By Mauricio Machuca
As a business owner, I have always strived to make all people feel welcomed within our walls. For about 10 years now, I’ve felt that the best way to do business is to be outwardly politically agnostic, in spite of whatever my personal politics have been.
It was during the run up to the 2008 election that I worked at Geoffrey’s Comics in Gardena. The clientele was, and is, very lively on Wednesday nights, with talk ranging from all topics general and personal. Comics, music, television, movies, relationships, cars — there’s almost nothing that goes untouched.
If a political discussion ever started to get a little heated between customers, I would chime in that, “It doesn’t matter to me what political leanings, age, sex, color a person was. The only color that matters is green.” I’d rub my fingertips together to get across my point, which would, far more often than not, elicit a tension-releasing laugh from those assembled.
It was not long after one of those incidents that we had a new customer come in to the store. The customer was quite adamant about joining our subscription service because the customer was never going to set foot inside of another comic book shop again. The offense? The owner of the shop had slipped an anti-illegal immigration pamphlet into a weekly stack of books.
In my mind, this was vindication. Comics and politics should not mix.
And so, as issues like marriage equality, terrorist attacks, and transgender bathrooms had their moment in the public eye, I remained quiet. I never addressed those issues at the store or on our official communications. After all, we read comics to get a break from reality; why should I inject sobering thoughts into people’s escapist fantasies?
It was one of my employees who provoked me into questioning my own principles. Kevin, who has written this column a few times in the past, updated the store’s Facebook page with a simple message in the wake of the horrific Orlando shooting: “Hi De Ho Comics has been, and will always be, an LGBTQ-friendly safe space. We may not be able to erase hate ourselves, but we will support every single one of our customers with love.” It was accompanied by the cover to Astonishing X-Men #51, featuring a gay wedding.
I was upset. A lot of different thoughts shot through my brain all at once. “Why did he do this? Doesn’t he understand that he’s going to alienate people? The last thing I need is someone walking out forever because they felt like we’re not accepting of their politics!”
All these thoughts kept resonating in my head as, one by one, notifications began pop up on my computer screen. So-and-so liked Hi De Ho Comics’ photo. So-and-so loved Hi De Ho Comics’ photo. And with each successive alert, the thoughts that were once buzzing in my head began to die down into silence, leaving behind one indefensible truth.
I am a coward.
Worse than that, I am a coward who is at the helm of a business that has always been buoyed by the morality of characters who act when no one else will. Who fight for what is right. Truth and justice.
My truth was that I was more worried about making money than making a principled stance. My justice was ignoring the things that happen around us for fear of upsetting people. I had spent over a decade misjudging the situation I was in.
Yes, comic books can be escapist fantasy, but they can also be a reflection of the world we wish we could live in. It’s not lost on me and several other people, as pointed out in my last column, that Captain America was created by two young Jewish men who correctly surmised that the Nazis were an evil force worth confronting. When Captain America showed up on newsstands punching Hitler in the face it was a full year before Pearl Harbor, a time where the American public was overwhelmingly in favor of staying out of the war. They didn’t do it because it was popular; they did it because it was right.
It was that character that I turned to in my time of internal turmoil. In the 2011 Captain America film a tiny, brittle, asthmatic Steve Rogers speaks a simple truth: “I don’t like bullies. I don’t care where they’re from.” Before he became the superhuman hero, he was simply a human hero. While none of us can ever become Captain America, we can all be Steve Rogers.
The truth is a powerful weapon. What Kevin had posted in the store’s name wounded me because it was the truth, and I was wrong to not speak to it for so long. Everything he wrote was and is true. We will always welcome and support our customers, regardless of what walk of life they come from, as long as they are happy without denying that right to anyone else.
What has changed is that I no longer feel bound by what is politically correct, but by what is factually correct. Openly saying that, as a business, we fully support the LGBTQ community in its struggle for full equality might put some people off, but it does not make it any less true. Standing up for human rights isn’t a brave stance; it’s a truthful stance.
And in the face of fear and bullies and the prospect of second-class citizenship for any group, it is an easy stance.
So I say to our LGBTQ customers, as an individual and as a business, that we will always be on your side. I leave you with the words of Captain America:
“It doesn’t matter what the press says, what the politicians or the mobs say. Doesn’t matter if the whole country decides that something wrong is something right. This nation was founded on one principle above all else: The requirement that we stand up for what we believe, no matter the odds or the consequences. When the mob and the press and the whole world tell you to move, your job is to plant yourself like a tree beside the river of truth, and tell the whole world — ‘No, YOU move.’”
Mauricio Machuca is a co-owner of Hi De Ho Comics, 1431 Lincoln Blvd., in Santa Monica.