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Web Letter

I too was born and raised in Bucks County. I graduated in 1978 from Neshaminy High School.

Your description of growing up in the area was dead-on for me. I grew up in Levittown, which was a mixture of blue-collar and middle-management types. My dad drove a truck for a tri-state area supermarket chain. My friends and the neighborhood we grew up in were a mixture of Catholic, Jewish and Protestant. All most all of us have left and pursued life far away form Bucks County. We left for each of our own reasons, but your article echoes our feelings in a collective way. Your memories of the racial climate and socioeconomic realities really brought me back.

I still have family in the area and return from time to time. I see changes that time always brings to any area. As the election approaches I also see the clashing of old and new views and attitudes. I hope that my old stomping grounds leads the way and loses the old for good.

Ken Kotsur

San Marino, CA

Oct 31 2008 - 10:22pm

Web Letter

Thank you for this article. This election season has stirred up so much more than just political ideology and feelings of patriotism for me. For several months now I have wondered about the ghost of the old hurts of my childhood whispering to me between bouts of hilarious laughter while watching The Daily Show and hearing jabs at Sarah Palin at the lunch table. Yes, I am a committed liberal and not afraid to use the term, and here in the freewheeling fringe-ish counties of neighbor-island Hawaii, in a university town full of scientists and artists, you can wear your liberalism like a badge of honor.

However, I caught Robert Eshelman's opening line about fleeing Bucks County at age 17 in 1991, and a rush of memory and emotion flooded through me. I too was 17 in 1991, and not far from Bucks County, in urban Philadelphia where I was born and raised. I didn't flee the East Coast for almost a decade more, despite the nagging feeling of "not belonging" that plagued my early adulthood. I was raised by a single mom in a rowhouse in North Philly, in a neighborhood where white flight took an early hold and which by the time I was in junior high was a mostly Latino mixed-raced area. As I entered high school I battled with my stepfather about his use of the word "nigger" in front of my baby brother and the cruel statements he made at the expense of our neighbors. He was never the racist stereotype that makes the news; in fact, he was jovial and friendly to people of all color in public. In the house, it was a different story. The men of my family cheered for the Eagles at the same time as they cursed and shouted racial epithets at individual players. They rolled their eyes at my naïveté. The basic argument of my uncles and stepdad (and more subtly, my mother) was that someday I would be confronted with the real world and I would come to understand what "those people" were really like and what they were doing to "us." My stepfather worked for SEPTA. His job was a nightmare of frigid winter nights driving deserted streets and sweltering summer rush hours on buses overpacked with the mostly low-income patrons of the city's public transportation system. Like so many at the lower-income fringe of our society, he needed a target for his hurt, his feelings of injustice, the knowledge that despite his years of service in the Army and his staunch patriotism, the world hadn't done right by him. Shit rolls downhill, as they say--who wants to admit they're at the bottom?

Contrary to my family's expectations, those were the things I learned as I got older. Now my idealism fades a little more each year, not because I now have some intimate knowledge of the inner evil of "niggers" and "spics" and all those "others" (an idea that actually makes me a little sick) but because what I have seen in this country is manipulation and class warfare that cleverly pits the diadvantaged and the disenfranchised and the distressed against one another, eternally managing to keep groups from uniting and forcing real change that might benefit all those at the bottom.

Last year, I went home with my Alaska-Seattle raised partner and our Hawaii-born baby girl, and was once again a stranger in a strange land, albeit with company. That visit, and the ensuing political season, has further widened the gap between me and my family. I know they look at me and cannot imagine how I came from their solid working-class enclave of closet racism and furious flag-waving. Talking politics with my sister and her obsessively upward-bound husband was something we quickly learned to avoid. I am astonished as my sister admonishes me that she is "now a Republican." What does that mean? At a point when you reach a certain level of comfort, is there an expectation that you must jump to join the ranks of the wealthy and privileged in your ideology? Yet despite their comfortable income, they earn nowhere near the $250,000+ that would mean more taxes under Obama's plan. And still--even if they were in that bracket--do we so quickly cut our roots? Does my sister not remember that our family reluctantly accepted the "welfare cheese," that our family did not own a car for most of our lives, that we as children attended city-funded summer day camps for poor kids? Is it not our duty to remember those days and to make our voices heard on behalf of the underprivileged? (Ideas like that one invariably draw the eye-rolls and snickers in my family, something that continues to leave me baffled, a little hurt--and glad to live 6,000 miles away). On a very personal level, I brim with anger at the thought that the very policies on "women's health" that made her comfortable life possible (she would not likely have earned her degrees had she become a mother at 17) would be severely threatened under a McCain/Palin administration. Again, does the next generation of young women not deserve the same chances and opportunities that we had, now that we don't need them anymore?

My mother and stepfather, after enduring years of the strain of finanical hardship imposed by a blended family that encompasses ten children, still have the McCain/Palin sign waving proudly on the postage stamp of grass in front of their Northeast Philly twin. Four years ago, my stepdad shocked me by announcing that he would no longer support Bush, because Bush had voted down veterans' benefits--a fact about McCain that seems to have been conveniently eclipsed by his status as a POW (the black flag has flown proudly in front of that house as long as I can remember). Their income, combined, likely is no more than $75,000. Yet come Tuesday, these proud Philadelphians--and likely many more in my family--will pull the Republican levers with pride. Here in Hawaii, I rest easy knowing that my inner circle will cheerfully wear their Obama T-shirts (and not a few, their Nader buttons) to the polls. But as I watch the pundits and reporters excitedly sending news from the battleground state of Pennsylvania, it is the faces of my family that fill my head and make me wonder about the future of this country.

Frances Kinslow

Mountain View, HI

Oct 31 2008 - 9:16pm

Web Letter

You are still the angry young kid with a mohawk, and you need to listen to your mother. I was born and spent my early childhood in the segregated South. But while I have rejected racism and segregation, I am still, among other things, an American and a Southerner. I recognize the positive traditions of the South, and have tried to retain them. A few years back, I took my mother to visit the grave of my great-grandmother. Our Revolutionary War ancestor is also buried near her grave. They are buried in a church graveyard on the road from Selma to Montgomery. During the visit, we happened to meet the pastor of the church. He had worked in big city churches, and remarked on the difference between the congregations. If one of his current flock promised to do something for the church, it would be done. In the South where I grew up , a man's word was his bond. Also manners were very important, and I often say "thank you." When I came to California the age of 11, they briefly sent me to a speech class to eliminate my Southern accent, so I would talk like everybody else. The South is still in my voice, but I don't mind being different.

Pervis James Casey

Riverside, CA

Oct 30 2008 - 1:25pm

Web Letter

The writer is putting too much emphasis on racism among blue-collar workers. Obama is much greater working class appeal then Clinton. There is an interesting article on the subject on alternet.org.

Sean Mulligan

Alpharetta, GA

Oct 29 2008 - 5:40pm

Web Letter

I think the author is confusing his part of Bucks County with the whole. I gaduated from High School in Newtown in 1975, and my memories of Bucks County were of upscale farms and country club scenery, not the factory-encrusted vision the writer speaks of. The hard-line Republican base there were more old school fiscal conservatives pre-Reagan, not the Newts and Roves the party has embraced lately. The writer should have identified the little burg he fled, not the county so many love.

Robert Cembalest

Austin, TX

Oct 29 2008 - 3:41pm

Web Letter

My memories of Bucks Country go back to the sixties when we used to buy a couple of six-packs and go cruisin'. Long stretches of two-lane blacktop with periodic farmhouse lanes, a handful of of colonials at the intersections and the mecca of New Hope. Growing up in West Oak Lane it was a ghetto of blue-collar Irish and Jews with large families and middle-class dreams. The racism surfaced while I was in my early teens, as block after block succumbed to the influx of blacks--most of the whites who could afford to moved to the suburbs. We were one of the families who stayed, as my father's business went through a period of three years with virtually no income and my mother was back at Temple getting her PhD in philosophy and working part-time as a teacher. The late sixties were a violent, dangerous time, and unbridled optimism mixed with fear and anger like water with oil and gasoline. In the years that followed there were great changes, but by the recession of the mid-seventies that time was over. Among those who grew up in those times, the current election is reminiscent of that era. Hope and change are a heady mixture. As we head into this election I feel the optimism swell in me, but I struggle to keep my head. I desperately need for the pendulum to swing in the other direction, but I've lived long enough to know the arc is limited. In spite of how others believe and behave, how we handle the ascent and subsequent descent is critically important because the first shall be last and the last shall be first, and in the end, who we were is defined by those we leave behind, both friends and enemies.

Larry Cohen

Princeton, PA

Oct 29 2008 - 8:30am

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