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He Has a Gun and He Votes

Rosa Maria Pegueros

For twelve years, I lived in Sunland, in the Verdugo Hills, the foothills of the Santa Monica Mountains just north of Los Angeles. It was a white, working-class neighborhood where some folks still kept livestock; some had horses; you could hear roosters in the morning and many of the men had gun racks in their pick-up trucks.

We bought our first house there because we could not afford to buy a house closer to the center of the San Fernando Valley where our friends lived. The neighbors were forest rangers who worked in the nearby Angeles National Forest and repairmen of all sorts. It was common to see Christian bumperstickers on their trucks, often paired with "Semper fi," the insignia of the U.S. Marine Corps or various gun-related slogans, including the most popular, "We're rednecks, we'll keep our guns."

It always made me giggle to see a sticker reading, "Jesus Loves You," alongside "Insured by Smith and Wesson." God helps those who help themselves, I guess.

Our neighbor Rick was a tall, burly Marine veteran ("There's no such thing as an ex-Marine," he said) who is a legend in our family. Never to be found without a beer can in his hand, Rick would drop by to chat at the most amazingly opportune moments. On one of those occasions, my husband and son were huffing and puffing, trying to move a Spinet piano from the living room into the bedroom. Rick dropped in, saw the fellows struggling, put down his beer can and single-handedly picked up the piano: "Where do you want it?"

Once, I came out in the morning to find Rick standing in front of my house with a rifle in his hands. "Rick, what are you doing??" "There was a coyote (which he pronounced "ky-oat") in your garbage but by the time I got my gun, he'd left." Thank God, I thought to myself.

But my fondest memory is of a Sunday afternoon when I was washing my car. Rick came by to chat, and of course, to help. Seeing the new "Mondale-Ferraro" sticker on my car, he said, "So you're voting for Mondale." I held my breath; I didn't want to get into an argument and was well aware that we were unique in our neighborhood in our Democratic leanings.

Rick didn't wait for an answer. "Yeah, me, too." He then went on to explain that he wanted his daughter to have all the opportunities that his son would have. "Do you have any more of those stickers?"

I didn't so I never had the pleasure of seeing a Mondale-Ferraro sticker on a big Ford truck with gun rack in it.

Rick moved away before we did; his family was growing but the house wasn't. Sunland has changed drastically in the last few years. Nowadays, it has a far more ethnically diverse population and many Latinos live there.

I'd like to imagine a conversation with Rick today, now that our children are grown. Would he be asking me for an Obama sticker? What issues would be on his mind?

No doubt, with me, he would be worried about the economy. By now he might have his own business, so tax and employee issues would be on his mind. Only a few years my senior, he would he worried about his retirement just as I am about mine.

His elderly mother might be stricken with Alzheimer's Disease, as mine is, and he might be worrying about how to take care of her, Social Security, Medicare and prescription benefits much on his mind.

Rick is still white; while his own industry has probably raised his standard of living, I bet he still considers himself a working stiff, owns a lot more guns and still spends part of the hunting season in the Angeles National Forest. But then, as now, he would still think for himself and look down the line at the future, thinking of his grandchildren.

Much has been made of the Bradley Effect but the issues affecting our country weigh us all down. A few bigots might find it beyond their ken to vote for a black man but I believe that the desire we all have for a stable and secure future is a colorblind one. Who knows, maybe one of Rick's grandchildren is mixed race, like Obama himself. A lot has changed in the last thirty years. If we're lucky, this presidency will put an end to race as the major challenge to our society.

This is the world we live in. This is the world we cover.

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Rosa Maria Pegueros is an associate professor of Latin American History and Women's Studies at the University of Rhode Island.

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