It disturbs me that in my area of the Central Coast of California, Memorial Day is almost entirely a beach day, a sailing day, a fishing day, and a barbecue day. There is little here to mark the day as one of remembrance for those who died to protect our precious republic (and by the way, to save many innocent civilians, including me). Most of the local people are too sophisticated and too lazy to do anything out of the ordinary on that weekend except pretend it’s summer. And then, some of the population is gone because the university lets out on Memorial Weekend and many students go somewhere else. They are replaced to a large extent by visitors from Silicon Valley forty minutes away on a hard mountain road, and from as afar as the agricultural Central Valley, hours away. The ones and the others want to sit on the beach or go on rides on our famous old fashioned Boardwalk, a sort of permanent carnival. The ocean water is still too cold for almost all adults but the kids will wade in a little. (Frankly, I think few adults around – except surfers – here know how to swim in the ocean but that’s neither here nor there.)
I know that the locals don’t care much about the meaning of Memorial Day because there are only three American flags on my long street, and two belong to my household.
In the vicinity of Santa Cruz, there is one Saturday morning Memorial Day parade. It’s held in Felton, a small, funky town not ten minutes from Santa Cruz proper. It’s in the mountains (as opposed to near the sea). The real estate there is a little cheaper than in Santa Cruz. It’s home to a certain horsey set, not the kind that rides knees to the chest, English style, but those who ride on a Western saddle, with their legs comfortably extended. Its downtown stretches over half of a street with a couple of grocery stores, other small businesses, and one Chinese restaurant (not that good, to tell the truth). But, this is Santa Cruz county so, there is also a mediocre Mexican restaurant that doubles as a fantastic music venue.
In spite of physical proximity, the culture in Felton is strikingly different from the culture of university-anchored, progressive, mock-sophisticated, vegetarian/organic, and often transgender Santa Cruz. For one thing, its population is visibly different. The people at the parade in Felton are mostly light-skinned or Portuguese-washed out olive (but see below), and many of their children have blond hair. Everyone is badly dressed, not poorly dressed just dressed carelessly, even the young women.
The thin crowd does not include many brown skins. I can guess the reasons. The large Hispanic population around here is almost entirely from Mexico. It lives in another part of the county and in Santa Cruz proper. It’s not that Felton discriminate, it’s that immigrants tend to agglutinate around where the first immigrants from their countries take root. It’s almost a random process, in historical terms. Many immigrants and their children appear to be dimly aware of this country’s military history. Mexico had no military history for more than eighty years, after all. This does not promote attention to such fine points. Incidentally, Mexican immigrants and their children don’t, by and large, understand Cinco de Mayo either although it’s an official California holiday made up just for them. Hispanics are welcome in Felton, I believe, but they don’t come and their absence makes a difference. The local culture is different where they are numerous.
The parade in Felton inspires something close to pity but also a little melancholy. It starts at 10 am sharp, as announced. It includes no marching band and few flags. The cub-scouts do carry flags. They look bedraggled although they are on parade. The Mom who is a cub-scout leader is wearing jeans, some example! There is a bagpipe band – something I always enjoy – but it includes only three bagpipes. Mostly, the parade consists of people in automobile vehicles. There are several fire trucks of course. This feels good because, in these parts, fire brigades are mostly composed of volunteers, an American institution if there ever was one. The other cars are there for no particular reason I am able to grasp except one car. There is a guy driving his period muscle car in average condition with the words “For sale” painted in several places. That’s American commercial ingenuity, I think.
From all cars but that one, and from the firetrucks as well, jets of candy aimed at the little children brought by parents to see the parade are issued. There is so much candy that boys on either side of the street start a candy fight during a lull in the parade. Two middle aged women quietly fill a backpack with candy. One is white, the other black. If this is not proof of harmonious race relations, I don’t know what is, really!
The people in the parade and the people at the parade strike me as absent from the current American cultural narrative. You don’t find them in books, you don’t find them in movies, you don’t even find them in TV series anymore. They barely exist in popular music, even in country music. There are pockets of them all over the country, mostly larger pockets than in Felton. No wonder they feel forgotten and are pissed off in often inarticulate ways. No wonder election analysts and the political class is disconcerted by the rise of a Donald Trump. They were mostly invisible until now.
I am sorry conservative rationalists like me missed the boat.