By Michael Wunder, News Editor
UNO political science professor Jonathan Benjamin-Alvarado kicked off the UNOrthodox student-nominated faculty speaker series Tuesday in the CPACS Collaborating Commons with a lecture examining the past, present and future of Latinos in the U.S.
The lecture, titled “Which Way to Your Amerika?,” began with a retelling of an encounter Benjamin-Alvarado had with an anti-immigration protester in Omaha.
“It was the first time in my life that I’d been directly confronted by something that’s been simmering around in this country for a long time,” he said, recounting a furious female protester who had told him to ‘go back to where you came from.’
“It was devastating for me,” he told the crowd. “I began thinking long and hard after that incident. What is it she wants? What country is it she’s looking for?”
The country that woman was looking for — white, English-speaking only, monocultural – doesn’t exist, Benjamin-Alvarado said. She was looking for ‘Amerika,’ a white-supremacist ideal, when what exists is America — a country constantly evolving culturally, economically and socially while still facing considerable struggles.
“The well has been poisoned,” Benjamin-Alvarado said. “Lies and innuendo pass as discourse. Anytime you have 12 million people living in the shadows of a society, you have something wrong with that society.”
Such poisoned discourse has led to ambiguity about the truth of the immigration debate in America, where money, not social unrest, has been the primary motivation behind recent anti-illegal immigrant legislation in Arizona and Nebraska, Benjamin-Alvarado said.
Currently, for-profit prison companies are paid $141 a day to hold detainees before deportation. New legislation in Arizona would increase that amount to $189 for women and children.
It’s legislation focused on expanding a for-profit organization at the expense of the blood of others, Benjamin-Alvarado said. “It’s all about money.”
But despite such pessimistic realities, the professor is hopeful about the future.
“I think today, as things stand, this country is at the precipice of falling down a deep chasm or achieving an even greater greatness than it has in the past,’ he said.
It’s from his time spent with UNO students that Benjamin-Alvarado has developed such optimism.
“Students do not carry the baggage of people from my generation,” Benjamin-Alvarado said. “I find great hope in that for the future. There is nothing to be afraid of.”