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‘Tafu’ for Snafu and iPhones at Graduation

Emil Photo Again Edited 61b7dabb61239

Yes, it’s complicated. Which is why no government should attempt to carry out an ad hoc zero tolerance immigration plan at the border that includes an ad hoc separation of children from parents without a way to reconnect said children to parents.

That sort of ad hockery is an administrative mockery. Anyone knows two ad hocs don’t make right.

In which case we have a situation that goes beyond a simple snafu.

More than 2,000 children separated?

As befits my role as a columnizing journalist, an adjunct lecturer and self-proclaimed neologist, the times cry out for a new word to describe the mess of our times.

And so I have coined the term tafu. Not tofu which Asian Americans would immediately be familiar with, as should all those adventurous souls who eschew meat and know there is a difference between the firm and extra firm.

No, this is not tofu. I mean tafu as in a word that is its own grand mess.

Tafu. When snafu is not enough, and the T, of course stands for Trump.

Of course, it does. He would have it no other way. It is all about him. Always. And the situation that has become normal is all his doing.

The immigration matter is typical of the self-inflicted damage, and the creation of the make-work clean-up that is all too often required after embarking on a thoroughly half-baked idea. Totally predictable, it comes from the not knowing, not thinking through, not being totally prepared for the consequences of some ill-conceived executive action. And it seems to be happening all the time.

And so we have the zero tolerance policy which really wasn’t needed, but it makes it seem like there’s some tough guy Trump action on the border.

And then we have the separation of kids, because Trump has no empathy for the poor migrants who still believe that spirit of the Statue of Liberty extends to the Rio Grande.

Besides, Trump is a hollow family values guy. The president is the guy with the three marriages and alleged unprotected sex with various and sundry women. He just wants to present the hard exterior, because in the young children of the migrants he sees the future members of the MS13.

Be afraid. Be very afraid.

But it’s just not right.

And the wave of criticism from Republicans and Democrats overtakes the man who is the least qualified person to be president in the history of the United States. So much so, his only way out is to undo himself by executive order.

Unfortunately, the executive order gives him a photo op (he likes those), but it does nothing to stop the policy of separations.

Indeed, the executive order espouses keeping children with their incarcerated parents in jail, a violation of a 20-day standard that is the current law. Furthermore, the order does nothing for reunification of the children. And then there was Kathleen Rice, a member of Congress from New York, telling CNN that some of the children were separated without a clearcut way to reunite with parents.

Now that is no mere snafu. That is textbook tafu.

And that is the condition of our federal government and this administration until further notice in all area of concern. Immigration, education, you name it.

Snafu after snafu, it’s the new normal under Trump, who is learning as he goes. And he just doesn’t seem to be going soon enough.

So it’s tafu, tafu, tafu. Your word for the day.

As Trump began his hardline actions, and news broke about kids being separated from families, I was reuniting with my family at my daughter’s college graduation.

It hit me hard. The key memory evoked by seeing my daughter in cap and gown was the image of me walking her years ago to kindergarten. Could I imagine her being wrested away from me then? And now here she was completing that K-16 walk.

The kids taken at the border wouldn’t have the same uninterrupted experience. Some may never ever find their parents again.

Indeed, many of the kids in the 2018 graduation class (UCSB’s media office was not so kind as to respond to my request for exact numbers by deadline), were first-generation grads, sons and daughters of immigrants. The first in their families to graduate from college.

I saw the parents and grandparents in the crowd. Their Latinx or Asian American student walking the stage not just for themselves as individuals, but for multiple generations of Americans.

This was our country’s enduring dream in action.

One thing about UC Santa Barbara: not only is it a beautiful campus known for its mix of academics and advance recreation, the school is a sight to behold for diversity.

The African-American population is lower than national standards, at just 5 percent and needs to do better at UCSB.

But the school’s racial makeup is 27 percent Latino, 26 percent Asian and 39 percent White.

Upon visiting the school for graduation, I was also surprised that the students making the news were Asian American. And by news, I mean the bad news. Model minority? One was arrested for invading women’s privacy in a bathroom. More shocking was that in the last two months, the school has had two reported suicides of Asian American students.

You surely don’t hear much about that. And when I asked the school’s media office about that, they didn’t want to talk about it beyond what was on the website.

One wonders about the outreach to kids from different backgrounds. Mental health isn’t a hite student problem. Diversity needs to make inroads in helping students of color.

That was distressing, but not the most noticeable thing during my visit.

This was the first graduation I’ve been to in years. And why should I have doubted that the most ubiquitous thing I saw was neither cap nor gown nor tassel nor diploma.

It was the cellular phone. iPhone, Droid. You name it. Everyone had one in their hand.

It was dangerous. Kids were texting while graduating.

Parents in the seats were texting to find and locate their graduating children. Children were texting and FaceTiming.

It got to be a little ridiculous. Pomp and iPhone?

Where’s the decorum? The recorded theme plays so we know there’s no orchestra, so what’s the big deal right?

But somehow it takes away from the ceremonial elevation of the thing.

We are not going for takeout here. This is a college graduation. That costs a heck of a lot more than takeout or drive through.

Couldn’t we have a bit more, as Aretha might sang, R-E-S-P-E-C-T?

Sock it to me. Something’s needed here.

Lest I sound like some old fogey. After all, the academy has its opinions about including multicultural studies and whatnot into the canon.

And we fought for that. So what’s a few thousand cell phones at a graduation ceremony?

I gave in to it. I was taking selfies with all of them.

The diploma’s real. They’re not taking it back.

But are we on a slippery slope. In the next 20 years will we just be FaceTiming the ceremony to save parents the trip?

It’s where we’re heading when we lose a sense of intimacy and decorum.

Fight it?

I may have to cry uncle if I go to the web and can buy Sir Edward Elgar’s hit song as my new ring chime.

Somehow I sense it’s coming. Grads choosing their own processional theme. Why not Drake? Why not Beyoncé?

We’ve got pomp and iPhone.

Emil Guillermo is a journalist and commentator. He writes on diversity issues for the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund at You can follow him on Twitter @emilamok

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