Monday, March 19, 2007


BSU student flier angers some Hispanics

College Republicans say promotion for Vasquez speech is ‘all in good fun'; restaurant, others aren't amused

By Sandra Forester - Idaho Statesman

Edition Date: 03/19/07

A Boise State University student group has angered area Hispanic leaders and others by promoting a speech about immigration with a "food stamp drawing" that requires climbing through a hole in a fence and offering fake identification for a shot at winning dinner at a local Mexican restaurant.

Owners of Chapala, the restaurant named in a promotional flier for the event, also aren't amused — and say they are considering a lawsuit against BSU's College Republicans.

Faviola Marin, co-owner of the local restaurant chain, said Chapala had nothing to do with the promotion or the student group.

"We're really upset about it," Marin said Sunday night. "We've had a lot of upset customers and phone calls."

Marin said one of their Boise restaurants has been broken into twice in the past week, and she believes the vandalism is connected to the flier.

"We want an apology," Marin said, noting that Chapala has supported BSU's Cinco de Mayo activities and scholarships for Hispanic students. "Nobody has said anything to us."

BSU College Republicans President Jonathan Sawmiller said Chapala's name was taken off the fliers as soon as the restaurant called and complained to a BSU official. He said he believes that quick response should quell a lawsuit.

"There was no intention on our part to defame them in any way," Sawmiller said.

A copy of the flier circulated by e-mail Friday mentions Chapala by name. On Sunday night, the flier on the College Republicans Web site referred to "a local Mexican restaurant" without naming a specific restaurant and added a disclaimer:

"The College Republicans are not racist and do not wish to offend anyone. We simply want to bring attention to the problem of illegal immigration in America, and have chosen a humorous approach to draw interest and student involvement. While the drawing for dinner is all in good fun, the topic is serious."

The flier offers dinner for two to promote a speech by former Canyon County Commissioner Robert Vasquez, a vocal critic of U.S. immigration policy who plans to run for the U.S. Senate in 2008.

The speech, "America's Illegal Alien Invasion," is scheduled for Thursday, during the university's Cesar Chavez Week, sponsored by the BSU Cultural Center to honor Chavez, who championed the rights of farmworkers and helped found the United Farm Workers Union.

Sawmiller, who was in the news earlier this year when he and other conservative students said Boise State's slate of speakers was too liberal, said Sunday the fliers were distributed more than a week ago, but negative comments didn't erupt until they were taken to the BSU Cultural Center. He believes the criticism stems from having Vasquez speak and not from the wording on the flier.

"Vasquez is a very controversial speaker on illegal immigration," Sawmiller said. "It's not popular on campus."

The flier on the College Republicans' Web site uses the Mexican flag colors of green, white and red and features a picture of Vasquez plus examples of a resident alien card, a Texas Health and Human Services Medicaid card, Idaho driver's license and Social Security card.

"Win dinner for two at a local Mexican restaurant! Climb through the hole in the fence and enter your false ID documents into the food stamp drawing!" the flier proclaims.

Sawmiller said earlier the flier is "an attention-getting device."

It got a lot of attention from local Hispanic activists and others.

"It certainly singles out a particular segment of students at the college, and I'm pretty sure if you ask Hispanic students, this is beyond the realm of humor," said Ed Keener, board chairman for the Interfaith Alliance of Idaho, which plans a silent vigil the evening of Vasquez's speech. "It's trying to hurt somebody."

Graciela Fonseca, president of the Hispanic women's organization Mujeres Unidas de Idaho, said members are "outraged."

"It's kind of mean-spirited," she said, adding it will stir up hatred and racism. She said it also made light of people who have died crossing deserts on the U.S. border.

"It's very anti-immigrant," said Maria Mabbutt of the Idaho Hispanic Caucus. "It's very divisive."

Vasquez said the promotional flier is not racist, and that those who think otherwise "find racism in everything that they disagree with."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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