This hobo party in Oceano reminds me of the time when many white people thought blackface makeup was lighthearted entertainment, too. You don’t see much of that any more, even around Halloween.
It’s one thing to make light of ourselves, but it’s not in good taste to make light of those less fortunate or different than us. Justifying it by falling back on a dictionary definition of “hobo,” or saying that it’s a traditional celebration, doesn’t pass muster any more than blackface did so long ago. Everyone knows that a “hobo” is a homeless man or woman, and today they rarely eat so well as hobo stew.
As a U.S. Navy veteran with almost three decades of service, I am deeply saddened to see my fellow veterans from the Vietnam era and beyond swelling the ranks of the homeless in America. Who out there would dress up as a homeless service member and celebrate it? The old romantic vision of a hobo riding the rails has been replaced by a new, stark reality, and those living it don’t share romantic notions. There must be a more worthy way to recognize Oceano’s unique history and its connection to the railroad.