Inside the Capitol

Thursday, July 31, 2008

8-4 August Anniversaries and Birthday

Syndicated Columnist

SANTA FE -- August hasn't always just been the dog days of summer. Granted, many Europeans take the month off and travel. Mostly, they're looking for someplace cooler.
But maybe they're also commemorating the travels of one of their own, Christopher Columbus, who set out to sail the ocean blue on August 3, 1492.
We know now that Chris wasn't the only person who figured the world had to be round. The only question was how far he'd have to travel to get to India and go into the tea trading business.
Many Europeans will follow Columbus' basic course this August and end up in America for some trading of their own -- their expensive Euros for our cheap goods. It's a blessing for our economy. Anyone who has been where tourists are the past six months, knows the percentage of foreigners is much higher than usual.
Speaking of foreigners, August also is the month when Congress passed its first bill restricting immigration. Congress squeezed that one in on August 3, 1882 before leaving on its recess to escape the August heat in Washington.
There had been periodic uproars about immigration since the 1820s. Some people worried that the Irish, Italians and Germans would overrun our country, refuse to learn our language, refuse to adopt our customs and take our jobs. And even worse, they were Catholic.
But burgeoning American industries kept them coming. They needed their manual labor. And somehow, we weren't losing our language, customs or jobs.
By the 1880s, however, Eastern Europeans started coming. And the ones who weren't Catholic, were Jews. I grew up in a community that was largely Eastern European.
The Southern Pacific Rail Road created the town of Deming and brought in Eastern European farmers to provide fresh food. Their descendents have remained. You'll never meet a finer group of people. They have kept their Kielbasa Festival. But they all speak English.
Also in August, New Mexico's own Smokey Bear became our nation's forest fire prevention symbol in 1944. Rescued from a forest fire near Capitan, Smokey quickly became a star back at a time when forest fire prevention was a major worry since most able-bodied men were working in our war effort.
To add to the anxiety, Japan had come up with the idea of attaching little bombs to gas balloons and launching them into winds they hoped would carry them to the United States. A few actually made it across and started forest fires in our coastal mountains.
Smokey caught on as no other national mascot ever has. Remember Woodsy Owl, the crash test dummies and McGruff, the crime dog in a trench coat? Maybe you don't. They aren't exactly rock stars.
But Smokey captured our imaginations. He has been officially recognized by an act of Congress. He's been put on a postage stamp and been in several movies. He got to retire to the National Zoo in Washington, D.C. before returning to Capitan to rest in peace.
At a time when bears are being tranquilized and relocated throughout the West for dumpster-diving and pantry raids, Smokey remains the only honorable bear role model. Yes, Yogi Bear has fans but who would you rather take home with you?
Smokey is the strong, silent type, who nevertheless is a great communicator. In fact, he did his job so well our nation began to realize that complete fire suppression had its downside. Smokey took it all in stride, admitting now that forest fires sometimes serve as nature's housekeeper.
So let's give a cheer for our Smokey Bear. He's someone who has always made us proud. No one ever made negative ads about him. He never was called a show off, although he occasionally had bouts of being grumpy in his old age. But that happens to all of us.
Oh, and unlike so many other rock stars, he never had to trundle off to rehab.
So you might want to bake a little birthday cake to honor Smokey this month. But you might skip the 64 candles. He might not approve.
MON, 8-04-08

JAY MILLER, 3 La Tusa, Santa Fe, NM 87505
(ph) 982-2723, (fax) 984-0982, (e-mail)



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