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OPINION PAGE - JULY 21, 1999 - JEFFERSON, GEORGIA



Column
Mike Buffington
The Jackson Herald - July 21, 1999

Latino culture rising in the South
The South has always had the issue of race as an underlying factor in its politics. That great debate reached a climax with the onslaught of the Civil War, but for decades after the bloodshed ended, race continued to be a dominate theme in Southern politics.
Even after the civil rights movement of the 1960s, race continued to be an underlying force that affected the growth of suburbs, the dynamics of public education and the culture in general.
But a new demographic trend may make these cultural shifts even more complex in the decades ahead. A huge boom in immigrants from Latin America and high birth rates project that Latino Americans will be the dominate minority in the nation within six years. Already in Florida, California and the Southwest, Hispanic immigrants make up a large percentage of the population. That shift is beginning to also be felt in Georgia where Latin American immigrants have come for employment in the agriculture and poultry industries.
Although not strictly a racial issue, the growth in the Latino population will have a profound influence on Southern politics and culture during the coming decades. Already salsa has surpassed ketchup on our tables and Latino music is reshaping our pop culture the way African-American music did in the 1960s.
This cultural blending has always been a part of American history. We're all the product of an immigrant from sometime in history. But by far the dominate source of immigrants historically came from Europe and with them came the dominate parameters of our culture. The structure of our government came from British, French, German and Italian roots and our general culture came from the blending of those and other European backgrounds.
Although there were a large number of black Americans from Africa all through American history, their cultural and political influences remained largely suppressed until the 1960s. Although race was an underlying factor in our politics, it was from a perspective of separation and not integration. While white European cultures intermingled, married and created new, blended generations, racial differences isolated black and white cultures into their own subcultures defined by skin colors.
But such distinctions may not be true with the influx of Latin American ethnic groups. While there are a variety of distinct Latino subcultures, those differences mean little in the larger American society. And while there are distinct ethnic and cultural differences between Latino and Americans of European origins, there are few racial differences. There is the likelihood, then, that within a few generations, those of Latino and European origins will have married across ethnic lines, creating a blended culture that is neither completely European or Hispanic.
While that is an obvious prediction, exactly what impact the two cultures will have on each other is not so predictable. Will successive generations of Latino offspring succumb to the more shallow temptations of American pop culture, or will they preserve their traditional cultural values of strong, extended families? Will successive generations carry forward the strong work ethic of their immigrant forefathers, or will that fade as it has within the broader American culture?
On the political side, what impact will the Latino culture have on state and national politics? While the Latino vote is now majority Democratic, that is not a firm allegiance formed from decades of political strife. Republicans view the Latino vote as a potential swing vote for their party, given that much of the Latino culture has the same conservative values as many Republicans espouse.
The Southwest and West have already been through much of this transition since that area was largely Hispanic when settled by European immigrants in the 19th century. But for the American South, this rise of another ethnic minority is something new and foreign. The cultural and political landscape in the South has for so long been defined in terms of black and white that for many it's impossible to adjust to any new balance of power.
But this is a shift that could, in the long run, have a profound impact on our communities, on our cultural values and on our politics. We are entering a new phase in Southern American history, a phase that will be dominated by the assimilation of Latino influences into the existing political and social cultures.
The landscape is changing and we should all be aware that our traditional points of reference will change along with that.

Mike Buffington is editor of The Jackson Herald.
EMAIL: MikeB21081@aol.com.



Editorial
The Jackson Herald
July 21, 1999

Wither the work?
That the Pendergrass city council voted Tuesday to pay its mayor's position $400 per month is no surprise. That council attempted to take that action last year, but learned later that it could not institute such a payment for the current mayor.
But we continue to wonder just what a mayor of such a small town does for that $400 per month? The town has no police department (although some city leaders want to start one), no garbage system, no water system and few streets to be maintained. In fact, like several other small towns in the county, Pendergrass does very little in the way of public service for its citizens.
The truth is that Pendergrass is a town in search of a mission. It has bankrolled a fair amount of money, but it has no place to spend those funds. Anything that municipality can do is already being done by the county government.
If the citizens of Pendergrass are happy with such an arrangement, then so be it. But we don't want to hear them complain about government growth and duplication of services if they're content to sit by and allow their own small town government to pay for positions that have little work involved.
Government bureaucrats aren't just found in Washington D.C. or Atlanta - they can be found even in Pendergrass.



Letters to the Editor
The Jackson Herald
July 21, 1999

Upset with lights turned off for race at Peach State
Dear Editor:
This evening (Saturday) I attended the racing program at Peach State Speedway. The last race on the program was the "Cruiser Class," and was one of the worst examples of bad judgment that I have ever witnessed. I have been a racing fan for many years and have been going to the Peach State track for over six years.
After many different classes of racing, the final class of 10 cars went on the track. Each week the promoters do something different to this group of cars. This week, they chose to turn off the lights on the track, 10:30 at night, high speeds and no lights. This borders on some of the same types of stunts that are pulled on WCW and WWF wrestling. Those events, of course, are planned and staged, this wasn't.
To further compound a bad situation, the race announcer was telling folks that the drivers could see just fine. This was an absolute erroneous statement. One of the drivers that I spoke with after the race said that he could see nothing coming out of turn three to turn four, except a light at the bull-riding ring. Apparently the idea was to kill the lights for a few moments. But the lights must recycle before coming back on. So rather than stopping the race, the promoters kept going. The vast majority of the fans were calling for the lights to be turned back on. Several of the fans, some of whom had family in the race, got very vocal and were almost arrested. Rather than stop the race, confront the situation and apologize to the fans, the promoters locked themselves in the race headquarters.
The promoters at Peach State Speedway need to apologize to the fans and, more importantly, to the drivers. I enjoy going to Peach State Speedway and believe that their affiliation with Senoia Speedway can only help to bring better racing. But I am afraid that this exercise in bad judgment can only cost Peach State valuable fans.
I stop short of asking for our county commissioners to investigate! I believe that the fans will be tougher on the promoters than the commissioners would. But there certainly should be pressure brought on the promoters to keep this sort of thing from happening again. Further, I hope that your newspaper will look into this matter in hopes of preventing this from happening again. The apology should be placed in the same publications as the advertisements for the racing program.
Peach State has a nice facility with car racing, go carts and bull riding. Let's not allow one night of bad judgment to ruin many more nights of fun and excitement. Fellows, just to racing.
Sincerely,
Jeff Sheffield
Long-time Peach State patron
Maysville



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