Al Jazeera America host to discuss Latino history in Amphitheater address; resume on faith at Hall of Philosophy
Morning Lecture – Story by Kara Taylor
Latino history is significantly older than America itself, and Ray Suarez, host of Al Jazeera America’s daily program “Inside Story,” wants to remind people of that.
“It’s a good thing to remember every time people say, ‘Who are these people, and why are they coming here?’ that they have been here for much longer than the British Empire,” Suarez said.
Accompanying this week’s theme, “Immigration: Origins and Destinations,” Suarez will deliver a lecture at 10:45 a.m. today in the Amphitheater on the challenges Latino Americans and Latino immigrants encounter while trying to secure a place in wider society.
“San Augustine, Florida, was already a well-established city before Jamestown and Plymouth Rock,” he said. “Santa Fe was up and running as a Spanish colony also before Jamestown and Plymouth Rock.”
In America, 23 states were part of Spanish Empire in the New World or Mexico, Suarez said, and the Spanish language has been spoken a lot longer in what is now the United States than the English language. He said he feels that these facts sometimes that get lost.
Along with Latino history and its importance in American society, Suarez said there were a couple of points he wants to leave the audience with regarding immigration and contemporary challenges.
“America has been here before, and we have always managed it,” he said. “This is not the first time we have had such a large percentage of our entire population be foreign-born.”
Suarez believes that, because America is in a place of such high economic uncertainty, the anxieties around immigration are more pronounced.
“One of the things that sped up earlier generations of immigrants into the American mainstream was economic progress,” he said. “In today’s society, immigrants can’t make their way into American mainstream. They are assigned to a kind of perpetual foreignness.”
Early in his journalism career, Suarez worked in Chicago as a reporter for Chicago’s NBC affiliate. He said, in contrast to present day, there were only a few Latino reporters in Chicago, and people felt comfortable talking to him about their problems. The concern he has for Latinos being in a permanent foreignness stems from those experiences.
“The great gap that I saw in talking to different people in different parts of society, was the conviction on the part of the new arrivals,” he said. “They were trying to become Americans, and there was conviction on the part of the wider community that they would never become Americans, and that is a terrible dilemma for people in these communities.”
He said part of the argument remains as it was in 1850 and 1910 — that Latinos will simply never fit into society because they are too different, and this is being pressed down on the community again today.
Suarez said his last visit as a lecturer at Chautauqua during the 2006 season was one of the most exciting appearances he ever made.
“It was packed, and the audience was responsive and involved,” he said. “Instead of people leaving halfway through the lecture, people kept arriving until there was no more room.”
Interfaith Lecture – Story by Alexandra Greenwald
Ray Suarez is, at first glance, an unusual candidate to fill the Interfaith Lecture podium. But appearances can be deceiving.
Suarez has served as the host of “Inside Story” for Al Jazeera America since 2013. He will continue the discussion from his morning lecture with an afternoon talk titled “For We Were Strangers in A Strange Land” at 2 p.m. today in the Hall of Philosophy.
“I think one of the more fascinating — and less talked about — aspects of America’s current immigration [situation] is how involved religious people are on all sides of the question,” Suarez said. “[They are] putting a very faith-forward spin on where they eventually come down on the issue, both on the restrictionist side and on the more open door side.”
Before joining Al Jazeera, Suarez was a senior correspondent for “PBS NewsHour.” He has served as a host for NPR’s “Talk of the Nation” and the PBS documentary “Jerusalem: Center of the World.”
Suarez is also the author of Latino Americanos: The 500-Year Legacy that Shaped a Nation, The Holy Vote: The Politics of Faith in America and The Old Neighborhood: What We Lost in the Great Suburban Migration.
The majority of Suarez’s journalistic career has been spent in cities with high immigrant populations, such as Los Angeles, New York, Rome and London. This perspective has allowed him to develop an understanding of the role that both secular and religious communities play in immigrants’ adjustments to their new homes.
According to Suarez, the Christian and Jewish communities in America have helped to create the country as it stands today.
“Judaism and Christianity in particular give us the West: their ethical concerns, their tradition of regarding life and the sanctity of life — those things are foundational stones to the growth of what we think of as the West,” he said. “It’s good to remind people of that every now and then [immigration] is not just some austere, abstract, academic debate. It’s real people, in real communities. By turning it into a strictly political thing, we sometimes forget how the things we talk about on Saturday and Sunday inform the rest of the week.”