Lack of debate not laughing matter

Published on April 11th, 2008

Daily Trojan
By Beth Palkovic
April 7, 2008

Laughter might be the best medicine, but in our immigration nation, some people take it too far.

In the absence of leaders such as Mexican American labor and civil rights activist Cesar Chavez, if anything is to be accomplished regarding immigration, Californians need to simply talk it out, or maybe even have a laugh or two.

That solution seems simple, but it is certainly fundamental in that debate over immigration.

Last week, California and seven other states celebrated Chavez’s birthday, and Phi Alpha Delta, a prelaw fraternity, and M.E.Ch.A. de USC hosted a debate on immigration at Doheny Library, called "A Change in the White House."

The debate featured two guests voicing similar opinions on immigration: Niels Frenzen, clinical professor of law at USC Gould School of Law, and Enrique Morones, founder of Border Angels, a nonprofit organization that helps people traveling across the U.S. and Mexican border.

Contrasting voices, however, were sorely missed. Not only because they would have provided an opposing viewpoint, but because people need to understand the arguments for and against an issue, especially since it theoretically influences who they will vote for in November.

Unfortunately, Jim Gilchrist, founder of the Minutemen Project (a group that monitors the border for illegal immigrants) and a representative from the Californians for Population Stabilization either did not agree, or did not care enough to show.

It’s easy to tout one’s views on a website, but a constructive, live debate is what people such as Gilchrist and Morones should engage in, and something people can learn from. Controversial debates are one of the many things students can find on college campuses in an effort to be more progressive, pave the way for the future and turn a few heads along the way.

At the debate, Morones called the Minutemen a radical hate group that actively promotes racism, causing several good laughs among students throughout the discussion.

An excellent orator and debater, Morones knew how to strike a chord, but maybe to the extent that his larger point was missed.

As one listens to comments like that and the laughter that follows, it’s a bit unsettling. On the one hand, Morones is right, but it is hard to tell if his comments achieve anything beyond those laughs. This applies not only to Morones, but to the other, more offensive extremity – racist jokes.

These jokes are all the rage at USC. I heard some even on Cesar Chavez Day. Even if one tries to stay away from people who make these jokes, it’s nearly impossible not to run into them every so often.

I wonder what Chavez or Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. would say to the people who ridicule others through a well-crafted joke based, not only on green card status, but on race, gender and sexual orientation as well.

While their jokes made me shudder, it is at least important to realize people with these views do exist. Even though it’s just a joke, it still makes light of an issue that affects millions of people, and many here in our own state. It’s an issue that Chavez dedicated his life to, one for which Morones has received death threats and one for which millions of immigrants come to America.

Jokes will inevitably occur, but bearing all these people in mind, America should build bridges of communication, not walls of separation.

– Beth Palkovic is a member of Phi Alpha Delta.

– Beth Palkovic is a junior majoring in broadcast journalism and psychology. Her column, "The First Word," runs Mondays.

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