Will Shuck: Hello, goodbye: Taking a personal look at friends, war and immigration

It was a lot of unspoken politics for one night: War. Immigration. The

It was a welcome-home and farewell dinner at the same time. My neighbor Tony
had been back from Kuwait for a few days and he’d be leaving for Iraq in a
few more days.

I hate the war, but I like my friend. Nine of us, our two families, had
three tables pushed together in the corner of an Italian restaurant. Two
cars, and a half-inch of rain. It hit me later that Tony was a kind of
one-man chronicle of current events.

Six months ago, before his National Guard unit pulled him away from his wife
and kids, one barely toddling on wobbly legs, we used to agree about Iraq.
We knew it was ill-conceived, insane, wasteful and cruel. But, knowing he’d
have to go, we talked more about safety and coming home than the insipid
politics that started it all.

Tony doesn’t hate President George Bush the way I do. Though I try to chip
away at it, I tell myself that the fact that he married into a Republican
family is why he feels perfectly comfortable sporting a “W” sticker.

But he’s also a guy from Mexico who came to California without documents.
Illegally. His life is pretty much a staple of conservative radio–and not in
a good way. A half-million people were marching in Los Angeles and he didn’t
feel like talking about it, and I didn’t feel like asking.

He arrived undocumented. He worked in the fields. He worked for the
Conservation Corps. He married, became a citizen, got a job with the state
and joined the National Guard. And now he’s a Republican.

He voted for the recall. He voted for Schwarzenegger. He voted for Bush and
has magnetic yellow ribbons affixed to the rear of his cars.

And now, at dinner, he says we’re making things better in Iraq. He says
we’re improving the lot of women. Not that he’s been in Iraq; he hasn’t. But
he’s seen the gender equation in Kuwait and he’s sold.

“The man walks in front, and the woman walks behind,” he says. “Sometimes
you see three or four women walking behind one man. When he stops, they
stop. When he goes into a store, they wait outside. They just stand there.”
Our wives watch for sign of a smirk.

“So,” he says, “I think we’re going to make it better for the women.”
Tony has a good heart. And since he’s going to Iraq and I’m not (and since
I’m buying him dinner, and since I love his family), I can’t argue. I fork
around with the marinara and put more sugar in my iced tea.

I have to share his hope about “the mission,” at least for one night,
because I share the hope they’ll send him home safe and sound to Sacramento.
And I imagine if I had to go there, I might start telling myself that even
though we were tricked into war by a pack of incompetent liars, maybe
there’s good in it yet.

And Tony knows this, too. “It’s amazing,” he says, “how supportive people
are, even if they’re against the war.”

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