May 2, 2003

First Person:

Visitors from the Deutschland Visit La Prensa San Diego

By: Daniel L. Munoz

The phone rang early, on the first day of April, bringing a request from the Program Director of the International Visitors Council of San Diego. “I hope you’re enjoying the springtime”, chirped Jennifer Varsak. I know by now that I am about to be convinced that I should meet with foreign visitors that have been invited by the Department of State’s, International Visitor Program to the U.S.

As it turned out, The International Program for Germany had made arrangements to bring Ms. Veronika Bellman, member of the German Parliament, member of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU), and Ms. Sylvia Engels PhD in international Politics, currently holding a position as the Foreign and Current Affairs Editor and Moderator, German National Public Radio Deutschland funk (perhaps similar to our KPBS Public Radio), to the United States.

(Left to right) Veronika Bellmann, member German Parliament, Dr. Robert J. Devine, interpretor, Dr. Silvia Engles, German National Public Radio.

Our vistors were interested in finding out how the flow of foreign visitors was being handled at the Tijuana/Otay Mesa border with San Ysidro. The problems associated with controlling the borders. What were the actual implications of having such large numbers of foreigners coming into the United States? They were seeking to determine how Washington policies actually played out in the real world.

Ms. Bellman is a member of the CDU, a party that molds its policies based on Christian values i.e. based on the social ethics of the Christian Churches and the liberal traditions of Europe. In a sense it formed a union of Catholic and Protestants, Conservatives and Liberal proponents of Christian social ideals, and of men and women from the various classes and democratic traditions. The ability for diverse nationalities to live in harmony was a question that they sought answers too. How did Mexican Americans live in peace with the German, French, English and people of other nationalities? That issue of how to handle people of different nationalities, religions, and languages had been brought about by the creation of the European-Union. A requirement for each member country to belong to the European Union is that their borders be open to all other members of the Union!

We replied to this question by pointing out the obvious: America is not a nation as the old-European and far Eastern nations are. We are not a one racial stock nation. We are a nation of immigrants from every country in the world. You can’t and never will be a nation of one single racial stock. What holds us together in love and loyalty is our Constitution, the Bill of Rights and the Rule of Law. We may quarrel amongst ourselves but when we are in another foreign country you immediately look for other Americans because we share the same founding precepts that the founders of our nation created. We are bound together as a nation and little by little as we intermarry and create new Americans, we begin sharing common traits.

“Freedom of the minority press”, does it exist in America, pondered Ms. Sylvia Engels. They question whether I could really speak my mind without being punished seems to be something that bothers most of the foreign visitors that I have met thus far. They see the relative freedom I have in my newspaper and on the Internet version. They keep hearing about “freedom of the press’ as being a protected element of our Constitution and Bill of Rights. But yet, they wonder, why there are so few daily newspapers that are owned by Mexican Americans, Latinos, Blacks, Orientals, and Middle Easterners etc?

“Freedom of the press is relative in this country. If you have the ability and access to enormous sums of money, you can say most anything you want in the press. If you don’t, you can still speak out. But there is a price to pay. If your “truths” are not in conformance with the belief systems of the ruling oligarchies you are punished by social exclusion, political ostracism, and economic ruin.

In the beginning, I paid a heavy price for speaking out for the rights of our community. Freedom of the press was observed in the breach only. However, the heavy handed ways of stifling the press as practice in some countries such as jailing or killing the staff, destroying the newspaper’s offices, or applying heavy censorship is a thing of the past. Now, we suffer the heavy hand of economic isolation. You can’t survive very easily if you’re punished by the denial of advertising. Most minority publishers are without the financial resources to survive for very long without income. You will notice a great number of Mexican American- Latino newspapers don’t have an editorial page and their content is heavy with entertainment & sports. In fact they are silenced by economic starvation. Those of us, that still speak our truths, live in our communities on the basis of self-denial, doing with out . . . We can’t keep up with Jones or Smiths earning $60,000-$100,000 per year. But we do, what we have to do. We believe in the long run it’s in the best interest of our country to continue to be the small mouse that roars!”

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