Letter to a Bigot

Dead But Not Forgotten

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Pub Date Oct 23 2020 | Archive Date Nov 06 2020
Scribd | Scribd Originals

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With the publication of her electric true-crime memoir Mean—hailed by The New York Times as “a pair of brass knuckles disguised as a book”—writer, artist, and activist Myriam Gurba flouted expectations, of genre and style, tone and intention, and signaled a refusal to behave according to anyone else’s rules. She learned early in life, growing up in a mostly white coastal California town, that the rules are rigged, made by people who do not have her best interests as a queer Mexican American woman at heart. One man in particular schooled her in the distorting, painful effects of bigotry, using Trumpian tactics long before Trump ascended to power: George Hobbs, who served as mayor of her hometown, Santa Maria, California, off and on from 1966 to 1994.

In this direct address to Hobbs, A Letter to a Bigot: Dead But Not Forgotten, she chronicles all the ways in which he turned the bias already afflicting her community from a simmer to a boil and made her coming of age a struggle for survival. In the summer of 1990, when Gurba was only thirteen, Hobbs gave a speech before the Santa Maria Valley Economic Development Association in which he declared that the region had a “Mexican problem,” advocating for “U.S. financed colonies” for immigrants at the southern border. Calls for his resignation were no match for the support he received, and within months Gurba would experience firsthand the emotional and physical violence to which Hobbs had given license. In high school it only grew worse, and she became expert in recognizing not just the overt expressions of racism and sexism around her—the slurs and physical menacing—but the subtler expressions of it, too, as in the local papers’ debasing coverage of Indigenous people living in their region and in her English teacher’s critiques of her writing. When she was assaulted again, this time by a man who went on to murder a Mexican migrant, a woman who still haunts Gurba to this day, there was no longer any space between the political and the personal, no room for excuses for “leaders” like Hobbs or Trump and the power structures they depend on and that depend on them, no condoning the scapegoating, hate-mongering, and hypocrisy they practice. Her trauma and pain became her fuel, irreverence and rebellion her art.

Like her memoir, this timely and unnervingly candid Scribd Original is a rallying cry to shatter the status quo, from a woman who has a hard-won understanding of the costs of complacency. She’s long been acquainted with the adversaries of hope and progress, and, like the fury she channels, that indeed she has become—“una diosa furiosa,” cheers author Luis Alberto Urrea in tribute—she’s taking those adversaries on one by one, dead or alive, without apology, without politeness.

With the publication of her electric true-crime memoir Mean—hailed by The New York Times as “a pair of brass knuckles disguised as a book”—writer, artist, and activist Myriam Gurba flouted...

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When I told my friend I had received this book, she asked, "Who's the Bigot?" Frankly I didn't know. I know now. This book only takes about 15 minutes to read -- in essence, it's a letter, but it is far more than that. Gurba directs her powerful and seering letter to George Hobbs, now deceased but one time City Councilor turned mayor of Santa Maria, California, a coastal city in central CA where Mexican migrants landed in search of work, namely, strawberry picking. Hobbs hated Mexicans, and openly referred to them as a "problem." Growing up in Santa Maria was a miserable and degrading experience for Gurba, where she was vilified for being Mexican, almost at every turn of her life. When she was accepted to UBerkely and told one of her white teachers (who at the time was eating lunch), the teacher turned to her and said, "It had to be affirmative action," and returned to eating as if her food had been made even sweeter with her demeaning comment.

Gurba tells us of the sexual assaults that she endured at the hands of white boys and men, and even by Chicano men, who allowed themselves to be used by those in power to take whatever scraps of whiteness that they could. Living under Hobbs was to live in an intolerable xenophobic space: says Gurba, "George, xenophobia isn't an attitude: it's an environment you spend decades fertilizing." Moreover, in this short piece, Gurba discusses the manner in which indigenous people from Mexico were abused and belittled by the racism surrounding them in Santa Maria....conditions under which they had already lived as indigenous people in Mexico, made worse by the xenophobia that enveloped them.

Gurba calls her letter an "anti-tribute" -- and openly states, "When people hear your name, George Hobbs, I want them to think of bigotry, ..to think of you as a fascist, a xenophobe...a racist. I want them to think of you as a white supremacist. I want people to know you called homosexuality 'an illness'." I want people to understand that those who practice your brand of politics are unfit to govern." This last part of the book reminds the reader that such actions are not limited to a place like Santa Maria, CA, but to our entire nation, as we grapple with a national leader who embodies all of these undesirable and hateful characteristics.
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