Garland, Texas vs. Pam Geller

I grew up in Garland, Texas on Princeton Street where my parents lived until a few years ago. One of my first memories is the icy January day my parents and their friends gingerly brought my new baby brother and our very woozy mother home from the hospital to our little house. All of the other Indian families we knew moved to nicer neighborhoods and fancier houses over the years, but we stayed where we had been in Garland.

Garland is a very middle class suburb, middle class in that exclusively American way of everyone from technically poor, working people into the upper middle class with its own country clubs and lakeside homes all calling themselves middle class. Garland, like many of the Texas suburbs, was its own rural municipality when perpetually expanding Dallas grew right up to it, and it became filled with reasonably priced housing developments for the endless growth of the tech, medical, and financial services companies that flourish in that part of North Texas. Because it has always been its own town, it retains the diversity of housing stock and businesses that an independent municipality would have.

The Garland/Richardson area has some of the best public schools in the country. My high school, Berkner in Richardson, has a highly regarded STEM program as well as an excellent fine arts program, great sports teams, a 350-member marching band, and has had clubs as diverse as a drill team, math team, and gay-straight alliance.

Berkner reports itself as 16 percent Asian -- not that high until you consider that Texas is only 4.3 percent Asian.

My parents remember coming to Dallas in 1971 and moving into an apartment complex of 6-8 units on Haskell Drive, a poor centrally located neighborhood at the time, trendy now, with the few other Indian families they knew in Dallas. There probably weren't many more. Most of them were students at SMU or UTA.

Today, there are many enclaves of Asians throughout the greater Dallas area. Dallas has received refugees from the South East Asia, the Horn of Africa, New Orleans, and every American war. Immigrants to North Dallas range from H1 visa professionals to those with no skills to trade for work in this country. Immigrants in Garland are owners, workers, and students.

Pam Geller, the hate group leader from Long Island, has taken her New York-style, anti-Islam hate speech into the community of Garland, Texas. She is willing to sacrifice the good order of Garland, Texas for her staging of conflict between East and West, Muslims vs. Americans.

Garland is vulnerable not because it agrees with her, but because it allows for generous community use of public space, a pillar of democracy. Hey, Garland, I love you guys. Don't let her take your tax dollars and your good will.

Did you read the story of that Garland police officer who shot dead both attackers while under fire? That is the skilled and sensible local policing I remember: as a teenager with a fast car; during the seasons when Asian youth were robbing Asian homes in search of our mother's imagined stashes of gold; or when my little cousin called 911 because she had an emergency of rage against her big sister. I hope the Pam Gellers of the world do not turn this fine community into a stage for their end-time scenarios. The mayor of Garland has this to say.

I now live in New York, not Long Island like Pam Geller, but even here in this famously diverse and tolerant city, Pam Geller has tried to turn us against one another, exploiting the attacks on the World Trade Center to publish hate speech in our public space, using our strengths and freedoms will against us.

If she had her way, she would incite this city to riots. This is what she wanted to put on our city buses. These are not the words of Muslims. Can you imagine any other group daring to speak for a religion not their own and representing the most extreme and marginalized voices as the mainstream? We would call it hate speech and ban it.

Who should have to watch slander of your faith roll by on city buses, helpless to do anything about it?

The MTA has decided it won't happen here, but to make sure it doesn't it has banned any kind of political advertising. I appreciate the importance of acting quickly, and I wonder what it means that we cannot create ways to discern between incitement and free speech, an essential pillar of democracy. Pam Geller is having the same impact in Garland. The Garland public schools are re-considering their generous democratic policy for the use of their meeting spaces.

In Texas, local property taxes pay for those great schools. They belong to the community. In response to this horrible event, the Garland Independent School District is reconsidering the policy which makes space available for all kinds of community gatherings, arguably essential to building healthy community in places as diverse as Garland.

It seems that the only response to this citizen's abuse of her freedom is to undermine the essentials of the very democracy she purports to defend. What a frightening direction for us all.

When my parents finally moved from Princeton, my brother didn't take it so well. He had spent his whole life in that modest house. I thought my parents were moving because it was not worth investing in the upkeep of the aging tract house, and something new and spacious would be nice for them in their retirement. The neighborhood was becoming seedier than I remembered it growing up, although fascinating and thoroughly Asian, primarily Vietnamese and Korean. What had felt like an hour long drive in the 1980s to get to an Indian grocery store on the weekend, had become a roll around the corner to so many choices that we had to choose a favorite. A part of their move was that their neighborhood had remained working class and diverse, but that now meant that some neighbors were hostile to them in a way I don't remember growing up. All my brother saw was home.

The new neighborhood they live in isn't too far away, but it has larger plots and brand new homes. They haven't been able to move away from that underlying tension. In post-9/11 America, people like us are suspect. That is one difference. The other is that you are as likely to see a man dressed like he would be at home in Kottayam coming out to get his paper in the morning in this new neighborhood.

It is in a very diverse community that Pam Geller has staged her newest fight, somehow taking the atheistic, post-Algerian war, Parisian sensibility of Charlie Hebdo and assuming these are the shared values of North Texas. It couldn't be further from the truth. You can call us naïve, but Garland still has the bones of a small town -- but today with a spectacular range of immigrant diversity: folks that for 40 years have gone to school with each other; marry one another; and are from all kinds and conditions all over the world. There is an "all the Buddha statues you could want for your garden" place on the way to my parents' new house, past the Injera shop, the Mexican restaurants, the Texas homecooking, the tornado warning towers, Starbucks, and every kind of religious institution you can imagine. Don't let some New Yorker tell you we hate each other.