Jorge Zeballos Holds Immigration Presentation at EMU

Jorge Zeballos, current diversity consultant at Guilford College, gave his presentation entitled, “The Immigration Debate and White Privilege”, to an audience of 40 to 50 students in Strite Conference Room in the Campus Center on Tuesday. Mr. Zeballos’ presentation covered the history of immigration policy in the United States, and documented the ways in which these policies have given “white” Americans preferential treatment.  This historical analysis of immigration policies, which covered areas as diverse as the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 and Operation Wetback of 1954, was generally well received by students and faculty.  Senior Jossimar Diaz-Castro applauded Zeballos’ historical treatment of the issue, saying, “His summary of regrettable, blatantly racist policies enacted by the U.S. government along with his presentation of declarations made by a number of key figures of authority in U.S. history – such as U.S. senators – was deeply conducive to the gaining of an understanding of the historical reality of immigration dynamics in this country.”

This analysis of Zeballos’ message was echoed by seminary professor David Evans, who said, “Framing the conversation around immigration as a discourse that privileged people defined as white by the U.S. government is perhaps the most effective way to frame the discussion.”

This historical review of immigration policy was followed by a discussion period in which students were allowed to ask Zeballos questions about any topic that they wished.  Although this allowed for a wider range of coverage, many in the audience thought that Zeballos could have invested some of his ideas in a more focused manner before opening the floor for general questions.  Evans expressed frustration that Zeballos didn’t more fully flesh out his definition of white privilege. “I think Zeballos could have strengthened his presentation by focusing on one particular component of his title: white privilege.  He seemed to assume that his audience understood his analysis, but he never fully articulated what he meant by white privilege; nor did he offer a detailed analysis of race, particularly racial whiteness.”

Another criticism was voiced by Diaz-Castro who said, “I missed a more elaborate and updated treatment of the current immigration circumstance in our country.”  One more general criticism came from History Professor Mark Sawin, who thought that Zeballos may have focused too much on specific identities of immigrants, thereby failing to see the bigger issue. “Issues of immigration are not so much about where one is from as about power. The idea that somehow one’s identity is tied explicitly to a place is misleading – calling one’s heritage ‘German’ or ‘Mexican’ is fundamentally misleading. . . What’s important to look at in issues of immigration is who is preventing whom from movement and why.”

However, despite these complaints, Zeballos received a generally warm reception from students and faculty, who agreed with the general outlines of his message. In particular, Diaz-Castro affirmed Zeballos’ message and his presence on campus, saying, “generally, though, it was a great presentation on the part of Zeballos, and I am glad to have academic Latin American voices represented on our campus.”

-David Yoder, Opinion Editor


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