Political season is behind us, for now, but that doesn't mean we can't pull together a good ol' fashioned immigration debate throw-down, does it? Besides, as we all know, when it comes to the topic of immigration, the conversation never stops.
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That said, a stage at Su Teatro in Denver, Colorado became the platform for the most recent discussion.
In the leather chair to the left, wearing khakis and a black sport coat and your typical politician haircut was the man known for his outspoken dislike of our neighbors to the South, Tom Tancredo. In the opposite chair, sporting a black suit with black Chuck Taylors, ¡Ask A Mexican! columnist Gustavo Arellano.
The meeting of the immigration minds was a long time coming. After years of skirting the get-together while in political office, Tancredo was finally sweet-talked into the meeting by Westword's editor, Patricia Calhoun--"because he now had more time on his hands." It also helped that Arellano was in town for a few days at Metro State for the Richard T. Castro Distinguished Visiting Professorship.
Assimilation, along with acculturation, were major buzzwords of the evening. Gustavo told the story of his parents coming to this country--his dad came in the trunk of Chevy in 1968 and his mom dropped out of school in 9th grade--and his upbringing in a Spanish-speaking household. (Regular Weekly readers, you've heard all this before.) He told of his determination to learn English, and his parents insistence that he go to college. Of his assimilation and acculturation, Arellano claimed, "I'm not the exception, I'm the rule."
"Just knowing English is not a sign of assimilation," Tancredo countered. He went on to claim that Mexicans or Mexican-Americans did not want to assimilate, based on some far-flung belief that the Mexican government has some unwavering control over "allegiance" of its people, whether living in Mexico or the United States. Later in the conversation, Tancredo would say later, in a seemingly contradictory statement: "I've never said Mexicans can't assimilate, because millions have, but millions don't."
When Tancredo started talking about cracking down on employers who hired illegal immigrants, Gustavo paraphrased is opponent thusly: "Smash capitalism!" Good one.
3. The DREAM Act
Gustavo talked about the DREAM Act's purpose of creating a pathway to citizenship for immigrants who go to college or joined the military--"those who acculturated, assimilated." He cited the story of Jesus Apodaca, an illegal immigrant in 2002 who was quoted in a front page Denver Post story for wanting in-state tuition costs, and how Tancredo had called the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) after reading the story. Boos followed.
Tancredo deviated from the story, going back to the "acculturated and assimilated" talking-points. "You say these happen with regularity ... they can't be established as enumerable fact." He continued, "Facts are stubborn things."
4. Drug War
His stance on the drug war and the on-going legalization of marijuana issue: "Legalize! That war was lost long ago." Point to Tancredo--and Gustavo, who agreed with him.
"My family's story," Arellano said. "Acculturation is happening, whether people want to believe it or not."
"Being in America doesn't mean you are American," Tancredo countered. Immigration without assimilation is what leads to problems in the system; people funding the social services of those who weren't legal in the first place. His tone did lighten, as he acknowledged that the discussion of illegal immigration is one that is ongoing and the mere fact that the debate happened and that people were watching, would help educate people so that they could come to their own conclusions.
This reporter's assessment: There were no clear winners or losers, no histrionics, no "YouTube moments." The combatants threw out Spanish and Italian obscenities, but didn't direct them at each other. In football terms, Tancredo won the time-of-possession battle, but our guy forced some key turnovers.
In boxing terms? Maybe we'll need a rematch.