Shame on you, Kelly Wooster. At the March 3 planning commission meeting, there was a discussion regarding whether to refer to “invasive plant and animal species” in the conservation and open space element of the general plan or to simply use the term, “invasive species.” The consensus was to use “invasive species” as that would cover everything including, in Commissioner Wooster’s words, “people from Mexico.” Worse yet, the text in question dealt with eradication, “Support efforts to eradicate invasive species and encourage practices that reduce their spread.”

What was even more disconcerting is that the response to Wooster’s comment from the audience included far more laughter than gasps. I was ashamed to be a resident of Calaveras County at that meeting. I was so disheartened that I left at the lunch break. I left asking myself if Calaveras County is a bastion of racism. I left asking myself if this is the best we can be?

I had a neighbor some years ago who was a real estate agent. My husband and I were exploring the possibility of buying a rental property or a fixer-upper to flip, so I enlisted her help. I was appalled to find that she had no compunction in claiming that the local real estate market had been adversely impacted by an influx of people of color. However, the terminology she used to represent people of color was blatantly racist. Both our personal and professional relationships ended.

At a high school graduation party for one of my daughter’s friends in 2012, I met her friend’s grandparents who live in Valley Springs. They proceeded to enlighten me as to the adverse impacts of a growing Hispanic population in the area. When I responded that ethnic diversity could be a good thing, they got up and moved away from me, and they did not hide their disgust. The thought I had at the time was, “What are they afraid of?”

My oldest son’s wife is a naturalized citizen from Colombia. While Colombia is not Mexico, I could not help but think how she would be stung, as I was, by Wooster’s comment. My daughter-in-law is an intelligent, beautiful soul who has a master’s degree. How such a person could be considered an invasive species is beyond my comprehension, and there are many such immigrants from all of South America. Mexicans are not overwhelmingly “rapists” and criminals, as Donald Trump has asserted.

My husband and I have been asked how we dealt with the “issue” of interracial marriage. First of all, we were puzzled by the question, because we never considered our son’s marriage to be an issue. We traveled to Colombia for the wedding and fell in love with the warmth of the people, their joie de vivre, their sense of humor and, reluctantly, their total disregard for arriving anywhere on time. You have not lived until you experience the “loco” hour at a Colombian wedding.

The U.S. State Department website cautioned us against going to Colombia even though our son lived there and worked as a teacher at the Universidad del Norte in Barranquilla. They cautioned against traveling between cities on a bus, so we went from Barranquilla to Cartagena on a bus. What we found is that a significant number of Colombians are San Francisco Giants fans, as my husband always wears a Giants cap. What we found is that people are people wherever they may live and whatever their ethnicity may be.

My family has experienced other anecdotal evidence of racism in Calaveras County, such as the hairdresser who couldn’t handle my daughter-in-law’s “ethnic” hair. However, it gives me pause when a planning commissioner feels free to make racial slurs on the record during a public meeting without any fear of repercussion. That is more than an anecdote; it is a chronicling of willful racism.

Will Wooster be censured for his comments? Does anyone care? Is this really the way we want to represent ourselves to the world? Like it or not, in his capacity as a planning commissioner, Wooster represents our county. Perhaps the worst of it is that he equated human beings with invasive plant and animal species. In other words, they are less than human. Please don’t tell me it was just a joke, because it’s not funny.

Muriel Zeller is a poet, writer and Valley Springs resident. She is a member of the Calaveras Planning Coalition and former member of the board of directors for MyValleySprings.com. Contact her at murielzeller52@gmail.com.

0
0
0
0
0

Comment Policy

Calaveras Enterprise does not actively monitor comments. However, staff does read through to assess reader interest. When abusive or foul language is used or directed toward other commenters, those comments will be deleted. If a commenter continues to use such language, that person will be blocked from commenting. We wish to foster a community of communication and a sharing of ideas, and we truly value readers' input.