Latin-American essayist and literary historian Carlos Fuentes spoke at the first of this year’s Chancellor’s Distinguished Fellows Series at the Irvine Barclay Theatre Monday Nov. 13, with ‘Immigration: Challenges on Both Sides of the Border,’ in which he addressed the ever-changing relationship between the state and Mexican immigrant workers.
As a recipient of Mexico’s highest literary honor, the National Prize in Literature, Fuentes drew a crowd that filled the Barclay Theater on his third visit to UC Irvine.
Fuentes began his speech by touching on the evolution of bilingualism in California, a staple in state politics.
‘During the cold war, a joke ran that, ‘Optimists learn Russian, while pessimists learn Chinese,” Fuentes said. ‘Today a new joke is taking over: ‘Optimists learn English, while pessimists learn Spanish.”
According to Fuentes these types of jokes missed the point. He prefers to see bilingualism as a positive aspect of California’s multicultural social climate. He quoted his favorite bumper sticker, which said, ‘Monolingualism is a curable disease.’
Fuentes then transitioned to the issue of immigration, noting particular personal grievances with a system wherein human workers are subject to quotas and restrictions that aren’t applicable to merchandise.
‘In one big paradox, things are free or cleared to cross frontiers, people are not,’ Fuentes said.
Fuentes then prefaced a brief history of U.S.-Mexico relations with a statement of the inherency of conflict at the border.
‘There have been and will always be problems between Mexico and the United States, but they can all be solved through a modicum of good will, mutual respect and diplomacy,’ Fuentes said.
Fuentes emphasized that the Mexican border once contained all of California and that the land became part of the United States only because of a war that was opposed by Abraham Lincoln and Henry David Thoreau.
‘Mexico and the United States are now confronted with a major border issue which our past experience should illuminate, raising the need for rational solutions and avoiding the temptation of counter productive, violent non-solutions,’ Fuentes said, adding that current immigration laws oppress the citizens and economies of both the United States and Mexico.
‘Mexicans are killed and ravaged in their attempts to cross the border into the United States,’ Fuentes said. ‘Migration is not a police problem