with Disabilities than Blacks in Bako. There are more people under the age of five than Blacks in Bako (both those groups around 8%, Blacks around 5%). Yet despite their statistical swamping in terms of their overall numbers, their Juvenile Incarceration Rate is eight times greater than Latinos, Whites or Others, and that rate is 25% higher than the rest of California. (http://www.kidsdata.org/topic/166/juvenilearrest-rate-race/table#fmt=2334&loc=2,127,347,1763,331,348,336,171,321,345,357,332,324,369,358,362,360,337,327,364,356,217,353,328,354,323,352,320,339,334,365,343,330,367,344,355,366,368,265,349,361,4,273,59,370,326,333,322,341,338,350,342,329,325,359,351,363,340,335&tf=79&ch=7,10,9,127).
Are there Black Youth Gangs in Bako? Oh yes. Rest assured there are and rest assured that some of those people are quite unredeemable.
But there are also Latino Gangs. And White Gangs. And Mixed Race Gangs. There are all kind of Gangs – folks on the street know full well the recent Heroin outbreak and upsurge in Pointless Shootings on the Street are not just coincidentally linked.
But Bako has also seen Black youth kicked out of classes – K-12 classes – at a rate 50% higher than for White kids for non-violent ‘offenses’ and at a rate three times the California average (https://www.publicintegrity.org/2014/10/14/15938/suit-against-kern-county-schools-alleges-disproportionate-discipline-minorities).
I’ve personally spoken with a member of Kern’s Law Enforcement who laughingly described actual torture of a Black man – who was brought in not because of any infringement of the law, really, but because the last time he WAS brought in he sucker punched one of them and sent him sprawling. After I registered my disgust, he defended the Officers’ actions (he was not personally involved, he said) on these grounds: “That’s how folks in this county WANT us to act!”
Being Latino in Bako is bad. Being Black in Bako is nightmarish.
There are also Asians of all kinds in Bako. Many are pushing the Bell Curve upward in the finest neighborhoods and schools. A close look at Always-On-Top Stockdale High School’s data quickly underscores how much these kids bring the school along with them, rather than the school pushing them up. (http://instruction.kernhigh.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/02/2015_School_Accountability_Report_Card_Stockdale_High_School_20160120.pdf).
But Bako’s Asian communities are deeply divided. There are the sons and daughters of Doctors and Engineers performing Academic wonders for Stockdale HS, Centennial HS and a few others and the sons and daughters of Truck Drivers and Farm Workers toiling away in ELD classes everywhere else. These kids share the same pressures and school-born shortcomings as the Spanish-speaking sons and daughters of La Raza. Their success rates are as abysmal.(http://instruction.kernhigh.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/02/2015_School_Accountability_Report_Card_South_High_School_20160120.pdf). (*These schools used only for representational purposes. I am not knocking the schools here per se, but only offering a description of the communities. I’ll knock the schools in their own time, in a different article!)
There is also a Muslim presence in Bako, amazingly. When I first got to town and spoke a smattering of Hindi to an Indian student of mine, who was coincidentally Muslim, another student asked me surreptitiously afterward: “What was that? Were you speaking in tongues with him?”
I have assisted some of the hapless Hijabis hereabouts. The openness with which North Bakersfieldians show derision of these ladies would shock the sensibilities of even the marginally racist. They seem actually to believe that Muslims are dogs – rabid dogs – and need to be called on it. Reined in. Put down.
If their children were actually out on the streets I’m sure they would have some pretty startling statistics also. I suspect they are kept at home, strictly, under lock and key and watchful eye. If I were a Muslim in Bako that’s exactly what I would do.
Bakersfield boasts of an LGBT Center with an actual storefront downtown. It is active and supportive and inclusive and wonderful. (It was for them, actually, that our own Nano Rubio first constructed the Rainbow Bakersfield illustration featured at the top of this article.) This small community has boasted of some of Bako’s most prolific Activists: Nancy Bailey; Audrey Romero; Whitney Weddell and Robert Peterson. These folks are Community Organizers in the Obama tradition: always working, always there, always Fired Up.
So. In future articles I hope to flesh out this Rainbow Underground. To examine it, coddle it and encourage it to move on and move up. It has already scored successes that most in Bako don’t give it credit for (oddly): the many-times-over election of Nicole Parra, (D, 16th District California Assembly) who ran out her term limits, is one. Dean Florez (ditto) and her predecessor is another. And while Dems and Progressive folks from the South Central Valley bemoan their lack of representation, they now number 35.6% of the population to the GOP’s 38.6%. With only three percent separating them, the Progressive Rainbow Underground could swing a vote with a superior ground game.
I’m looking for the local Democratic Women’s Club or one of the above to get right on that. With a sincere GOTV effort, this county is ours.