Whenever I get angry and frustrated that Mexicans and Mexican Americans are blamed for America's afflictions, I try to remember that there is another group that has had it much worse for much longer.
For 5,000 years, Jews have been the world's favorite scapegoats. Lose a job, blame a Jew. Your son didn't get into Princeton? It's the Jews' fault.
I remember a Jewish friend from Mexico telling me one day over lunch that Jews have always been taught to keep their passports handy. When things come apart, who do you think people will blame? You have to be ready to run.
It's for different reasons that people run to this city by the sea. This is probably the world's priciest colony of refugees.
Folks from around the country relocate to "America's Finest City" to escape harsher realities elsewhere. Some move here from Phoenix to get away from the blistering heat, or from Chicago to put cold winters behind them. Others come for the ocean vistas or quality of life, and to feel the sun in every season.
San Diego is the leisure capital of America. In the nearly 15 years that my family and I have lived in a suburb here, I've noticed that many of our friends and neighbors who gather at pool parties would rather talk about sports and vacations than religion and politics.
We're hiding from violence and intolerance — and, by extension, the violence fueled by intolerance. Most of all, we come here to hide from hate. Since this laid-back city is located in a blue state, we assume that we won't have to deal with bigots who hassle us because of who we are, what we look like or where we worship.
But we were horribly wrong. Hate found us.
A behavioral expert recently said out loud what many of us have been thinking as we learn more about 19-year-old John Earnest, a young man blinded by anti-Semitism.
"He's the kid next door," said Mark Kalish, a San Diego-based forensic psychiatrist. "That's the scary part."
Earnest doesn't fit the profile of someone who winds up on a watch list. He was an honors nursing student at a local state university, a classical pianist and a mild-mannered teen who lived at home with his parents. His father is a high school teacher, and his family is liked and well-regarded.
In a statement, Earnest's parents call what he allegedly did, and why, a "terrifying mystery." Saying they were "shocked and deeply saddened" by their son's actions, they lamented: "To our great shame, he is now part of the history of evil that has been perpetuated on Jewish people for centuries."
As you are no doubt aware, the evil that Earnest is accused of doing was storm into a packed house at the Chabad of Poway, about 30 minutes north of San Diego, on the last day of Passover. Armed with what San Diego County Sheriff Bill Gore described as a "AR-type assault weapon, he started shooting. Authorities say that he went there for one reason and one reason only: to kill as many Jews as possible.
One person died and three others were injured before the assailant's rifle jammed. You could call that a miracle, if you're so inclined. Rabbi Yisroel Goldstein used that word to describe the weapon malfunctioning, and those who gather in houses of worship often believe in miracles.
As for the person who was killed, friends and family have assured us they don't come any better. According to 8-year-old Noya Dahan, who was injured in the attack, 60-year-old Lori Gilbert Kaye jumped in front of Goldstein and said something like: "If the Rabbi dies, I die." And she died.
Earnest was arrested and charged with first-degree murder and three counts of attempted murder, all with special circumstances as part of a hate crime. If convicted, he could get the death penalty.
His parents were half-right. This is terrifying, but it's not much of a mystery. In a hate-filled 4,000-word screed that he published online, Earnest described Jews as bent on the destruction of the white race and portrayed himself as a kind of white avenger intent on protecting his own kind. He apparently picked up that anti-Semitic garbage from an online message board where he had lurked for the last year and a half. He wrote that what he learned there was "priceless."
And poisonous. And sickening. And so damn familiar.