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Hatemongering Has No Place Here or Anywhere

Three days prior to the publication of our commentary, the following headline appeared in the Washington Post:Metro reverses its decision to ban advertisements for art exhibition on the migrant crisis.” A welcome, though tardy, development indeed.

What had set Metro’s censors off on their uniformed quest earlier this spring was its general policy designed to protect the public from being confronted by possibly disturbing thoughts “intended,” in the words of its published so-called ‘guidelines,’ “ to influence members of the public regarding an issue on which there are varying opinions.” (Eight months ago the Post reported that legal fees of $1.6 million had been wasted (our words) on defending its policy.)

Why are we focusing on this idiocy that had stymied the Phillips Collection from informing the broader public beyond those who read art exhibition reviews like the one we have published on page 4 of this month’s issue pdf?

Because, as the Phillips Collection’s board chairman Dani Levinas wrote in an op-ed, published last month in the Post, taking exception to Metro’s contention that the exhibition is, in the words of the policy, “intended to influence members of the public regarding an issue in which there are varying opinions are prohibited” and/or “intended to influence public policy,” clearly stated what Metro’s censors have understood:

“[T]his exhibition, with no specific political point of view or policy stance, strives to illuminate the humanitarian crisis of migrants today while reaching back to historical landmarks in U.S. history such as arrivals at Ellis Island and the Great Migration. The art is as varied as the migrant experience. Sculpture, paintings, video, photographs, found objects and installations take the viewer on a kaleidoscopic journey through the modern refugee experience.”

If one of them had actually made an effort to visit the Philips (we’re certain they would have been allowed in without paying the modest entry fee) and viewed for him or herself what board chairman Levinas described as “75 artists examin[ing] the worldwide phenomenon of people on the move — internally displaced within their own countries, crossing borders to flee war and persecution, victims of trafficking or those searching for opportunity” then maybe, just maybe, it would have been obvious –- as it has been to art exhibition reviewers like ours that the Metro policy restrictions were totally inappropriate.

On the other hand, maybe it was actually the case that Metro fully understood that there was no rational justification for banning the Phillips from advertising on it buses. Maybe Metro management –- which does depend on federal funding –- was fearful that Trump or his evil sidekick Stephen Miller would notice that what was being promoted to the public was a sympathetic examination of the plight of refugees, immigrants, and all those “others” and because of that threaten them with the prospect of losing those funds – or worse.

Like the vast majority of our fellow District of Columbia citizens of all backgrounds, we have been absolutely appalled by the constant spewing of hatred and demonization coming from the president and his White House minions. (This is not the first time we have expressed our disgust; we had strong words about this four years ago.)

Ours is a city, like cities and towns across the country, which has over the years benefitted enormously from the contributions of peoples from all races, ethnicities, religions, and preferences. And because of today’s ugly climate of fear mongering we must all work to counter this by shining a positively bright light on our Hispanic and Latino neighbors especially. Their uninformed vilification is so clearly unjustified. Myriad neighborhood examples abound –- Dupont East is one, and timely also.

As readers peruse this month’s 17th Street festival lead story, locals will of course know, while others from farther afield will be reminded, that the 17th Street strip from P Street to R is truly a village-like place where everyone gravitates toward for shopping and socializing. But what the dwindling numbers of long-time neighborhood residents also know but which very few younger ones probably do not know is that at one time –- after World War I and into the mid century 17th Street was the epicenter of a growing Hispanic and Latino community. Among its earliest members was the Peña family which lived and operated its Spanish grocery store there –- including by mid-century its highly regarded and very popular La Fonda restaurant patronized by diners from all over the area.

One of that family’s younger descendants, Lee Granados, continues the family’s presence in the neighborhood. And like her antecedents, she is a positive contributor. As our story reports, it was she who initiated the idea for the annual festival and to this day is intimately involved in its success. What stands out in that news story is her own story which mirrors that of the vast numbers of our country’s immigrants from long ago to the present day, of their amazing contribution to what, as former Vice President Biden reminded us, the what it means to be American.

Lee has told us that she “was raised on 17th Street in a community of business owners and residents who knew the importance of working together and supporting each other day in and day out.” Although her words may, at first blush, seem a bit opaque, what she is saying is that here, locally, it was –- and continues to be –- an example of the true spirit of this country that the newly arrived and long-established citizens can and do live and work in harmony (or at least with grudging acceptance) to make for a better and stronger society.

The example of the Peña family and its contribution to our little patch of America serves as a powerful rebuke to those who believe that immigrants do not deserve to be here, notwithstanding that those who denounce them ignore that they themselves had immigrant forebears.

PS: We are puzzled that DC’s, local, Republican party organization has not at the very least issued its own statement taking to task its national party leaders, politicians, the president, and White House and re-election functionaries. Such a statement on behalf of our city’s modest Republican party membership would have been welcome. It would not have needed to be harsh; in fact, polite but to the point would have surely represented the moderate views of our Republican party neighbors.

But, nowhere on the local party headquarters website can anything be found. In fact, the most recent “official” statement one can find prominently posted is from about two months ago stating that Ward 2 Councilmember Jack Evans should resign. Important politically as that controversy is, in no way can it come close to the seriousness of how, through silence and worse, national Republican leaders are aiding and abetting. (Curiously, nowhere on its website is there a phone number or email to give members of the press access to local party officials. Hmmm. . . .)