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Over ice cream, confronting the heart of Republican fear

La Michoacana in Highwood

Confront those fears of immigrants, Neil Steinberg urges —but baby steps, first. Try heading to La Michoacana in Highwood, he suggests, and don't be frightened; you can order in English. | Neil Steinberg/Sun-Times

Only afterward did it strike me.

I had been to the belly of the beast, the heart of darkness, the nightmare haunting Republican America.

And didn’t even realize it, at the time.

It happened last week.

OPINION

A friend of my wife’s was having a party at a bar in Highwood.

The Wooden Nickel. Big, boxy place.

We stayed an hour. Others ate dinner. Bar food. Burgers in baskets.

The fare did not look appealing to us.

Highwood is known for restaurants, my wife said, as we left. Let’s drive around, look at restaurants.

OK, I said.

We drove around. Nothing called out.

Then I saw a pink-trimmed building.

La Michoacana Ice Cream Parlor, 2641 Waukegan Ave, steps across the border in Highland Park.

“Let’s have ice cream for dinner,” I said.

My wife wasn’t so inclined, but said I should go ahead.

La Michoacana in Highwood

Inside La Michoacana in Highwood. | Neil Steinberg/Sun-Times

Inside, we saw it wasn’t your standard malt shop. There is a big currency exchange, first of all. A gaggle of teenagers stood chatting at a case of frozen treats.

“Do you have horchata ice cream?” I asked. A sort of Mexican vanilla.

They did. I bought a small scoop. $2.25. Two spoons.

We repaired to a corner. I started on our ice cream.

That’s when I noticed it.

Everybody in the place was speaking Spanish. Everyone — the teens, the families at other tables. Everyone except us. I almost remarked upon it.

“Here, have some,” I said instead to my wife. To my horror, she did.

“I could get you your own scoop,” I suggested.

“No,” she said. “I’ll have some of yours.”

My scoop of horchata ice cream never would have made the newspaper had Donald Trump, introducing Border Patrol agent Adrian Anzaldua at the White House Monday, not gushed: “Speaks perfect English.”

As to why Trump would suspect Anzaldua might not speak perfect English, the answer is plain: because Trump is a bigot stuck with his preconceived notions and Anzaldua is a Spanish-sounding name. Trump was elected on anti-Hispanic immigrant prejudice, from announcing his campaign with anti-Mexican slurs to later mocking Jeb Bush for speaking Spanish while campaigning.

Donald Trump (left) and Customs and Border Patrol agent Adrian Anzaldua

President Donald Trump welcomes Customs and Border Patrol agent Adrian Anzaldua (right) on stage to speak during a White House event honoring U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers and U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents on Monday. Trump used the wrong acronym for Customs and Border Protection, then created an awkward moment when he noted that Anzaldua spoke “perfect English.” | Andrew Harnik/Associated Press

“This is a country where we speak English, not Spanish,” said Trump.

Not at La Michoacana. Or many parts of Highwood, where half the 5,600 residents are Hispanic, making it the city with the third highest concentration of Hispanics in the state.

Also one of the safest — 14th out of 291 communities according to a 2016 analysis of FBI crime data. Safer than Lake Forest. Safer than Winnetka.

I mention this only because bigots like Trump wave criminality, trying to rationalize their hatred, conjuring up the fiction that immigrants are especially dangerous. When facts show the opposite: immigrants are more law-abiding than native-born citizens, which makes sense, when you consider how you would behave if you could be deported for running a stop sign.

That can’t be stated too often: Republicans don’t hate Hispanic immigrants because they’re criminals; they portray them as criminals because they hate them.

Why? Ignorance and its handmaiden, fear. They need to get out more. Go to La Michoacana . Get ice cream.

Democrats are different: 85 percent aren’t annoyed by immigrants who speak little or no English. As opposed to 77 percent of Trump supporters who are “bothered” by immigrants who speak little or no English.

This is not to say I was not bothered at La Michoacana. I was. My wife’s spoon kept dipping into my diminishing scoop of horchata.

“I’m finished,” she said at last.

“Thank God!” I replied, and she burst out laughing. I paused on the way out to gaze longingly at paleta: homemade pops with fruit embedded in them, in flavors like rice pudding and pineapple with chili.

I took comfort in realizing: it’s only 20 minutes away. I’ll return with a cooler and ice packs and load up.

Just as many who fear flying can enter programs where they board an airplane, and those who fear the dark eventually must face it, so those in terror of the growing segment of the American population who are Hispanic, maybe even speak Spanish — not all do — should try to confront what they’re terrified of instead of just rolling around in their Fox-fed fear playpens. I can’t think of a better first baby step than heading to La Michoacana. Don’t be frightened; you can order in English. Try the horchata. But get a medium, particularly if your spouse tags along.

La Michoacana in Highwood

The paleta — homemade frozen pops with fruit embedded in them, in flavors like rice pudding and pineapple with chili — are, like everything at La Michoacana in Highwood, homemade. | Neil Steinberg/Sun-Times