Sunday, April 02, 2006

Comedy and Immigration

I am really a big picture, "how does this impact our culture" type person. Practical, nuts and bolts politics or what is happening at the Oscars really does not determine how I will live my life and does not truly interest me. But I'm a fan of comedy; especially comedy that reflects universal truths. Andrew Sullivan a while back commented on the state of American comedy, where he included comedians such as Dave Chapelle, Jon Stewart, and Stephen Colbert. They are all very funny and go a long way to breaking down stereotypes and misconceptions that have, throughout modern American history, divided Americans along racial, religious, or economic lines. However, I've become very impressed with Carlos Mencia.

His show, Mind of Mencia, is probably the best attempt at truly being comedy aimed all who simply want to be entertained. Mencia's goal, which is obvious with his opening skit or set of jokes, is to hit all groups quickly and without apology. The feeling the viewer gets, if paying attention, is how ridiculous stereotypes are and why it is important to be able to look at how odd and funny we all can be on an individual and collective level.

Recently, the debate over immigration has been dominating the air waves and print. Interestingly, neither party seems to have a good hold of the issue. The question that needs to be most readily addressed is assimilation. American immigration, as a whole, has been far more successful than any other nation in the world. That is because American citizenship is not based on race, religion, or any other subjective criteria. The only requirement is a belief in the American experiment: The Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. Those two documents are the fundamental concepts of America and have universal appeal. The only real issue that should be debated in the Congress is how to Americanize all immigrants, legal or otherwise. I'm saddened that America wants to rely on a guest worker program. It seems to be a European approach which does not work and it neither promotes America's political ideals nor increases the American population. (More will live within the borders, but what does that mean if they are not committed to the American experiment?)

The private side of America, along with government, has indeed assimilated the vast majority of immigrants. However, it has always been the case that the numbers are managable AND the connections of the immigrants, more or less, were severed at departure. European immigrants and Asian immigrants could not practically keep those connections. Today, Mexican or any Latin American immigrant can keep these links. This causes great strain, as anyone who saw the recent protests observed that there were many Mexican or other flags present. Many American flags were there as well, but it is hard not to cringe at such a bond with a foreign country that, for one reason or another, drove one's ancestors out.

So you may be asking what that has to do with Carlos Mencia, or any comedian in general. Mencia, and many other comedians, do represent how successful American assimilation has been in the past. He recently just took a shot at Kanye West, who has a history of making racist comments. Of course West is an easy target, but West has great appeal, just as many vulgar characters always had the ability to make it in pop culture. It was something that had to be done, but it just depended on who was going to do it first.

But Mencia's appeal is more in tune with the American ideal. He cares little, unlike Kanye West, about what race has to do with a person. Rather, some Americans' fascination with race is what Mencia really digs at and profits from. It is this appeal that we need to remember as we continue to see heated, unnecessary comments directed at Hispanics/Latinos, or Anglo/non-Hispanic Americans. If we cannot continue to assimilate and create new Americans, who are loyal only to the US, then any guest worker program or any fence will matter little at the end of the day. America is one of the few nations that can take in so many people, from so many nations, and keep the real patriotism alive.


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