November 19, 1999

Debate in Peace

By Patrisia Gonzales and Roberto Rodriguez
Politico-The Forum for Latino Politics
Vol. 3-9, 11/16/99

The death earlier this month of a colleague, Richard Estrada, 49, stunned us. In the five years that he was a syndicated columnist for The Washington Post Writer's Group and an editor at The Dallas Morning News, he wrote few columns that we agreed with. We were on the opposite ends of the political spectrum on virtually all issues. As opposite as our views were, we still respected his right to voice them. We never responded to him in our column, but, in a sense, we debated him constantly. We never wrote to him precisely because we thought he had a right to air his views without colleagues breathing down his neck. Yet we were always tempted because we thought he was obsessed with the issue of immigration and making case for building bigger and bigger walls to keep out the brown, huddled masses. Of course, he never viewed his own writing in that context. The Lordsburg, N.M., native saw it as his patriotic duty to stem the tide of immigration. As a recent editorial in The Dallas Morning News stated: "His concern about heavy Mexican immigration was sometimes misunderstood as anti-Hispanic, which was not the case."

Nonetheless, we believe that others who were anti-immigrant often used his words and ideas as ammunition primarily with the battle cry of "Go back to where you came from." Some thought he hated Mexicans, others simply thought he suffered from self-hate. We can't judge that. But we can attest that he wasn't alone in his views. To be sure, most people who disagreed with Estrada did not want to censor him. Rather, they were frustrated with an industry that wouldn't allow his views to be countered, that seemingly attempted to silence all other points of view.

The irony about Estrada's immigration views is that if he put on some blue-collar or leisure clothes and found himself somewhere along the U.S.-Mexico border, he would have been a prime candidate for questioning and detention by the U.S. Border Patrol. He was as brown as the rich earth of the Southwest. Yet that fact seemed to have no effect on how he perceived the contentious reality of the border. And that was the context of the immigration debate he was a part of.

He indeed presented his point of view in a coherent way, perhaps the way we would if we believed in the same things he did. As the editorial stated: "The New Mexico native approached the subject with the kind of intellectual passion that sparks fierce debate in editorial boards and bookstores and coffee houses. "In a good-natured parting, we would like to assure him that where he is going there are no borders or armed guards to keep him out. And he's definitely earned his way upstairs, though we have a bit of advice for him: Don't start debating with St. Peter as to whether the Pearly Gates are secure... until you're safely inside.

Debate in peace Brother


(Gonzales and Rodriguez are nationally syndicated for the Universal Press Syndicate. E-mail to reach the writers.)

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