Over the past Easter weekend I spent time watching old biblical movies on TV especially, The Ten Commandments (1956), Cecil B. DeMille epic about Moses and his successful effort to bring the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt. The movie featuring great actors like Charlton Heston, Yul Brynner, Ann Baxter, Edward G. Robinson, Yvonne De Carlo, Vincent Price and John Carradine among others took me back to the time of the giant screen with casts of thousands.
Watching the Easter movies provided a respite from the replay in court of the terrible event associated with the killing of George Floyd at the hands of Officer Derek Chauvin and the Minneapolis police. There were moments in the trial too difficult to watch and not become emotional.
There is a scene in The Ten Commandments that defines the cultural differences between Moses and Zipporah the Bedouin wife he takes in the Sinai. Although they both descend from Abraham, her lineage goes back to Ishmael, Abraham’s first son and the father of the Arab world and his goes back to Isaac, the second son and father of the Jews.
Moses, initially being mistaken for an Egyptian is an asset to the eventual union with Zipporah. The stories in the Bedouin community about Moses as an exiled prince of Egypt also reinforces that. The defined relationship between Moses and Zipporah and her family provides the bases for familial harmony between two different cultures. Yet, the story has to be about Moses, his relationship with a Jewish God and the epic quality of his anointment as a leader that brings freedom to his people.
In this case, a one worldview portrayed by the Egyptians and the Bedouin is subordinated to the world view of the Israelites and their adventure. This relationship got me to thinking about the relevance of that subordination concept to the very pronounced cultural dynamics in today’s America.
Latinos in America, for example, have grown from 9.6 million in 1970 to 60.6 million in 2019. They are the fastest growing community in this country and can be the predominate population by the beginning of the century. This accelerated growth is not what first alarmed leaders of the majority in the 80’s and 90’s. What really concerned them was a perceived cultural threat in the form of the Spanish as a language spoken by Latinos and its competing worldview.
For Latinos, the English Only Movement caused by this perceived threat represents an attack on a cultural foundation of their identity. The fact that English will in fact predominate in the future of this country does not change the value of English/Spanish bilingualism in speech and thought.
Now however, it is no longer just about English Only or its cultural implications, but also about a profound demographic change where a minority majority is emerging and demanding its place in the political structure of our democracy. Extremists in the established majority see this as a cultural threat to them and their image of what is to be an American.
This fear also has an accompanying nostalgic desire to return to The Ten Commandment type of depiction of other people’s stories using a stable of excellent White actors they can relate to. They will accept Arabs and Jews if portrayed by their own kind. To maintain the status quo some are even willing to forgo democracy if it can no longer keep them in power. They see this as a culture war to secure something we already have.