Muhammed Ali and Me: And why Trump's immigration policy is truly terrifying


Much of President Donald Trump’s legislative agenda is in shambles, staff turnover has rocked his administration, the president’s base of Alt Right dimwits (and a few legitimate storm troopers) rioted in Charlottesville and special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation dawdles forward. But amidst the general chaos and confusion, the president is moving full steam ahead with his immigration crackdown.

If you’re white — and especially if you’re white and live among similarly shaded people — you probably can’t even begin to understand the terror this is causing among people of darker hues. I didn’t fully understand this myself until yesterday, even though I spend much of my time in Washington, a city that is still about half African-American and where it’s getting colder by the day, and Miami, where I frolic at the beach and eat absolutely astonishing quantities of pork and curried oxtail at Latino and Caribbean restaurants.

Here in Miami I see people flocking to immigration lawyers to check on their status and listen to people express worries about being deported. Just the other day I heard a story about a young Latina woman who may be sent back to her home country because she tried to kill her boyfriend with a pair of scissors. OK, maybe that’s not a good example, but these fears are legitimate in 99 percent of the case.

But as I mentioned, it was only yesterday that I fully understood how terrified local and visiting Latinos (among others) are about the madness aloof on the streets of the city and country. Here’s what happened:

I pretty much hadn’t eaten all day so around 6 — hours before I watched the Nationals thrillingly beat the Cubs on TV; recall that I am in Miami and not DC at the moment — I went to one of my favorite restaurants, Latin Cafe. I was planning to order the fried breaded chicken with rice and beans and platanos because I’m counting calories but roast pork was the special so I blew my diet.

Anyway, before I entered the restaurant I saw a group of 9 people on the street, ranging in age from about 14 to 65. One of the teenagers had on a shirt with the words, “Muhammed Ali: Greatest boxer of all time.”

I got excited because I love Ali. He was a childhood hero and I still find myself, when periodically distracted, watching and re-watching his fights. My personal favorite, which I just watched the close of now, is when he knocked out Oscar Bonavena, a fight which in my view is seriously under-appreciated.

Anyway, I thought the group of people on the street were Spanish speakers so I started telling them in Spanish about why I loved Ali and all the important things regarding him that took place in Miami, i.e. he trained for and beat Sonny Liston here to win the heavyweight championship, he announced his conversion to Islam (and name change from Cassius Clay) with Malcolm X.

I also told them that until an hour earlier I had been wearing a T-shirt with the iconic image of Ali standing over Liston when he knocked him out in the first round in the rematch in Lewiston, Maine in 1965. And I also told them that there is a little-known plaque honoring Ali (and other fighters trained by the great Angelo Dundee) in South Beach, if they happened to get down there. I added, among other things, that in my view the only athlete who even remotely compares to Ali in the last century is LeBron James, and surely not bland golfer/Chicago Bull Michael Jordan.

Just a minute after I started telling the group all this, I could see they were baffled — it turns out they were visiting from Brazil and didn’t speak Spanish — so I switched to Portuguese. My Spanish and Portuguese are actually very good, though I am most fluent in Port-anhol so neither is perfect and the group still appeared to be a little confused.

I believe there were two reasons for this.

1) I talk pretty fast in English, my native tongue, and can be hard to follow in it too as I tend to digress a lot. I speak Spanish and Portuguese as fast as I do English, but not as well and I can be a little more hard to follow because I tend to digress a lot.

2) The other reason they were baffled — and this is the serious part of this story — is that in addition to #1 above, they were clearly a little frightened, and not of me but by the political climate in this country. My Spanish, and more relevantly here my Portuguese, are seriously good, no bullshit, so normally they would have understood me. But I guess because I kept excitedly saying the words “Muhammed” and “Ali,” and perhaps because I was a little overly-excited, they instead misunderstood.

The oldest member of the group said to me (in Portuguese, they didn’t speak much English), “Are you saying he [the teenager] should take his T-shirt off?” A middle-aged woman in the group then said, “We don’t have anything to do with terrorism.”

I told them, and I slowed down my speech rate at this point, that what they said really made me sad because, “I’m not a Trumpista and you have nothing to worry about, I am not talking about terrorism, I am talking about Muhammed Ali and how much I love him.”

I explained again about the T-shirt and showed them on my phone the image of Ali standing over Liston, and everything was fine, they visibly relaxed. They asked a few questions about Ali and places related to him that they might go see while in Miami. And I went into the Latin Cafe and ate an astonishing amount of roast pork, white rice and black beans (see below), and was grateful I was in a wonderful city like Miami.

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