Tag: Immigrants

Day 995: Little Rivalry On The Prairie

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Newcomers to the city of Edmonton inevitably have questions regarding our perpetual rivals to the south, or what has come to be known as the Battle of Alberta. They don’t ask me – I purposely sport a fanny-pack and 20 pounds of camera gear when I wander about the city so that tourists don’t talk to me – but they’ll ask somebody. The answer they’ll probably get is “hockey”, which is blatantly misleading and 100% wrong.

Edmonton and Calgary have held a semi-snarly relationship for much longer than the history of professional hockey in either city. Far from a rivalry of mere convenience (we are the only two major cities in the province), the Battle of Alberta extends to fundamental belief systems, to political preferential treatment, to bigotry, inclusion, and of course… money.

Which is truly the greater city? As a lifelong resident of Edmonton, my honest answer is that I don’t care. Both cities are gorgeous: they have the Stampede, we have the continent’s most impressive Fringe Theatre Festival. They have proximity to the magnificent mountains, we have an exquisite river valley. They are the economic home-base of the province, we have a gigantic mall.

But enough of the niceness. Let’s see how this got ugly.

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The Battle of Alberta extends for centuries before there was even an Alberta over which to battle. The Blackfoot Confederacy was the political union among the Blackfoot tribes who moseyed about southern Alberta and Montana, killing buffalo and living a northern version of the indigenous lifestyle of the American Indian. Up in the boreal forest that covered the northern half of the as-yet-undesignated province, the Cree and their allies (known as the Iron Confederacy, making the history of this region sound like a bad-ass Native version of Game of Thrones) lived a subarctic lifestyle, which involved trapping and fur-trading. Read more…

Day 933: The Thin Red Line Of Being An Offensive Jerk

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As a writer whose surrounding landscape is the unfiltered cessbucket frontier of the internet, I don’t spend much time worrying about offending my audience. Conversely, as a Canadian awash in synaptic decorum and apologetic genetics (or, apologenetics as we call them here), I feel compelled from the meaty core of my innards to fight the potentially offensive word choices that might trickle untowardly from my fingertips. This is why I don’t refer to my friends as my ‘niggaz’, why I reserve the word ‘Oriental’ to describe an avenue in the game Monopoly and not a collective of people, and why I won’t likely pen a kilograph on the current Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The issue has arisen – both here in this compositional marathon as well as in “real” life – regarding the appropriate label for that group of peoples whose presence in this part of the world predates that of us whiteys. We grew up calling them Indians – a game of Cowboys ‘n Indigenous Peoples doesn’t sound nearly as fun.

It seems as though every few years I am told that the politically appropriate appellation I’ve been using is incorrect. With only 68 remaining opportunities to explore the weird wide world in this project, I think it’s time I put this issue to rest.

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We all know Chris Columbus plopped his feet down on Antilles soil believing he had found the fast-track to India. His bewildered hosts were dubbed ‘Indians’ as a logical consequence, though it didn’t take long for Chris to figure out his mistake. The misnomer stuck, however. The Caribbean islands were dubbed the West Indies, and every explorer who nudged their hull against the east coast called the locals ‘Indians’. It was easier to adopt and embrace the mistake than come up with a new word, I guess. Read more…

Day 897: Zoot Suit Violence

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One seldom looks very deeply into the lyrics of a modern swing-dance revival song. When Colin James and his Little Big Band sang about a Cadillac Baby, he was singing about a woman, one who enjoyed a particular Cadillac automobile. When Lou Bega prattled off his laundry list of desirable women in “Mambo #5”, he was simply expressing his identity as a man-slut. But beneath the boppy jump-blues veneer of the Cherry Poppin’ Daddies’ “Zoot Suit Riot” is something surprisingly dark and sinister.

The ‘riot’ in question is not merely an alternate wording for a party featuring a bunch of guys in outdated jazz-wear. The song refers to an actual string of riots in the early 1940’s, which began in the embers of the era’s prevalent racism, before rising into an inferno of violence. This is an ugly chapter in American history, from an age before Civil Rights was on the tip of anyone’s brains, and when patriotism could drive people to do heinously ugly things.

It all begins with the zoot suit: high-waisted, tight-cuffed pegged pants and a long jacket with boisterous shoulders and splashy lapels. The outfits were fun and jazzy, originating in inter-war black culture and eventually becoming a staple of the southern Californian Latino community. Then the style became illegal – that’s where the ugliness begins.

You have to be way funkier than this guy to pull off this much zoot.

You have to be way funkier than this guy to pull off this much zoot.

The 1930s was a time of heavy anti-Mexicanism in the southwestern United States. Despite the deportation of 12,000 Mexicans (many of whom turned out to be American citizens) from the Los Angeles area in the early part of the decade, there were still roughly three million Mexicans in the country, many without legal status. L.A. was the hub of immigrants from the Land of the Hot Sun, and by the end of the decade the tension between whites and Latinos was beginning to boil over. Read more…

Day 691: The Downstairs Park

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On a day such as this, when the mercury has given up its climb and packed its full breadth of ooze down below -10 degrees, I feel I should find something to appreciate in this woefully frigid city.

For the few months of the year that allow it, we are privileged to enjoy a serene swath of river valley, as well as a smattering of beautifully-landscaped parks. This means that in over a century of urban development, there have been some scraps of real estate that our councillors have opted not to fill with strip malls and cul-de-sacs. Other cities have been forced to act more creatively, to extract its green space from the bones of its history.

Rail trails are a popular solution – snatching up miles of abandoned track and converting them into miles of cycling, jogging, and someday (hopefully) hoverboarding fun. New York and Paris have vaulted the rail trail concept to include abandoned elevated tracks. Now New York is ready to take things in the next logical direction: straight down.

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The story of the next phase of the city’s “outdoor” recreation begins here, on a strip of 10th Avenue once known as Death Avenue. The railroads had hired men on horseback – the ‘West Side Cowboys,’ which sounds like the name of a male strip club – to ride in front of the street-level trains to warn people to get the hell out of the way. Still, it was a mess. To clean things up, from 1929 through 1934 New York built a 13-mile elevated railway. It was designed to cut through the middle of city blocks, even running through taller buildings when necessary. Read more…

Day 622: The Perfect Food

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In the sprawling kitchen of international cuisine, your teeth will never know a greater pleasure than when they sink into the perfect pizza. The specifics of that perfection are purely subjective; pizza can be a health food or a grease-laden fat-trap. You may prefer a dripping slab of foldable New York pie or the hearty fork-bending stew of genuine Chicago deep-dish. An unleavened square-slice from St. Louis or a scissor-cut crispy rectangle, Lazio-style. It doesn’t matter – your perfect pizza is your perfect food.

I can’t say with any degree of certainty what my perfect pizza would be. I know I have to skip the opening credits when I watch an episode of Louie because that shot of New York pizza will set my taste buds into meltdown. But the first time I learned that real Chicago deep-dish was nothing like the dough-heavy flaccidity they call ‘deep-dish’ in this part of the world, it was an epiphany.

It’s like choosing between Beatles albums. Or children. Ultimately, there’s more than enough pizza-love to spread around.

Pizza

First off, let’s get the pronunciation right. The Italian pronunciation is ‘pittsa’, though unless you’re talking to an actual Italian pronouncing it that way will seem a little douchey. No one knows pizza’s origin story, though it likely grew from the topping-adorned focaccia bread from Roman Empire times. Actually you could go back further to Ancient Greece, where they topped their ‘plakous’ (flatbread) with herbs, onion and garlic. Naples gets dibs on the title of modern pizza’s birthplace. It was a galette flatbread, and it was known as the foodstuff of the poor folk. Read more…

Day 489: William ‘Boss’ Tweed – The Eternal King Of New York Scummery

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It would present a genuine challenge to any amateur historian to unearth a more succinct tale of greed and corruption than that of William “Boss” Tweed and his cronies at Tammany Hall. Not often does someone opt to steal so much from so many, and to do it so damn effectively. New York politics was forever altered by these silk-clad walking globules of unscrupulous slime.

This was an age before the internet and the 24-hour news cycle scraped at every corner of a government’s reign, hoping to peel away the façade and uncover some nefarious goings-on. People either trusted their government or else they favored the guys who promised to keep their pockets the greasiest.

It was a strange time.

'Boss' Tweed

Tweed’s political career began as a volunteer fireman. That seems about as humble a political start as one can have, but back in the late 1840’s, volunteer fire companies used to fight – and we’re talking about physical battles here – over who got to battle a blaze. Sometimes buildings would burn to the ground while crews on the ground punched one another. Tweed became known for his “ax-wielding violence”, always the mark of a good future politician. Read more…