North Coast Journal Weekly link to homepageIn the News


April 6, 2006

The Weekly Wrap

Silent no more
Local voices debate the immigration issue

9 Questions for Sim Van der Ryn

Heading: The Weekly Wrap, photo of Howard Seemann by Carolyn Ferandez

HOWARD: It was the summer of 1976, and the Arcata Union's rookie typesetter stared down at all the blank pages with terror, not knowing where to begin or how she was going to get through it all. The paper's summer editor -- the guy who filled in when the regular editor took his summer vacation -- happened by. He diagnosed the problem with a glance, and he offered an offhand bit of wisdom that has endured 30 years now. "Start the obits," he said. "That's the first thing anyone looks at, anyway."

Howard Seemann (pictured above), who died Monday night at the age of 73, was a hard-boiled newspaperman of the old school, and he was full of dubious chestnuts like this. He used to come by the Journal offices occasionally, handing out hard candies and abysmal jokes, along with the occasional dusty story born of the days when reporters kept flasks of the good stuff hidden in their boots. To the younger generation at the paper, it was both romantic and maddening. You couldn't help but pine for the days when sitting on your ass for hours at a time staring at a cathode ray tube wasn't part of the job description. Invariably, Howard would bust in on us Tuesday afternoons, our busiest time. Why couldn't he come on a Wednesday, we wondered? It's strange that we never thought of the obvious answer: He wanted to hear the keyboards clicking, to see people on deadline rushing to finish their work.

Humboldt State hired Howard to teach journalism in 1969, after he had spent over a decade working at newspapers in Michigan, Wisconsin and Rome, Italy. He was the advisor to the Lumberjack, the HSU student paper, from 1970 up until his retirement a few years ago. In 1983, the California Newspaper Publishers Association named him an Outstanding Journalism Educator. From 1991 to 2002 he served as the Journal's copy editor, more for fun than anything else. He had a perverse passion for copy editing.

He succumbed this week after a long battle with heart problems, and is survived by his wife, Ann, his sons, Hank and Luke, his daughters, Danae and Aliki, and literally hundreds of colleagues and former students who remember the old codger with affection.

RED BARN ORGY: Oh, poor, dear, innocent Ferndale. It's like -- as a coworker here exclaimed -- she's lost her virginity, or something. I mean, it's bad enough that first some alleged gangbangers wanted to have a hip-hop memorial for some shot-up brethren at the fairgrounds (Ferndale cops quashed that one). But now some nice, upbeat-sounding group -- who could say no to "Reasons to Say Yes!"? -- has gone and held an orgy in the Red Barn.

Sheesh. And the Ferndale Enterprise was all on top of it -- the story, that is -- giving a blow-by-blow account in its March 30 issue that began by with the news that county fair officials were "quickly changing their rental procedures after they say they were `duped' by a Trinidad woman and her organization." Now, people wanting to rent a fair building will need to be more explicit in what they intend to do there.

Fair officials didn't return our call, nor did the events' organizers, but apparently here's what happened: The R2SY organizers rented the barn for a "private party." As Fair General Manager Stuart Titus told the Enterprise, "It sounded like an afternoon tea party." But then on March 17, the day before the event, a woman called Ferndale Police Chief Lonnie Lawson, fretting over whether the people at that party were going to practice safe sex.

That alerted the chief to an unusual situation, he told us in a phone conversation on Monday. The caller had told him to check out the R2SY's website. "So I did," said Lawson. And among the giddy, pro-sex-without-hang-ups pre-event e-mails were calls for more supplies: mattresses, pillows, cushions. "And they talked about how it was an ideal location, and how there was a 35-square-foot room that would be perfect for a dungeon." The event also was supposed to go till dawn.

And so, after calling the city attorney for a confab, Chief Lawson did what he had to do: He posted two officers on duty outside the Red Barn. No, he said, the officers did not check inside to see if people were using protection, or whatever. "It's none of my business," said Lawson. "They can do what they want behind closed doors. It's different from what my style is, but what people do is their own business."

The cops' job, he said, was to make sure none of the 25-some cars were vandalized during their long and lonely stay in the lot, and to be on hand in case there were any incidents with drugs or alcohol, or any "jealous fights" between boyfriends and girlfriends -- this was an orgy, after all. The event organizers agreed to pay an extra $200 to cover the cost of the police department's overtime.

So, that's that. The fair folks are all ouchy, and won't let that ever happen again. Meanwhile, R2SY event organizers are talking about shifting their parties to some other venue, perhaps closer to Eureka. But the damage is done. Ferndale is a slut. But look on the bright side: It's still a cow town, and this just gives a whole new twist to one of the fair's more endearing mottos: "It's Udder Madness!"

MARIJUANA BUST IN FERNDALE: First sex partiers, now pot growers. No one can get a break in Cow Town these days. On the morning of March 31 Jesse Daniel Renner, 27, was arrested at his Renner Lane home in Ferndale after the Humboldt County Sheriff's Drug Enforcement Unit searched his residence and found 627 marijuana plants, some as tall as two feet, and also confiscated 12 pounds of dried marijuana. The dry goods alone were estimated by police to be worth $42,000. Two rifles were also taken from Renner's home. The case has been forwarded to the Humboldt County District Attorney's office.

HOLE IN SIX: Sierra Pacific Industries wants to build a road through the Six Rivers National Forest's Underwood Roadless Area, which has been proposed for wilderness protection by Sen. Boxer, in order to get to a square parcel of its timberland that is surrounded by the forest. SPI has been approved to go ahead and harvest the old-growth and mature trees in the parcel -- hence the need for the road.

But conservationists, among them the Environmental Protection Information Center, are pushing for another plan for the parcel: Get SPI to sell the land to the forest, thereby "securing the integrity of the roadless area and proposed wilderness", said EPIC's Scott Greacen in a recent news alert.

"We are strongly opposed to the proposed road, and we'll all get a chance to comment on that proposal when the Six Rivers releases the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) for the road project, expected out any day now," Greacen said. "The good news is that the Wilderness Land Trust and other conservation-minded potential purchasers are very interested in working with SPI to get the parcel in question moved into public ownership. To their credit, SPI's managers have been willing to talk about a buyout, and have agreed to a meeting in mid-April."

He said he hopes people will "encourage SPI to do the right thing."


Silent no more
Local voices debate the immigration issue


As loud music evocative of Charlie Chaplin comedies bounced off ceiling and walls inside the Arcata Community Center last Friday, Dell'Arte performer Rudy Galindo pantomimed on stage with a sidekick. Much ado was made about a couple of bowler hats, a tall man with a plan and an unwittingly recalcitrant boy. The unfolding scene seemed to captivate the dozens of people in the audience, many of them Latino families and students come to join in the celebration of renowned labor organizer Cesar Chavez's birthday.

The man plunked his own, deeper-bowled hat onto the boy's head, which dropped over the boy's eyes, and perched the boy's shallower hat onto his own noggin. The tinier hat bobbled as the man silently directed, with ground-crew arm gestures, for the unseeing boy to walk straight ahead. The boy stood, unmoving, in place, not receiving the message. The audience laughed, a little hesitantly, sharing the comedic frustration.

If only the boy could see; if only the man would acknowledge that the boy couldn't see; if only they would open their mouths and communicate -- then, all would be clear.

If only it was that simple. Perhaps the wordless comedy -- and the anticipation of a voice bursting forth it engendered, without fulfilling -- mirrored the frustration over immigration policy that led to events during the preceding days outside on the real stage. Those events, though, did spark vociferous outcries. In Los Angeles, half a million people, many of them Latino immigrants or descendents of immigrants, as well as other immigrants and citizen supporters, marched through the city's streets to protest proposed House legislation that would make it a felony to be in the United States without documentation. The bill, H.R. 4437, also would make it a felony to help an undocumented immigrant.

Thousands more marched in other cities, and across the nation students walked out of classrooms. The Roman Catholic Church rallied to the cause, asking Congress to legalize the estimated 11 to 28 million illegal immigrants already in the United States. The Senate, in the meantime, presented its version of the bill, which took out the felony aspect and proposed legalizing those already in the country, among other things.

Back in the auditorium during Friday's celebration in Arcata, tables laden with pamphlets, in English and in Spanish, lined the back wall. "The Job Market," said one. "Navegando a través del job market." "Migration Education Program," for children of families who work in the agriculture, fishing or logging industries and move between school districts to follow these jobs: "Migrant Education is a federally funded program, which serves all 50 states and Puerto Rico," it read. "California has the largest migrant population serving over 250,000 children and youth ages 3-21." Another pamphlet said, "Newcomer Center: Centro de los Recién Llegados: Quién ayudamos? Who do we help? Ustéd, su familia, ó alguién nuevo de la comunidád ... You, your family, or anyone new to the community ... who needs bilingual assistance or help finding local services, employment, or general information." The Humboldt County Breast Health Project also had pamphlets for breast and gynecological cancer survivors and their support people: "Somos un recurso de educación, apoyo, y esperanza en su comunidád -- We are a community resource of education, support and hope."

These nonprofits, and others, provide help to anyone in need. Community aid groups acknowledge that a number of their clients -- many who come to work in the agriculture and fishing industries here -- are undocumented. And all of these groups could be targeted if the House version of the bill were to become law.

"We'd all be in jail," said Siddiq Kilkenny with a short laugh, "and actually I'd be proud of that." Kilkenny is director of the North Coast Children's Services' Head Start and Early Head Start programs. He said about 4 percent of the parents of children his programs serve "may be illegal, or there may be an aunt, or an uncle, who's illegal." He discounts the notion held by some that illegal immigrants drain the nation's services or take away jobs from citizens.

"You know, we go to Winco, and, well, guess what? Our food is fresh and it's cheap, and it's because these people are working out in the fields," he said. "I do not see people coming up here and taking advantage of our services. I don't know any people here who want to go work in the fields. And they're not taking the big, high-paying jobs." Many undocumented immigrants work full-time, paying taxes and paying into Social Security, but because they might be using fake social security numbers they will never reap that work's associated SSI benefits. Nor are they or their children eligible for certain programs, he said, such as Medical, which means they often go without health care.

José Quezada, who helped start the first Head Start pre-school in Humboldt County and now runs the county's workforce development department of the Economic Development Division, said he heard an undocumented worker tell a crowd, in Spanish, at a conference last year, "Yeah, it's true, we're working and not even being paid minimum wage, and sometimes we do work overtime with no extra pay -- and that's OK."

"In other words, 'don't rock the boat,'" said Quezada. "[Undocumented] Latinos are already working in fear."

The felony law also would affect employers. "[Immigrants] are cooking our food, making our beds, working in our lily farms, packing our fish," he said. "I'm certain it would have a really chilling effect on our economy. And the whole thing, it's just so impractical. Where would all these `criminals' go? Sen. Kennedy said it would cost us $240 billion to deport just 11 million people -- not to mention the disruption to families, to the workplace."

Sharon Nelson, an RN and director of client services at the nonprofit Humboldt County Breast Health Project, said any law making it a felony to help undocumented immigrants could have lethal results. The project's HOT team -- Hispanic Outreach Team -- focuses on reaching out to young Latina women. "We see about 200 new clients a year," she said. "Ten percent are primarily Spanish-speaking only." In 2005, she said, the project helped 11 Latina clients, half of whom were likely undocumented -- although citizenship is generally not something the project, or any of the other groups interviewed, pry into. "We help connect people to other programs: the American Cancer Society, Humboldt Area Foundation, the Angel Fund, the county medical services program. And so, if we weren't able to make those connections for people, they would be in a very, very difficult situation. Everyone deserves health care, and if you're faced with a life-threatening cancer you deserve help."

Herrmann Spetzler, executive director of the nine for-profit Open Doors Community Health Centers in Humboldt and Del Norte counties, which serve clients on a sliding scale, offers this prognosis for the House bill: "The chances of the House version of the bill passing hovers around zero." Nonetheless, he sounds disturbed by the bill's contents.

"We have an obligation to our community to provide health care, and it's a daily struggle to maintain the resources to do just that," he said. "We are not the INS. And unless we got a legal order to provide law enforcement -- which I would fight tooth and nail -- we wouldn't [start asking people their status]. And we wouldn't racial profile. We wouldn't look at the color of your skin, or what kind of accent you have."

To be fair to their patients, he said, they would interrogate every person who walked through the doors of the clinic. "And I can tell you that a third to a quarter of the population of the North Coast comes to us every year," he said. "Last year, we saw 36,000 individuals." Since some of those people came in more than once, the total number of visits to the clinic was 140,000. "Can you imagine the sort of time involved in researching their documentation? And I don't think it would be right, in a country of immigrants, to only check Hispanics."

But it was Hispanics and Latinos who rallied in the largest forces last week, and this week, across the country, in support of the millions of undocumented, often silent, immigrants.

"Immigrants have been filling so many jobs," said Quezada. "My personal take is, [the immigration turmoil] is finally an acknowledgment that there has been this workforce here that people can see but that they don't count."



Comments? Write a letter!

North Coast Journal Weekly

© Copyright 2006, North Coast Journal, Inc.